A study by search engine giant Google and consultancy firm Kantar TNS found that consumers deciding what car to buy after Internet research have risen to 90% in 2018 from 74% in 2016.
The report, the Drive to Decide 2018, which tracked consumers’ car research and purchase behaviour, also pointed out that while not many consumers are buying vehicle online as it is a high-value asset, decisions of consumers—including those in smaller cities and towns—are informed by Internet research. Hence, the number of visits to bricks-and-mortar dealerships have significantly dropped, the report said.
“Video (80%), search (90%) and brand/dealer websites (56%) are the key digital touch points that play a crucial role in influencing a car-buyer’s decision,” it said.
The annual report also said that videos not only act as a platform for discovery, but also as a consulting zone for ‘buyers’ allowing them to explore the car from different perspectives and get actionable insights. According to the study, which saw participation from 4,000 people, 87% of those who watched online videos, either visited the dealership (52%), scheduled a test drive (45%), requested a price quote (40%), or further researched finance and lease offers (27%).
Also, 44% of the respondents said they will consider making purchases online going ahead if given the option. “The speed at which Indians are adopting the Internet is well established. From just searching for manufacturers and dealers online, buyers today are actively looking for videos to answer their questions around car features to reviews to vehicle performance and more. Consequently, the focus for auto manufacturers has also moved to creating more immersive experiences that allow them to drive this action,” said Vikas Agnihotri, country director (sales), Google India.
“Convenience, prices, easy access can drive online purchase intent. Lack of physical product experience is the major hurdle towards making online purchase.”
Automakers are already aware that digital becomes the primary touch point for prospective buyers, and hence automobile brands and dealerships have heightened their online presence to cater to their audiences. According to the report, 60% of buyers searched for dealerships online and 56% of users visited dealer websites as a part of their research before purchase.
“In last three-four years, there has been a lot of focus on getting the product design right. The millennials almost live on their mobile phones. This 4 or 5 inch screen is all the real estate you have to make a convincing visual statement that your car or a service is even worth to come and check out. So, first we have to make sure that the cars look great as it’s a visual world,” Pratap Bose, global head of design, Tata Motors, told Fortune India.
According to the study, buyers researching online are increasingly more certain about the brand they want to purchase with instances of brand switching declining by 4% in the last two years—from 11% in 2016 to 7% in 2018.
Auto experts have long been predicting that online retail is going to be the next big disruption in the auto industry, but this should not worry dealers. “There may be a much larger proportion now who’re willing to buy a car over the Internet. It doesn't mean dealers will disappear. They will still have a role in after sales—for demos, etc. But I see some part of the retail moving to an e-commerce channel which today is minimal. It has already begun to happen for used cars. But for new cars, it will also start happening,” Rakesh Batra, partner and national leader (automotive sector), EY told Fortune India.