Car Buying Satisfaction Remains High

By Staff Writer January 20, 2022

The 12th annual Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey study reveals overall car buying satisfaction remains at a near-record level, with the number of highly satisfied buyers higher than before the pandemic.

The latest Car Buyer Journey (CBJ) study finds that the modest retreat from the record high set in 2020 was due mostly to lack of inventory and high prices. Overall, 66% of consumers were highly satisfied with their shopping experience, down from the record high set in 2020 at 72%, when inventory was more plentiful and favorable incentive programs were offered. Importantly, 75% of vehicle buyers in 2021 noted they were highly satisfied with the dealership experience.

“Despite external market factors that dealers cannot control, the car buying experience remains amazingly good,” said Vanessa Ton, senior manager of research and market intelligence, Cox Automotive. “Dealers have done a great job adapting to what consumers wanted during the pandemic and have permanently evolved the car buying journey in a personalized way that results in very high satisfaction even when consumers are contending with historically low inventory and record-high prices.”

The Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study is based on an online survey of 2,976 U.S. consumers who bought or leased a new or used vehicle between September 2020 and August 2021.

The streamlined process and efficiency facilitated by digital tools, which was established in 2020 and led to record-level satisfaction, remained consistent in 2021. In the study, 78% of new-vehicle buyers and 74% of used-vehicle buyers stated they were highly satisfied with their overall experience with the dealership or retailer that facilitated their purchase.

Compared to 2020, consumers were understandably less satisfied with the price paid and the vehicle selection in 2021. However, they were more satisfied with their engagement with the financing team, which was driven by the surge in satisfaction among those who were “all in” with digital. Those buyers who applied for financing online were significantly more satisfied with the financing process and saved almost a half hour on average at the dealership. 

In a trend accelerated by the pandemic, consumers generally remain less likely to visit dealerships during the car buying process. The average buyer visits only two dealerships in the process, and relies more heavily on digital tools, according to the most recent CBJ Study. However, with dealership shutdowns in the rearview mirror, slightly fewer buyers were mostly digital, meaning they completed more than 50% of their buying journey steps completely online. The percentage of mostly digital buyers dropped from 20% in 2020 to 18% in 2021.

Compared to buyers who completed fewer steps online, mostly digital buyers were more satisfied with the price they paid and had more trust that the dealership or retailer gave them the best deal. Additionally, completing digital steps created a more satisfying experience overall. Mostly digital buyers were more content with overall purchase experience and the time spent in transacting.

Buyers reported spending just under 12.5 hours researching and shopping for a vehicle in 2021, down 46 minutes from 2020, according to the CBJ Study. New-car buyers spent just over 11 hours, only five fewer minutes than in 2020, while used buyers reported spending nearly 13 hours. However, used-vehicle buyers reduced the time spent researching and shopping by nearly an hour in 2021. The largest decline in time spent was in “researching and shopping online,” which saw a 23-minute reduction in 2021.

Third-party websites remained the top website destination, according to the CBJ Study, with three out of four buyers relying on third-party sites, including Cox Automotive sites like Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, to provide valuable advice during the purchase process.

Another noteworthy uptick was in the popularity of New Form Online Retailers (NFOR), used-vehicle-only sales sites that include Carvana and Vroom. As new-vehicle inventory became more expensive and harder to find, buyers turned to the used-vehicle market and searched the sites of these online retailers for used-vehicle inventory. The number of used-vehicle buyers searching NFOR sites during their vehicle-buying process increased by 9% year over year while the number of new-vehicle buyers searching NFOR sites increased by 4%.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 26 January 2022 15:46