Press release

Industry must be 'Retail Ready' in response to changing consumer expectations

According to the latest research by Auto Trader, the UK’s largest marketplace for new and used cars, whilst 82% of consumers researching their next car are looking to buy now or as soon as they’re able to make a transaction, more than three quarters (76%) have expressed concern of visiting a dealership in person once the current restrictions have been lifted.

The research forms the second part of a comprehensive consumer study conducted between the 14th – 17th April. It found that nearly one in four (24%) of the 1,051 people asked about their car buying behaviour said they’d ‘definitely’ be happy to return to a normal interaction with a retailer as soon as the restrictions have been lifted, three in four (76%) displayed some uncertainty, and one in five (20%) are actively looking to avoid it. 

Commenting on the research, Auto Trader’s Director of Commercial Products, Karolina Edwards-Smajda, said: “We’re confident the appetite to purchase remains, however our research highlights that for most consumers, their expectation of a retailing experience will be vastly different to what it was pre-lockdown. Retailers must use this time to plan how they can implement measures that enable their customers to buy a car safely and which comply to the strict guidance set out by the government. They must be retail ready for when the restrictions lift - failure to do so will put them at a huge disadvantage to those businesses that have been able to adapt to the new retail landscape we are now faced with.”

When asked about whether they’d be interested in buying a car if a home delivery service was an option, only 7% of consumers said they would. This increases to 12% of car buyers aged 45-54, which although low still does represent a significant number of annual transactions. Half (50%) of the those surveyed said they’d still be happy to complete the purchase at the dealership but wanted the majority of the process conducted online – viewing, test driving and collection would have to happen in one visit.  For younger car buyers (18-24) this increased to 61%.

Looking at the data on a more granular level, it’s interesting to note there is more confidence among older demographics, with over half (52%) of car buyers aged 55 + stating that they’d be happy to complete a purchase in person at a dealership with more than one visit if required. In contrast just a third (33%) of 18-24-years-olds said they’d be comfortable to do so. 

To help alleviate consumer anxieties and to increase confidence in a retailer’s ability to sell a vehicle safely, Auto Trader is set to introduce a range of new features to retailers’ adverts which indicate the new measures they are putting in place. Businesses that provide a home delivery service will be able to include a corresponding service flag to their adverts, and for those who offer it, potential customers will have the option to book a Live Video Viewing directly with the retailer in order to explore any specific details or features they couldn’t find in the advert view. What’s more, adverts will have a dedicated space for retailers to outline the steps they’ve taken to maintain consumer safety during the in-store experience, such as social distancing measures, anti-bacterial cleaning, and the application of personal protective equipment (PPE) among staff.

Edwards-Smajda continued: “With consumer visits to dealerships set to fall, online showrooms will become the primary mechanism for driving sales. As a result, the digital marketplace will become increasingly complex and competitive; the businesses that will stand out from their competitors will be those that not only build confidence in the cars they’re selling, but in their ability to sell them safely. That’s why our development team has been busier than ever to accelerate the launch of new functionality that will help retailers highlight the extra mile they’ve gone to keep their customers safe.”

The new features will appear on Auto Trader’s marketplace as soon as the current restrictions have been lifted and showrooms have been allowed to open in line with government advice. The functionality will be included in all selling packages at no additional charge and apply to all channels, including vans, bikes and leisure. Retailers will receive more information on setting up these features next week (commencing 4th May 2020).


Research methodology

The research, which was conducted between the 14th – 17th April, consisted of three separate online consumer surveys targeting different consumer demographics or focused on different themes: consumer attitudes to car ownership (1,067 participants), consumer car buying behaviours in response to COVID-19 (1,051 participants), and a survey of current UK driving license holders not currently owning a vehicle (1,059 participants). 

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