PRAGUE -- The number of European car buyers keen to make their purchase online went up significantly during the pandemic and stayed at that level even as freedoms returned, a top Google executive said.
“We have seen the uptick in online car buying stay post COVID,” Christian Richter, Google’s director of auto retail, told the Automotive News Europe Congress here last week. “People learned they could buy pretty much everything online, including cars. It’s now a sustainable trend.”
Richter oversees the automotive side of the tech giant’s advertising arm and uses the data from Google searches as well as customer interaction with automotive advertising on Google platforms to map buyer trends.
About 14 percent of cars are now bought online, Richter said, citing Google research.
“The question is: What is a 100 percent online purchase? Does it mean delivery, no paperwork, electronic signature on documents only?” he said. “But 10 to 15 percent of sales are very, very online.”
The bulk of car sales, about 80 percent, are what Richter calls “omnichannel” purchases, where the customer journey mixes physical and digital elements to get into their chosen vehicle.
The variation between those who prefer a more digital process compared with a physical route to ownership doesn’t radically diverge between countries in Europe, Richter said.
“The Nordic countries and the UK are more digital and southern Europe is slightly less digital, but there’s only a 5 to 10 percent difference,” he told the Congress. “It’s more about which player can offer the best consumer experience. The moment you offer a really good online purchase journey the customers will go for it.”
Google’s data showing 14 percent of customers buying cars online is higher than customer research survey data gathered in 2021 by retail analyst firm ICDP, which says 7 percent of buyers purchase entirely online.
“We don’t see any evidence that customers want to buy online,” ICDP Managing Director Steve Young said during a separate interview at the Congress.
ICDP’s data, however, shows that buyers of electric cars are twice as likely to conduct the whole process online at 15 percent overall.