Online buying: What Car? Poll reveals the challenges and opportunities

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 7200 users.

The global pandemic has forced businesses to embrace online working and selling – and the automotive industry is no exception.

In recent months we’ve seen more aggressive investment in online automotive sales channels than ever before, with multiple OEMs launching new online portals, virtual showrooms and other digital innovations to take their business into the digital sphere.

To understand where the opportunities and challenges lie for dealers and OEMs, we polled 7229 in-market buyers about their attitudes to buying a car online.

When asked what part of the buying process they enjoy the most, the majority (44.76%) of buyers pointed to online research.

Crucially, however, when asked at which point they’d move from online research to talking to a retailer, 36.87% of respondents said they would do so only when they know the exact car they want, suggesting that it is only at this point that many consumers wish to be sold to.

However, that just 5.33% of buyers told us they are happy to buy their next vehicle entirely online at present underlines just how crucial information from third-party websites is, as a supplement to that provided by manufacturer and retailer sites.

Of those who wouldn’t buy a car online, 36.42% said they want to see cars in person before buying. Some manufacturers and retailers are responding to this already – Skoda’s Live Tour and Groupe PSA’s Virtual Showroom, which give buyers the chance to view vehicles entirely from their home with a bespoke video tour – are good examples, as are the live showround video technologies provided by the likes of CitNOW.

Those polled also said one of the most positive aspects of online buying is the price transparency it offers. When asked for the most positive aspect of buying online, 16.8% said they believe it will save them money – demonstrating the credibility and value of price guarantees like What Car?’s Target Price.

In contrast, one of the biggest hurdles to online buying is the loss of the test drive opportunity. This was the biggest reason for respondents saying that they weren’t going to buy online, with 46.3% saying they needed to test drive their next car before signing on the dotted line. A remote, or to-your-door, test drive process would clearly move more buyers online.

Beyond the possibility of test drives, more than 15% of those polled still believe haggling is harder to do online than in person, while 8.47% said they feel they’ll miss out on stock cars by not visiting a dealer.

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