How has Covid-19 changed attitudes to online buying?

This is the latest report in a series of weekly updates for industry colleagues from Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car? and Haymarket Automotive. Quoted poll data is from more than 4700 users.

The November registration figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed the new car market down by 27.4% for the month.

Though this was bad news for the industry, the drop took place during a period in which all dealerships in England were required to keep showrooms closed. Compared to the first lockdown which saw registrations plummet by 97%, the fall in sales was not as significant as some were expecting.

One of the reasons for this is the growth in online buying. This year, more than ever, retailers and OEMs have invested significantly into online platforms, be they virtual showrooms that connect sales executives to potential buyers via webcams, or brand new online portals that allow buyers to configure and order their next vehicle without setting a foot in a showroom. With restrictions and closures in place throughout much of the year, a growing number of car buyers have turned their attention online.

As part of our weekly industry research of 4790 in-market buyers, we looked at how attitudes towards online buying have changed. Today, 28% of in-market buyers say they would be comfortable buying their next car entirely online, while 35% would be happy to view a car through a virtual tour rather than visit a dealership before deciding on a purchase.

Nearly half of those willing to buy their next vehicle online say that they currently buy everything else this way so a car is a logical next step, while 28% appreciate the fact that they can avoid dealing with sales executives and 26% feel that they can haggle the price better online.

These figures represent a significant rise from where the industry was pre-Covid. Last year, an independent survey by YouGov found that 16% of all age groups were likely to buy their next vehicle entirely online.

With the share of potential online buyers nearly doubling in 12 months, the research shows that, while online retail is unlikely to ever fully replace showrooms, it is becoming a viable alternative for a growing number of car buyers.

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