Automotive Blog

Are digital customers less engaged?

GA Blog

For a number of years now there has been a message that gets bandied around automotive circles without any hard data to back it up; that “digital” consumers visit fewer dealerships.  Now, I’ll admit that I am as guilty as the rest in propagating this message, citing ICDP’s own research on the number of dealer visits and increasing internet usage for research as being inextricably linked factors – that customers are replacing physical research at the dealership with online research in their homes.  New analysis of our research, however, shows that this might not be the case.

As many of you will be aware, ICDP conducts an annual consumer survey across a number of European markets to gauge changing customer behaviour and help drive our other research streams.  One question we ask every year, which is often the subject of scrutiny, is how many visits to a physical dealership customers make during the purchase process - it’s an average of around three visits to just over two dealers in case you were wondering.  Whilst these figures have been relatively stable in recent years, there is a general consensus that they are much lower than would have been the case even 10 years ago, which when combined with the technological advancements that have happened over this time period leads to the message that this blog questions; that “digital” customers visit fewer dealerships.

This year, as one way to assess digital interaction, we asked customers whether they conducted online research whilst physically at the dealership, with those who embraced such omni-channel retailing as being more technologically savvy, the mythical “digital” customers that are referred to.  Unsurprisingly, these omni-channel shoppers were more likely to be younger buyers, with under-35s six times more likely to do this than over-65s. 

The interesting part is when combining these two measures, i.e. looking at how many dealer visits those who engaged in digital research whilst at a dealership actually undertook, and the results may surprise many of you.  The “digital” customers visited on average one more dealer, and made one more visit than the “non-digital” customers.  These findings indicate that we shouldn’t be splitting customers into “digital” and “non-digital”, but rather into “engaged” and “non-engaged”, and that more engaged customers visit more dealers, more times. 

If both this and anecdotes about decreasing dealer visits are true, then todays customers are more likely to simply see a car as a white good than has traditionally been the case, and it is up to dealers and manufacturers to fight this lethargy and get customers interested.

Written by Gareth Arnould

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