Internet now central for car buyers

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ALMOST three quarters of new and used car buyers in Australia use online media as part of their researching process, according to the latest survey results released by Nielsen.

Nielsen’s ‘Australian Automotive Report’ also highlights the increasing importance of smartphones, with almost 30 per cent of new car buyers using their mobile phone to access the internet in relation to their car purchase decision.

Based on an online survey of more than 1000 Australian car buyers and ‘intenders’ aged 18 or over, which was conducted during December last year, the study found 73 per cent of respondents – for both new and used car purchases – turned to internet sites or online applications for assistance.

Among new car buyers, this compared to 35 per cent using TV resources, 55 per cent relying on word of mouth and 61 per cent referring to print publications, while 76 per cent also visited dealerships as part of the decision-making process.

While online resources were relied upon equally by new and used car buyers, those in the market for a used car typically relied less on other forms of information, such as TV (21%), print (51%) and dealers or auction houses (59%).

After the web, word of mouth was found to be the next biggest resource for used car buyers, with 61 per cent seeking advice by talking to people.

Nielsen research director Melanie Ingrey described online sources as “unquestionably important” in the car-buying decision process, adding that “their influence is growing”.

“The opportunities held by online media to build awareness, engage potential vehicle purchasers, fulfil their information needs and move car buyers through their decision-making process are abundant,” she said.

Most of the new car research occurs on laptops (64%) and desktop computers (62%), but the Nielsen report also finds that mobile phones are increasingly used as part of buyers’ decision-making process, up 15 percentage points to 29 per cent of participants in the latest survey.

Tablet usage has also climbed from 5 per cent in 2011 to 26 per cent in 2012, reflecting the increasing ownership of this form of mobile technology across Australia.

Ms Ingrey said that television remained an important source for new car buyers, particularly with the uptake of ‘smart’ TVs in Australian households.

“Internet connected TVs have the potential to be used as a shared online device for group viewing and browsing in the living room,” she said.

“This new connected screen (once penetration increases) holds opportunities for marketers and content providers to support ‘family’ or group experiences to move car buyers through their decision-making process, particularly as many car purchase decisions are made with the recommendation and input of friends and family.”

For those visiting sites or apps, the vast majority of new-car buyers (72%) turned to car-makers’ websites, while 25 per cent of both new-car and used-car buyers said they used social media as part of the process.

The study also found that among new car buyers who have engaged with organisations on social platforms, 28 per cent have engaged with a car brand – up from 18 per cent in 2011.

“These findings signal a real interest in peer reviews and feedback from like-minded consumers,” Ms Ingrey said.

“They also highlight the continued opportunities for brands to utilise social platforms and spaces as a means of connecting with, and communicating with, customers.”

Unsurprisingly, the report found that 97 per cent of used car buyers using online resources turned to specific classified websites, while traditional sources such as print media remained popular among new car buyers, with 65 per cent using print resources at the “awareness” stage.

“It is clear that consumers are looking to varied sources for information, whether it is websites, forums, Facebook pages or classified sites ... in addition to the traditional sources such as print media and visiting car dealerships,” Ms Ingrey said.

“It’s clear that consumers are now seeking ever more information, and their media consumption is mirroring this trend.”

As GoAuto has reported, car companies are increasingly turning to the internet as part of their sales and marketing strategies.

Ford Australia recently revealed that had overhauled its customer service division and now considered the internet as a key element to not just the research and purchasing process, but aftersales as well.

Subaru also broke new ground last year by selling its new BRZ sportscar entirely online rather than through its retail network.

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Article by Terry Martin.

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