Car Buyers Say Dealership Visits Matter More than Dealers Think

Consumers are increasingly interested in conducting aspects of car shopping in person rather than entirely online.

Couple car shopping at dealershipCapital One

Article QuickTakes:

For much of 2020, car shopping involved a lot of emails, phone calls, and sometimes even video meetings with dealers as COVID-19 kept buyers away from the showroom. However, this “new normal” that has shoppers clicking to buy everything from groceries to pricey exercise equipment may not be here to stay when it comes to buying a car.

Consumers Shift Back to In-Person Shopping

In October 2021, Capital One surveyed 2,200 recent and prospective car buyers as well as 530 dealers to see how they felt about the future of vehicle sales for its 2022 Car Buying Outlook. That survey found that as COVID-19 concerns ease, consumers want to shift back to in-person shopping for vehicles. For instance, 39% of future car buyers plan to visit at least three car dealerships, whereas only 28% of recent car buyers made that many trips.

In the 2021 Car Buying Outlook, 69% of surveyed consumers indicated they plan to research vehicles mostly or entirely online. But in the 2022 Car Buying Outlook, 57% of people intended to do the same. As for selecting a make and model, just 37% of shoppers in 2022 said they’d make that decision mostly online or entirely online compared with 52% in 2021.

Even more surprising, though, is that car dealers are far more invested in creating an online experience for buyers, as they expect more digital engagement in the car buying process. When asked about specific aspects of car buying, dealers were more likely than car buyers to say they are taking steps entirely or mostly online. Those tasks include researching local inventories, selecting a preferred make or model, understanding financing options, and discussing pricing.

Blending In-Person and Virtual Car Shopping

Many consumers aren’t averse to handling aspects of car shopping online, but about 44% of respondents said they’d feel most comfortable employing a combination of in-person and virtual purchasing when buying their next car. As part of their preliminary research, 42% said they will research local inventories entirely or mostly online. That’s down from 55% in the 2021 Car Buying Outlook.

With car prices at record highs due to unprecedented demand and supply-chain struggles that stymied production, more consumers in the 2022 Car Buying Outlook agree negotiation is a necessary step in the car buying process compared to 2021. In the most recent survey, 87% of buyers noted that negotiating is a necessary step in the transaction, compared with 77% in the previous report.

Dealers and buyers have different ideas about where these negotiations will take place, though. The former group — which anticipates more buyers turn to the web to conduct aspects of the car-buying process — perceives that 68% of customers are discussing financing and pricing with the dealer mostly or entirely online, but car buyers disagree. Only 16% of car buyers said they would discuss financing and pricing with a dealer mostly or entirely online, compared to 28% in the 2021 Car Buying Outlook. In fact, just 6% of people indicated they’d feel most comfortable sticking with an all-online shopping experience, which means that dealerships shouldn’t plan to turn off their showroom lights just yet.

The consumer survey of 2,200* U.S. adults ages 18+ was conducted on behalf of Capital One Auto Finance using Morning Consult.

*Of the 2,200, 643 have purchased a car in the last six months and are considered undefinedcurrent buyersundefined and 1,557 self-reported that theyundefinedre planning to purchase a car within the next two years and are considered undefinedfuture buyersundefined. The survey was fielded October 20-29, 2021, with a margin of error of +/- 2%.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.