“Most young car buyers ‘do not use the internet to research cars’” – err, really?


Stop the press. New research from Experian that has been cited by Motor Trader and Automotive Management strikes at the heart of everything I hold true and believe.

The research states that the digitally-native, tech-savvy, highly-connected, always on, media stacking internet generation is actually more likely to research a car purchase offline than via the internet.

Really… sorry excuse me – Lord Lucan has just walked in to our offices asking if he is the only person on the planet yet to do the ice bucket challenge, and I really should say hi…

Sorry about that, back again.  Now where were we.  Ah yes, that’s it. WHAT? I mean WHAT?

Many of my friends believe I am a sad little man, far too interested in digital technology and how it can have a positive impact on the automotive buying experience. I spend far too much of my time pouring over research from around the world. Too much time looking at new technologies and forging new partnerships with companies like ours, with which we share a common vision (about 50 at last count). We also take on many fresh-faced graduates, school leavers and interns of the digital generation to come and work with us. This influx helps maintain my Peter Pan mindset, although the wife hates me playing Xbox.

In all my years, never have I read a piece of research in this industry that has left me quite so dumbfounded. I actually spat Nespresso Arpeggio coffee across my desk on to my Dell XPS Intel Core i7 laptop, my iPad Air and my iPhone 5s.

Alright, I teeter on the brink of geekdom and surround myself with like-minded individuals hell-bent on Googleising the entire earth and creating a digital car-buying nirvana. Even my 3 year old daughter has her own iPad. So it is therefore safe to say, my opinion may be weighted in the favour of digital over analogue. And with this vested interest, of course I must be aware of the cognitive dissonance wreaking havoc with the open source hardwiring in my brain.

But I just don’t get it – no, actually I just don’t believe it. Research from Google, which was cited at the recent AM Digital Dealer conference, states explicitly that 84% of all car buyers in the 18-34 year old age range research online before visiting a dealer. What’s more, the same research states that visiting a dealer isn’t all that important for making a decision for these young and apparently internet-agnostic car buyers, with just 23% ranking it as impactful on their decision. This doesn’t correlate with the two thirds of young car buyers who avoid the web, according to Experian, does it?

From my own experience, whenever we do intern exercises (exactly the same age group as cited in the Experian research), we always ask “how would you research a car purchase”.  Almost exclusively they say social media – because social media is the information grazing area for people in this connected generation. And they’re not just digesting unfunny memes or videos of cats falling off bookcases.

This is backed up by the latest research by Capgemini (Cars Online 2014) which looks at the global picture of how people are interacting with digital when buying and owning a vehicle. It explicitly states – and I quote – “A growing number of consumers (especially the young) trust user-generated content (up from 66% in 2010 to 72% in 2014)” as well as the fact that “83% of consumers said they use social media for vehicle research. Among consumers aged 18-34, that number jumps to 91%”. When it comes to having conversations with retailers and manufacturers via social media, 92% of 18-34 year olds expect to be able to use it.

So when Experian states that the younger car buyers who are avoiding the web are, ‘preferring to speak to friends and family’ or ‘talk to a dealership salesperson’, perhaps they’ve simply forgotten the fact that these conversations are undertaken on Facebook, Twitter, What’s App.. ad infinitum.

Want more proof that the web is actually more important for research than visiting a dealership? The same piece of research states that of the 10,000 plus consumers interviewed (a much larger sample than Experian) ‘Getting personal advice’ or ‘Additional detailed information on a car or services’ is a reason to visit a dealer for just 34% of them.

I could go on. So I shall.

It is my belief, and the belief of many of the partners we work with – including numerous vehicle manufacturers who have stated as much publically – that the role of the dealer is becoming purely functional, facilitating the things that are innately physical or still in their early digital days. They don’t ‘sell’ to younger generations by and large, they simply enable a consumer to buy a car based on the decisions they have made thanks to the consumption of media. Backing this up is research by What Car? which asked the question to new and used car buyers, “What did you find most useful about your visit to a dealer?” – their answers?

  • Ability to take a test drive – 78% new car buyers, 80% used – Physical
  • Price or deal information – 69% new car buyers, 59% used – In its digital early days
  • The ability to inspect a car(s) I was considering – 69% new, 81% used – Physical

Getting advice from a dealer is an aside. Just 50% of new car buyers and 18% of used found the advice given during a dealership visit to be useful – and this survey was a cross section of all age groups, not just the young.

Here is what I think is actually happening. The age group Experian refers to actually don’t consider many of the activities us oldies associate with the internet as actually ‘using the internet’ or ‘researching on the internet’. The internet is innate to them. It’s the grazing ground, the first port of call and the most influential source of media in their day-to-day lives by some margin. They are social media native – it’s not separate from their being, it’s a direct extension of it – and they use it as readily as older generations pick up the phone or do the unthinkable and visit a showroom.

My suggestion is to not believe this news piece – or at least assess it against the colossal weight of information that states the contrary.

If I were to believe this piece of research we should probably build more dealerships for the future, and whilst we are at it fit them with revolving doors to handle the footfall. Oh, and maybe think about some doorman to prevent the waves of young people swamping showrooms and overcoming staff with questions that they could’ve answered in the comfort of their own bed, online, via their smartphone…

About GForces

GForces is Europe’s leading provider of digital solutions to the automotive industry. Working with more of the UK Top 200 dealer groups, more OEMs and more international businesses than any rival, we help our clients navigate and maximise their online presence across mobile and desktop platforms.
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Author: GForces (634 Articles)

GForces is Europe’s leading provider of digital solutions to the automotive industry. Working with more of the UK Top 200 dealer groups, more OEMs and more international businesses than any rival, we help our clients navigate and maximise their online presence across mobile and desktop platforms.