Online buying is here to stay, with 10% of UK car buyers looking to purchase next car entirely online

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 1100 users.

One-in-10 in-market buyers are set to purchase their next vehicle entirely online. Six months after UK showrooms were allowed to reopen following Government-mandated Covid closures, evidence now suggests that 10 per cent of car buyers won’t visit retailers again.

The findings form a part of our latest industry study, which looked at whether online purchase attitudes have changed in the six months following showrooms reopening across the UK, starting with dealers in England opening their doors to the public from April 12th onwards.

The study, based on feedback from 1158 in-market buyers found that 10.3% were set to buy their next car entirely online, with 69.3% preferring a mix of online research and direct shopping with dealers. This represents a slight increase from May this year, when 8.9% were set to buy their next car entirely online.

While the growth in popularity of online-only sales has remained steady since the reopening of retailers, more than half of buyers (52%) said they would be comfortable buying their next vehicle online, up from May this year (42%), when we first asked buyers to rate their comfort levels on buying online.

This increase can partly be attributed to the ongoing microchip shortage, with 47.1% of respondents from the most recent survey stating that they were now more likely to look at online options due to improved vehicle availability over the Internet. The large gap between those buying online and those comfortable doing so suggests that more needs to be done to improve consumer perceptions around online buying.

When asked where buyers think they can get a better deal, 42.0% said they think they can get an equally good deal when buying online or when visiting a dealer. The proportion of customers who thought that one method provided a better chance of a good deal were also split; while 28.0% said they think dealers offer a better discount, 30.0% believed that the best offers could be found online.

The growth of virtual showrooms – many of which were launched during Covid, offering buyers virtual tours of new and used vehicles – has also improved the perception of online sales, with 45.8% stating that they would skip a visit to a showroom if they could have a virtual tour of the models they were interested in.

Online buying is now a permanent part of the UK automotive market, with dealers encouraged to keep up with the latest technology changes, such as virtual showrooms, to ensure that they can meet changing customer demands. However, it’s important to note that in-person shopping is still preferred by the vast majority of buyers.

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