By the time customers sit down with a dealer, most of them have made a decision on which car to buy after searching on the Internet. Google automotive retail experts, Christian Richter and Riki Stadeler, both based in Germany, talked about what matters most in online sales in an interview with Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche.
How much did the coronavirus pandemic change car buying behavior?
Richter: Digital sales got an extreme boost during the pandemic. Our search queries show that. The interesting thing is that the search volume has remained at this high level ever since.
What does the typical customer journey currently look like?
Stadeler: The Gearshift study, our annual study on the new car buying process, shows that many car buyer journeys start at Google but do not follow a linear process. Customers jump back and forth between makes and models, search for dealers and vehicle features, find out about prices, and then jump back a few steps and look at alternatives. YouTube is used heavily for this. Across the entire customer journey, we measured about 900 digital and physical data exchanges when buying a new car, whether at the manufacturer or dealer, on third-party sites such as Mobile.de and Autoscout, on YouTube, in the CRM customer service, sales, and marketing platforms, and also in call centers.
Do car buyers still pick up the phone?
Richter: More often than you might think. Many people want to shop online more, but physical dealerships are still very important. Around 80 percent of car buyers want a physical interaction at some point. That is why we always say: gather the data from the call centers, the dealer and the manufacturer, together with the data that is coming in digitally. Try to measure holistically so you know which parts of the journey are mostly contributing to the car purchase. Often automakers and dealers do not know which campaign triggers a call. Pulling together as much data as possible helps to tailor offers that may lead to a purchase decision.