In a crowded automotive ecosystem, car shoppers rely on only a small handful of trustworthy resources when researching and purchasing a vehicle, according to a new report by C+R Research. Through an independent study commissioned by Cars.com, C+R Research found that the majority of consumers demand explicit control during the car shopping process, opting to use independent automotive research sites and experience-based activities, such as visiting a dealership and talking with friends, rather than traditional advertising channels, to navigate the still-arduous process of buying a car.

Automotive Marketing Consumer Sources“Consumers can be overwhelmed by automotive content, but rather than tune it all out, they’re selecting the pieces that are most valuable to them, effectively curating their own car buying experience,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of advertiser insights at Cars.com. “They’re willing to put the time in to gather all the information they need so that they’re confident when they eventually head to the dealership.”

Additional findings from the study include:

  • Exposure, influence and utility of sources: From TV and radio advertisements to independent research sites and offline conversations, consumers are inundated with auto-related messages – across all platforms – throughout the car shopping process; however, the majority of consumers report being influenced by just six to seven sources. Of those sources, only one or two are used as primary decision making tools. These “go-to” sources are typically viewed as the most helpful and trustworthy by consumers.
  • Offline experiences, not offline advertisements, influence consumers: The most influential offline information sources are experience-based and include: talking to friends, visiting a dealership and noticing a vehicle on the street. Only nine percent of shoppers were influenced by outdoor ads, while just 8 percent cited radio advertisements as influencing their buying decision.
  • Digital sources have a significant impact on vehicle and dealership consideration: 2 in 3 shoppers referred to an online source as being one of their “go-to” resources; nearly half of shoppers cited independent research sites as being a primary shopping tool.
  • Online research is a substitute for dealership contact: Only half of all car shoppers reported contacting a dealership prior to visiting, with most citing that they felt it was unnecessary given the information available online.
Click to download study
Click to download study

“Not all sources are the same, and consumers are quick to realize this,” said Tiffen. “Each source serves a different purpose during the shopping journey, which makes understanding context critical. For example, though a manufacturer’s TV or radio advertisement might help a consumer gain awareness for a particular vehicle, there’s still a gap in trust. The consumer is going to build their knowledge of the advertised product and verify facts using additional, less-biased sources before making a decision.”

For more on our Digital Influence study, listen to the archive of our Sept 4 webinar featuring Dealer Trainer Jack Simmons and Simon Tiffen. Click here to view archive.