Car-Shopping in 2018: Consumer Insight

Buying a car used to be a rite of passage in an American’s life, but after seven straight years of growth in new vehicle sales, 2017 reported a decline of 1.8%, with 17.2 million cars and trucks sold. Even worse news for manufacturers, it’s predicted 2018’s number will drop to 16.8 million vehicles sold. It used to be that consumers were stuck with whatever price the car dealership offered them, give or take a little wiggle room. In the age of the internet, where consumers have more options than ever, how are they making their purchasing decisions when car shopping? And more importantly, how can dealerships gain their business?


According to a recent report from AutoTrader, the average car buyer spends 14 ½ hours total shopping experience for their next vehicle. 61% of that is spent researching and shopping online. Consumers looking to purchase new cars typically start at a third-party site (41%) and end at a dealership site (45%). Used car buyers start (61%) and end (51%) on third-party sites. With this in mind, both parties would be smart to focus their attention to ensuring their websites are easy-to-search and user-friendly, with their offerings front and center. Additionally, they would be smart to focus on local SEO, as 76% of location searches result in a business visit within a day.

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The 2018 Car Buyer Journey Study found that consumers are shopping around less than in previous years. 59% of car buyers visit two or more dealerships before purchasing a car, a decline from 62% in 2017. Humans are creatures of habit, so it makes sense that 31% of consumers are going to dealerships where they previously purchased/leased, an increase from 27% in 2016 and 2017. While car buyers are shopping around less, that doesn’t mean they’re happier with their purchases. Buyers report being less satisfied with the price they paid and don’t feel confident that the dealership gave them the best deal. In 2016, 70% of consumers felt confident with the price they paid, but in the 2018 study, only 62% are satisfied with their price point. Similarly, 61% of car buyers trust their dealership gave them the best deal, a decline from 65% in 2017. Establishing a set, transparent price may help build customer trust with the dealership, which will gain loyalty.

Manufacturers had a nice, seven-year run of revenue growth, but it has come to an end. While it’s not as bad as it was in 2009, when new car sales plummeted to less than 11 million, it’s still a warning shot to manufacturers and dealerships alike that they need to take a deeper look into how to close sales, and generate repeat customers.

QuestionPro Audience provides our clients with access to more than 5 million active consumer respondents, who are pre-screened and qualified candidates for high-quality data collection. Our Consumer Panel is carefully recruited to target all type of users, but also taking into consideration certain key industry trends, such as online store preference, physical store preference, actual systems, reasons to purchase, etc. With industry knowledge, innovative tools, and purchasing power, QuestionPro Audience always meets the rigorous demands of our clients. By implementing various recruitment methodologies, we make sure to provide the right kinds of respondents for your research.