Online buying set to remain despite showrooms now being fully open

This is the latest 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 1800 users.

One of the big changes for the industry and car buyers from Covid has been the quick embrace of online buying. During the first lockdown, now more than 12 months ago, we saw several brands promptly set up new online portals that allowed buyers to view and purchase cars entirely from home.

In January this year, during the second nationwide lockdown, with showrooms shut across the UK, we surveyed 2336 in-market buyers to understand how comfortable they were with the idea of buying a car online, and how likely they were to do so with their next vehicle. At the start of the year, 43% said they would be comfortable buying their next car entirely online, with 7% set to do so.

Now with dealerships having been open for more than a month across the country, we looked to understand whether attitudes to online buying have shifted. Our latest study contains results from 1816 in-market buyers.

Remarkably, the responses have remained very consistent. With buyers now able to purchase both direct from showrooms or online, 42% told us they remain comfortable with the idea of buying their next car online, with 9% actually looking to purchase their next car without setting foot in a showroom.

What the research shows is that online buying is set to remain a part of the UK’s automotive retail sector even as the sector returns to normal. However, a large gap remains between those comfortable with the idea of buying online and those actually doing so.

We also asked what measures buyers would like to see to increase their chances of buying their next car online, with 41% saying a 30-day moneyback guarantee would make them likely to do so, while 35% wanted home-delivered test drives, and 20% an extended warranty on online purchases.

The latter is already something we’re seeing, with some brands offering longer warranties as part of online-exclusive deals, suggesting the industry is also looking at ways to increase uptake of online-only retail even as showrooms return to normal.

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