In last weekend’s NADA workshop, “How to Win Shoppers in Their 20s and 30s,” Pat Ryan Jr. of Firstlook, an inventory management and merchandising company, shared his insight on the characteristics of Gen X and Gen Y car shoppers, as well as actionable suggestions to help dealerships level the playing the field.Using new ethnographic research that followed late-model, pre-owned intenders as they moved through the online journey, Ryan cited how shoppers in their 20’s and 30’s typically don’t follow what many understand as the traditional buying funnel. Rather, Ryan argued that Gen X and Gen Y shoppers engage in what’s known as the “Digital Decision Journey,” an active decision making process with multiple online points of influence.

Out of all of the influence points Ryan looked at, information “Learned Online” ranked more than two times higher than the next closest category at 49%. Reinforced by the average amount of time consumers spent researching online, 11.5 hours for New and 11 for Pre-Owned, Ryan stressed the importance of establishing a strong online presence in order to attract this specific set of car shoppers.

Pat Ryan Loop

Through the four phases of the Digital Decision Journey – Initial Consideration, Active Evaluation, Trigger and Purchase – Ryan discussed how shoppers under 40 typically begin their vehicle search online with three to four vehicles in mind. Young shoppers then shift back and forth, adding and removing vehicles from their consideration set based on what they discover throughout the shopping process, until they’re ultimately triggered by an interaction that gives them the confidence to move to purchase. If their confidence is validated by a positive in-person experience, Ryan claimed, they’ll complete purchase and usually share their experience with others.

Because there’s not a fixed buying progression for Gen X and Gen Y shoppers, Ryan recommended dealerships optimize their inventory and their dealership brand for maximum exposure throughout the evaluation process. Specifically, Ryan referenced the importance of customer-friendly vehicle merchandising, promotion of incentives and a strong online reputation.  Dealerships that embrace this process whole-heartedly follow the M.A.R.K. philosophy, a merchandising strategy that incorporates the idea of Mission, Affordability, Risk and Key Differentiators throughout all advertising and dealer-customer communication.

By being aware of Gen X and Gen Y behaviors throughout their experiences on desktop/laptops, tablets and smartphones, Ryan believes that dealers can have an edge in courting the demographic.

For more from NADA 2013, check out our session recaps here.