DETROIT – New- and used-car buyers spend 75 percent of their product search time on the Internet -- up from 62 percent in 2011 -- while so-called millennials spend 82 percent of their research time online, says AutoTrader.com in a new survey released Tuesday. Buyers on average visited 8.8 websites per purchase on average, while millennial buyers went to an average of 10.1 sites. If this seems like a “well, duh” moment to you, the news here is in how much the online car-buying trends have accelerated for everyone -- with millennials leading the way -- in just the last three years.
AutoTrader found that 70 percent of buyers didn’t know what kind of car or truck to buy when they started their search. But 70 percent of millennials and 66 percent of all buyers knew exactly which car or truck they wanted by the time they reached the showroom.
The 2014 survey involved 1900 new- and used-car buyers. When AutoTrader surveyed consumers in 2011, it found new- and used-car buyers spent 62 percent of their shopping time online, said Isabelle Helms, AutoTrader’s vice president for research and marketing surveys, in a presentation to the Automotive Press Association at the Detroit Athletic Club. Automakers that have been building up their social media staff the past five or 10 years might be dismayed that just 1 percent of the general population uses social sites to shop for cars and just 5 percent of the millennials do. A few years ago, for example, Jim Farley, Ford Motor Company’s executive vice president for global marketing, touted his big play on social media for the successful launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer.
“Social media does not sell cars,” Helms said, “It builds relationships.”
But millennials have shown very little brand loyalty so far. One exception is Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge brand, which Helms said is “over-indexing” with millennials, as are electric vehicles. [The AutoTrader research confirms young-buyer interest in the century-old brand that Dodge marketing executives have been hyping recently.]
Millennials, who have driven a return of the middle class to urban areas, also are embracing smaller cars and crossover/utility vehicles and value “experiences over goods,” she added. “The generation enjoys living big on small.”
Time spent shopping via newspapers, magazines like Automobile, television and radio are down for the average buyer, and even more so for millennials.
The average car buyer spends 46 percent of his or her Internet search time on third-party sites. Millennials, in comparison, spend 51 percent of their time on such sites. The average buyer spends 19 percent of the online search at a dealer site and 13 percent with auto manufacturers’ sites, compared with 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively, for the millennial generation.
AutoTrader says 32 percent of the car buyers surveyed use more than one Internet-connected device to research and purchase vehicles, up from 23 percent in 2011. Among millennials surveyed, that figure is 44 percent. Buyers are using personal computers less often, down 3 points since just last year to 88 percent in 2014, while both tablet and smartphone use are up 9 points in the last year, to 28 percent each. Among millennials, 78 percent used PCs this year, while 32 percent used tablets and 50 percent used smartphones. No doubt, some of that smartphone use happened while driving to the dealership.
The key, Helms said, is for automotive sites to design sophisticated, easy-to-use tablet and smartphone apps -- which gives us yet another chance to shamelessly promote Automobile Magazine’s new and improved app here.