What Car? Insight weekly update

If you’re open, there’s business to be done

The nature of these rollercoaster times has seen everyone in the car industry scratching their heads to work out how best to survive and set themselves to be ready post-lockdown. Quick, hard decisions have needed to be taken, and while more will follow as consumer confidence and attention continues to ebb and flow, most businesses have now set their shape.

Given the nature of the crisis, knowledge is going to be a valuable commodity. Analysis of consumer behaviour in the days and weeks ahead will not only aid what individual dealers, groups and OEMs do today, but will also influence how they prepare for the other side.

Normally, we wouldn’t be so open with our data, but we’re already in the ‘new normal’ and I feel it’s important that, in sharing information, we can help in decision-making that can only benefit the industry as a whole.

Like you, I hope we all emerge faster and stronger from this crisis. Data will undoubtedly help guide us through.

Audience trends

What Car?’s website has always been a home to would-be car buyers. On a good day, more than 100,000 unique visitors will search our site, some beginning their car-buying journey from a news story or review, others completing it by chatting and agreeing to buy online with dealers through our online New Car Buying portal.

No question, over the past few weeks we have seen that car buying-focused audience dwindle. Overall page views for March were down 30%, but the first half of the month was strong. In the second, at their worst, they were 70% down year-on-year.

What Car? has always been a good bellwether of what’s to come for the wider industry and, while nobody can confidently say that they know what tomorrow will bring in these times, we believe that we will see any signs of recovering consumer interest ahead of anyone else.

Already there are themes within the data that are interesting – and now, in the early days of April, there are signs that the tide has started – only slightly – to turn.

‘This may not be a time to sell, sell, sell, but it is not a time for complete silence either’

A changing audience

Understandably, normal traffic fell off the proverbial cliff in the days immediately after the shutdown as attention turned to the COVID-19 news cycle: a natural human reaction to seek information, clarification and answers. It’s also why we reacted to the questions motorists were asking (Do I need an MOT? Can I still buy a car? Can I still drive? etc.) by creating a hub of coronavirus information content in less than 24 hours.

Traffic boomed. People had real concerns, and they turned to us for answers. Trusted brands always do well in a crisis.

The result was that two weeks ago – for many the peak (so far) of disruption – the number of UK users on our site was up year-on-year. While the intensity of interest in these stories has reduced now, they continue to perform strongly.

Importantly, we are engaging with these visitors daily to understand interest and intent. Early signs are that a significant proportion are either potential distress purchasers (for instance, with lease deals that are coming to an end) waiting for dealerships to re-open, or early planners, using the enforced break to get ahead.

‘In-stock and nearly- new cars could be in higher demand than ever before ’

From advice to research

Midway through last week, the number of enquiries to retailers through our New Car Buying product started to rise again, fractionally but significantly.

At the lowest point, early-stage enquiries had been 70% down, but that figure is now showing signs of easing. A few days of steady upswing cannot be called a trend, but nor should it be ignored.

The big challenge, though, is that the shutdown means that many dealers aren’t there to nurture the interest and build a pipeline for when business opens again.

The data shouts loud and clear: those who did get a response from a dealer were more likely to go on and engage with them than ever before – even pre-crisis. The numbers are nowhere near ‘normal’ trading conditions in terms of volume, but they are better qualified than ever. Some dealers that are open and using New Car Buying reported this Monday that they have sold cars with us over the weekend.

We must also be mindful of the reasons why people need a ‘new’ car. Our new ethnographic research into consumer behaviour (to be published soon) shows that 1 in 5 purchases are distress buys – where a car is needed quickly and efficiently, for a variety of reasons.

In addition, early indications from our live audience research (more on that next week), clearly shows that the proportion of shoppers who just want to ‘try and buy,’ rather than prevaricate when the doors to dealerships open again, is significantly higher than this figure. Arguably, that means in-stock and nearly-new cars will be in greater demand than ever before.

So, while this may not be a time for sell, sell, sell, it is also not a time for complete silence either. Those who keep the virtual doors open to focus on building relationships are those who will benefit tomorrow.

Use our online chat service for free 

I’m sure you expected a plug at the end of this, so forgive me. Our New Car Buying platform is available to use for all retailers and OEMs free of charge and without a tie-in period until the end of June.

We are realistic about how many buyers are out there at present; for all the green shoots of recovery we can identify, it is very low. But it does put your brands in front of readers, researchers and buyers, and allows you to nurture leads now.

Of course, we hope you’ll stay with us when business resumes, but a larger priority now is both to give our users a good experience and to do everything we can to get the industry back on its feet.

For more information:

Call 020 8267 4138 or email support@whatcar.com