The process of purchasing a car has undergone a significant shift in the last few years. More car buyers now shop and even buy online. The number of people completing most of the buying process online continues to grow.

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As a dealer, it’s important for you to understand just how the car buying process unfolds in today’s online environment. Take a moment to journey through the process. Afterwards, you’ll have a better understanding of your customers’ needs.


The Online Search

“Just Google it!” is a common refrain among younger people today. Most often, they do follow their own advice and start the car buying process with a search. Although brand loyalty still exists, search has re-shaped the way consumers interact with brands. Very few people now wander between local dealerships looking for cars. Instead, they seek out the car they want online.

Car buyers in this initial stage of the process are seeking answers online. Their searches are often driven by intentions. They ask five key questions, including “which car is best?”, “is it right for me?”, and “can I afford it?”

Once the consumer has decided on which car is right for them and the affordability, they’ll likely think about where they should buy. They might also look around for the best deal.

What’s “Best”?

This is the first question potential car buyers ask during the online car buying process. They’ll compare brands and models. Obviously, asking what is “best” is a loaded question. The answer is objective.

More than half of car shoppers will enter the market unsure of what to buy. They consult with friends, but more are turning to online reviews. Car dealers will want to think about how they can incorporate online reviews into their marketing plans.

Brand loyalty does exist, as about 25 percent of people stick with a brand from the earliest stages through to the purchase: Google notes the first brand searched is the same brand purchased almost a quarter of the time.

Consumers also ask if the vehicle is “right” for them. People at different stages of life and with different interests and hobbies need different vehicles. Someone hauling horse trailers needs a heavy-duty vehicle designed for this, whereas a college student concerned about getting to and from campus may be more focused on fuel efficiency.


Money is often an issue in the car buying process. A car isn’t a small investment, and most people don’t have the cash to make a purchase just lying around. As a result, car shoppers ask about affordability. Many use mobile to search MSRP & list prices or to find trade-in values for their current vehicles.

Most car shoppers also want to be sure they’re being treated fairly. As you know, dealers must always be prepared to answer questions and negotiate.

Where to Buy?

Very few customers would purchase a vehicle without inspecting it in person first. Online searches are important, but they only get you so far. Car shoppers will visit a dealership, but they’ll likely only visit one or two. If your dealership information is easily located, you stand a better chance of being the one they’ll visit.

Capitalizing on the Market

For dealers to be successful during this online buying process, they must be prepared to reach out to the customer early on. Waiting for the customer to walk into your showroom is no longer an option.

Early moments in the car buying process are influenced by video. The majority of car shoppers visit YouTube. They view videos to check out the features of a given vehicle.

The mobile market is also important as so many potential car buyers are looking for information and shopping via their mobile devices. Search, reviews, and beautiful dealer websites are all part of the marketing plan for the modern dealership.