The U.S. automotive market has recovered from the impact of the recession as new car sales rose more than 8% in 2014, and are expected to top 16.5 million in 2014. Buyers are back. In fact, it’s expected that 30% of U.S. adults will be in market to buy or lease a car.

While shoppers have returned to market in droves, vast changes in technology, the economy, and the automotive landscape have changed the way consumers shop for cars. We were seeing this shift firsthand, and we knew it was a seed change that we wanted to more deeply understand. To further innovate our site and help automotive marketers better engage with the next generation of car shoppers, we commissioned Conifer, a leader in people-based research, to help us answer one very important question: How are today’s shoppers navigating the path to purchase?

The study took a deep dive into the shopping journey, tracking shoppers as they entered the market, got ready to buy and honed in on their decisions. While shoppers and the journeys they take to purchase are as varied as the cars they ultimately drive away in, there were several common themes that provide clear insight into the way today’s shoppers build consideration sets and approach the research process, as well the role of the retail experience.

What we found was a winding road to sale that was anything but linear. Despite the fact that marketers have clung to the notion of the shopping journey being a funnel, aligning marketing strategies to its various stages, that isn’t how the process actually plays out. Instead, our in-depth analysis of shopping behavior found that shoppers come in and out of the buying process, constantly adding and eliminating options along the way right up to the moment they buy. And at any point in the process, shoppers may encounter roadblocks that halt this progress altogether.

Brands that successfully align themselves with the way consumers are shopping, as opposed to the traditional funnel, stand well-positioned to drive deeper consideration, floor traffic and sales. To learn more about the buying journey and find out how you can stay top of mind with shoppers at all points on their path to purchase, download the complete report below.

Cars.com Consumer Journey, Car Shopping Journey Report, Auto Marketing, ZMot
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