Automotive, Industry Ideas, Insights

Do your customers really want to shop online?

By Andrew Tai - Mar 23, 2021

Our friends at J.D. Power recently released a report that provides some detailed and intriguing insights on consumer behaviour, and the impact the pandemic has had on the people you’re counting on to buy cars. At a first glance, the report seems to say the exact opposite of what you’d expect: a decline in consumer appetite for an online purchase.

But hold on, haven’t I been saying for years that digital retailing is the future? And didn’t consumers and dealers alike adopt digital shopping tools almost overnight in response to the pandemic? The J.D. Power findings seem to run contrary to everything we’ve heard from within and without our industry about this “new normal.”

Let’s look more closely, though, because the report goes in-depth on the specifics of your customers’ desires, and it’s something you should absolutely not overlook.

According to the report, anywhere from 37 to 51 per cent of car buyers expressed strong intention to complete individual steps of the purchase online. It varies from step to step, of course, but what the numbers show is certain: customers want to shop your dealership online, they just can’t agree on how.

The good news is that they don’t have to. Long before digital retailing became a necessity in the automotive industry due to COVID, it was clear that flexible digital retailing was the only meaningful way forward. Rigid, predefined online purchase pathways offered the promise of a shiny digital future, but delivered platforms that only appealed to a select few consumers – and only ever would.

This is the importance of a true onmi-channel digital retailing solution. Sure, only 33 per cent of those surveyed by J.D. Power said they would “probably or definitely complete all aspects of purchasing a new vehicle online,” but nearly half said they would be interested in placing a deposit from their computers. By offering no digital solution or an online-only purchase tool, dealers stand to lose the 46 per cent of customers who want what we all want: choice.

Just like everyone wants something a little different in a new car, everyone who walks into your showroom or visits your dealership has a different and unique set of priorities when it comes to the purchase itself. Some people need to hear the sales pitch in person, but are more than happy to go home and place a deposit online. Other customers want to do their own research, but need to look you in the eye before opening their wallets.

Flexible omnichannel is what makes that a possibility, and what appeals to the 77 per cent of consumers who, according to J.D. Power, aren’t quite ready to do everything online just yet. When you empower your consumers with the freedom and transparency to choose what parts of the sale to do when – and where – you create the purchase environment they’ve been asking for since before social distancing.

When the world gets back to normal – or at least, “new normal” – consumer expectations are likely to change again. And they’ll keep on changing and shifting, as they always have. But with flexible digital retailing, you don’t need to know exactly what your customers want; you can give them the best tools available, and let them show you.

Source: 2020 Canada COVID-19 Pulse Webinar_Wave 6 June 3-July 1, J.D. Power

Andrew Tai is the CEO and co-founder of Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at

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