With car shoppers more willing to buy online, auto marketers must bridge the divide

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In March of 2020, nearly 1 in 10 car buyers in the U.S. said they made their purchase online.1 That might not seem like much in a world where consumers buy everything else online from big-screen TVs to mattresses, but in 2018, only 1% of car buyers in the U.S. said they purchased their car online.2

The fact is, up until recently, while Americans did a lot of research online prior to buying a vehicle, the purchase was typically conducted at an auto dealer. But then COVID-19 hit, causing thousands of dealerships to close their showrooms and forcing an automotive digital transformation in which even the final deal is sealed online.

If other industries serve as a guide, this is more than a passing trend. People will likely continue to buy cars online even now that showrooms are reopening. But to take full advantage of this new opportunity — especially at a time when more people are interested in buying cars — auto marketers must deliver a frictionless online retail experience.

COVID-19’s effect on car-buying trends
Auto shoppers are no strangers to online research. Even with COVID-19 temporarily shutting down businesses and leading to massive unemployment, people were still looking to buy rather than simply to browse. Searches for “car sales” have grown globally by over 60% year over year, and searches for “best car under” have grown globally by over 80% year over year.3 And as distancing measures continue, 64% of new auto buyers said they would look for even more information online.

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