Poll: Virtual Platforms Driving New Vehicle Sales at Dealerships

Buying cars and trucks online from dealerships is the wave of the future based on new survey data from Urban Science in Detroit and The Harris Poll.
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online car shopping graphic
About 61 percent of consumers in a recent poll said COVID-19 will change the vehicle purchase process. // Stock photo

Buying cars and trucks online from dealerships is the wave of the future based on new survey data from Urban Science in Detroit and The Harris Poll.

The two companies released data and insights today from a June 2020 study of 1,505 consumers indicating that 61 percent of consumers agree that the entire vehicle purchase process will change forever due to COVID-19.

More than three-quarters (78 percent) see some benefit to shopping for a new vehicle entirely online versus in-person, with about a third or more citing less pressure from salespeople (38 percent) and the convenience (37 percent) or safety (32 percent) of not having to leave the home.

Though they see the benefits, even more (93 percent) express some concern with an entirely online new vehicle purchase process.

“It’s important to note that one-third of consumers (36 percent) agree that there is no reason to ever visit a car dealership again,” says Simon Bradley, global practice director, network at Urban Science. “While this sentiment could change as we return back to normal, this potentially indicates alternative retail formats may play a role in changing consumer sentiment.

“The provision of safe, trusted locations to interact with vehicles of interest and the opportunity to have questions answered from a neutral brand representative could help motivate consumers.”

Further, 71 percent agree that they would limit the number of dealerships they visited if they were purchasing a new vehicle right now due to health and safety concerns.

Long-term, a quarter of adults think fewer people will do in-person test drives before buying/leasing (27 percent) and that more people will be willing to use virtual or augmented reality to experience a vehicle (25 percent) with nearly one-third (31 percent) believing sales departments will do more mobile visits to customers’ homes.

“It’s very clear that trust will be earned in new ways, and that a number of the adaptations the public has made during the pandemic are here to stay,” says Wendy Salomon, managing director, corporate strategy at The Harris Poll. “In automotive and elsewhere, companies must seek new, unique sources of value that build on the recalibrations we’re seeing.”

Once the pandemic subsides, more than half of poll respondents say having dealership sanitation measures in place both within each vehicle (55 percent) and throughout the building (54 percent) are must haves to help customers feel safe when visiting the dealership.

The survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll in partnership with Urban Science from June 2-9, 2020 among 1,505 adults age 18+. Results are weighted to be representative of this population. The online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The Harris Poll is one of the longest-running surveys in the U.S., tracking public opinion, motivations, and social sentiment since 1963.

Founded in 1977, Urban Science is a global automotive consulting firm that takes a scientific approach to help automotive manufacturers and their dealers identify where they should allocate resources in order to increase their market share and profitability in the most effective and efficient manner.

With headquarters in Detroit, Urban Science has offices in the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

For the 2020 DBusiness list of 200-plus dealerships in metro Detroit arranged alphabetically by county and city, and then by dealer, visit here.

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