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Drivers looking further and wider for their perfect car, but dealers remain key according to the latest Britain Under the Bonnet report

9 July 2019


The start of the car sales journey now involves several online sources, with an increasing proportion of car buyers carrying out detailed research on prices, specification and models, according to research from the new Britain Under the Bonnet report from Close Brothers Motor Finance.

In the last year, 1.5 million more car buyers than the previous year said checking third-party websites such as AutoTrader and was now part of their research when buying a new car. One in ten said they checked online auction sites such as eBay and Gumtree. The same proportion said social media was a key part of how they researched their next car.

The survey also found that 91% of all car buyers said they had done some research before they came in to buy their car, with this proportion rising to 96% of those under 35.
And yet, while car sales today start online, the statistics show that the proportion buying through a dealer remains constant. 76% bought their car through a dealer, which was roughly the same level as the previous year (78%).

While increasing numbers were turning online, dealers were still the most trusted port of call for customers looking for advice. This was particularly the case for those buying alternatively fuelled and electric vehicles. 77% of respondents who bought their car from a dealership said their dealer provided them with ‘expert knowledge’ and 74% received what they felt was ‘good advice’. This rose to 81% of AFV and EV buyers, potentially with a longer list of questions about the newer technology.

57% of customers said going to a dealership for advice saved them time that they would have had to spend researching themselves, and 83% said dealers could pinpoint their requirements.

Seán Kemple, Director of Sales at Close Brothers commented: “The internet doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to dealers. It plays a key role in the customer journey, but the more the customer is swamped with reams of information, the more they will continue to rely on the advice of dealers to decipher it all. Talking to dealers and taking on their advice remains an integral part of the process for car buyers. This expertise is essential to ensuring they end up with the right car. 

“A customer using the internet as their main source of information will research their vehicles right down to the finest details - not just in what they should be paying for it, but how they want to pay, how far they’ll need to travel to buy it, extras, mileage, the list goes on. Consumers are increasingly aware of the value they can get for their money, rather than just being concerned about price alone. 

“There is a real opportunity for dealers who have a great online footprint. There are far more eyes on a dealer’s digital forecourt than there ever will be on the physical one. Dealer websites are popular sources of information, and social media is on the rise.”

Britain Under the Bonnet methodology 
The figures in this report are based on Close Brothers Motor Finance’s own data, a telephone survey of over 200 UK car dealers undertaken between November and December 2018, and on a consumer survey of over 2,000 UK drivers, weighted to be nationally representative. The survey was conducted in November 2018, and November 2017 by Censuswide. All statistics in the report, unless stated otherwise, are taken from the aforementioned sources.

Methodology for 1.5m car buyers figure: There are 31.6 million cars licensed for use of the roads in Great Britain, according to the Department for Transport. The number of customers using third party websites to research their next car has increased from 32% in 2017 to 37% in 2018. This equates to 1.5 million car buyers.   

To request a copy of the report, click here.

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