What Do Car Buyers Really Want Online? Consumer Q&A

By: Kristy Esch

Known for her many years of writing long and short form articles for the multifamily industry. Her amazing writing continues to shine in other industries.

Shopping for a car can be a time-consuming process. Help potential car buyers through the research process to convert online leads into sales. We talked to online car buyers to find out if dealership websites met their expectations.


When car buyers begin their search for a vehicle, they usually start online, researching car dealerships, checking Kelley Blue Book and looking around for local deals. It’s a time-consuming and frustrating process, according to recent car buyers we interviewed.


What consumers prefer is a simplified car shopping experience that offers personalized information on a car dealer’s website, from customized sales promos that apply to the exact vehicle that interests them to tools that calculate trade-in appraisals and give Kelley Blue Book valuation data.


We talked to a dozen car buyers this month to see if their expectations were met when they began searching for a car and narrowing down dealerships, and asked them what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about the process. Here are some common answers we heard from people who recently purchased or shopped for a vehicle.


Q: Did You Do Online Research Before Buying a Car?

A: “The websites of both manufacturers and local dealers all helped in our research,” says Bruce Smith, who bought a new Honda Odyssey in May. “Websites are a valuable tool for research, price comparison and to make an introduction. In the end, I like to take that in person to the dealer’s lot to talk cars, test drive and kick the tires.”


A: “Yes, I checked the CARFAX report, recalls and rebates, Blue Book value, and looked up tips for dealing with car salesmen,” says Joi Nichelle, who bought a 2016 Chevy Malibu from a dealership. “I also looked at Chevy dealer websites to see what model I wanted.”


Q: Should Car Dealership Websites be More Personalized and Engaging?

A: “I do believe they should be. It would make the customer feel like they were able to tell dealers exactly what they want, and honestly this would be a plus for the salesman by saving them some questions,” Nichelle says. “I’d appreciate seeing what I last searched, in case I forgot.”


A: “It would be helpful if they remembered your previous searches, if you come back later after searching other sites,” says Elizabeth Nuzum, who purchased a 2016 Subaru Impreza through a dealership a week after she totaled her Nissan truck.


Q: What Was Your Biggest Frustration As You Researched Cars Online?

A: “Don’t advertise things as specials that you don’t even have on the lot,” says Richard Bilbrey, a police officer and newlywed who recently tried to find his wife a Jeep Renegade and gave up after a disappointing experience with three separate dealerships. He called all three after finding a Renegade listed for sale on their website. “They didn’t have the vehicle [they advertised online] — close but not what I was told. Hell, one wasn’t even the right model Jeep.”


A: “The manufacturer websites were more helpful than the dealer websites, which were a little more amateurish,” says James McAllister, who works as a senior software developer. “On the upside, the dealer sites did have some of their inventory listed, but I don’t know how accurate it was.”


McAllister ended up buying a 2017 Chevy Colorado after visiting two local dealerships. It was his first vehicle purchase in 17 years. “The difference now is that I could get a lot of information online and narrow down my options,” he says. “That made it a lot easier.”


More information isn’t always a good thing, however, as many car buyers report feeling overwhelmed by online research. Dealers can help consumers by breaking down the information on their website into limited, interactive calls to action that accurately reflect where the customer is in the car buying journey.


We’ve learned through our own research that online consumers prefer websites that remember them and provide custom suggestions based on what they’re searching. Just think about the success of your favorite internet retailers, and how they engage and guide you throughout your virtual shopping trip.


By integrating interactive automotive software on your website, you have an opportunity to individually target each visitor and serve up personalized tools and deals, giving potential customers an incentive to stay on your site and ultimately visit your dealership.