How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Consumers' Desire and Ability to Buy New Automobiles
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Looking for alternative ways to connect with the dealership is high among the list of wants in the car buying process. “Digital retailing, home-delivery options, increased comfort and reliance on chat tools to connect with shoppers in real-time and enhanced engagement with social channels are very valuable mediums for dealers to generate sales during this challenging period.”

DIGITAL RETAILING

  • Cars.com has tracked data on car buying throughout the pandemic. According to their internal data, “nearly 80% of their visitors are searching and viewing inventory with a high intent to purchase.”
  • Two-thirds of consumers “are more likely to buy the vehicle 100% online” and 62% attribute COVID-19 to this desire.

HOME DELIVERY

  • Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at car-buying site Edmunds, states “Having a car delivered to your home, along with the sales contracts, used to be an insider’s secret, but dealerships will now be more open to making home deliveries to provide a touch-free sale.”
  • Several car makers and dealerships have either expanded or initiated a home-delivery option for new buyers. Brands offering this include: Audi, Fiat/Chrysler, Ford/Lincoln, GM, Honda, Infiniti, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Subaru.
  • The process of finalizing a home delivery can look like a salesperson making a connection “via a video streaming service to provide a full walk-around of the vehicle and supply specific photos and more information. Dealers then handle financing and additional paperwork over the phone or via the internet. After an agreement is brokered, the salesperson delivers the car to the customer’s home and collects any final signatures in person from the driveway.”

INCREASED COMFORT AND SAFETY IN THE BUYING PROCESS

  • Car buying consumers indicate that longer test drives (of up to 24 hours) are a desire during the pandemic.
  • For in-showroom options, new protocols have been put in place. “CarMax established a ‘distancing and disinfecting’ protocol, sanitizing stores every day and cleaning high-touch surfaces, as well as sanitizing vehicles before and after test drives. The company also maintains six-feet of distance between showroom customers and employees, following federal guidelines.”

CHAT TOOLS

  • Virtual interaction is key. Car companies have seen a dramatic increase (65%) in the use of AI-driven chat tools on their site.

DEALS and FINANCING

  • 9 out of 10 vehicle buyers expect a good deal when buying a car during this time.

Buyer Wants

  • 60% of prospective car buyers still plan to spend the same or more on their next car despite COVID-19.” While that gives some cause for celebration, it should be clearly noted that leaves 40% who expect to pay less than planned. To do this, 31% would choose to purchase a car in a lesser category than previously planned.
  • Incentives are likely to continue to be a deciding factor to new car buyers, and nearly half of those will buy faster if they find the right deal. Some additional purchase triggers are shown in this graphic from AutoTrader

AutoTrader Purchase Triggers

  • 64% of consumers state that the pandemic-driven incentives in financing may allow them to spend more than they had planned.

CAR FEATURES

  • 36% of buyers indicate that they “are more likely to consider air quality features inside their vehicle.” Volvo and Lincoln are planning advanced filtration systems in their 2021 models.
  • Interest in electric vehicles has grown during the pandemic — up 24% from pre-COVID levels. One in three shoppers state avoiding the gas station is primary amongst their considerations in switching to electric.

WHO IS BUYING

Separate from the persona details above, an additional review was conducted in order to determine sub-groups of consumers who are buying cars during the pandemic.

FORMER RIDE-SHARE USERS

  • A Cars.com survey found that 17% of the respondents who did not currently own a car stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has made car buying a priority.
  • To explain the urgency, 43% state they would like to stop using public transportation and 28% state concerns of the cleanliness of cars in ride-share programs. To further this, Mintel found that “two in five consumers said they are avoiding public transportation because of the pandemic.”
  • A recent episode of the podcast ‘Social Distance’ from The Atlantic, discussed the growth of “covid-car buying”. Chief among these buyers are millennials — a concept bolstered by the fact that “car sales among 18-to-35-year-olds were up” during the early summer.
  • Interestingly, and in line with the data shown from Cars.com, these buyers tend to see having their own car as “ultimate form of personal protective equipment.”

BUYERS WHO WERE ON THE FENCE

  • Of (surveyed) consumers who were planning on buying a car pre-pandemic, approximately 33% state that they have accelerated the process during the outbreak.
  • For these consumers, 48% are interested in online price negotiations and 42% look for online financing options.

PICKUP TRUCK DRIVERS

  • Though sales in the pickup category are still down from this time a year ago (18.7%), the category is outperforming sales of passenger cars and SUVs, down 48.6% and 36.6% respectively.
  • For the first time, according to Kelley Blue Book, “in April, pickup sales exceeded car sales.”
  • The need to transport goods during the pandemic and lower financing options are credited, in part, for the demand over other categories.
GLENN TREVOR
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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