Industry Case Study

Online Car Buyer Customer Journey


The online car buyer customer journey is split into 4 steps that include the initial steps, online research, key decision-making considerations, and pain points within the whole journey. Information in this brief has been curated from Google, marketing agencies such as Morgan & Co, Digital Marketing Institute, and Call Rail, and business and automotive intelligence sites such as V12 Data, Call Source, and Capgemini.

Initial Steps

  • According to Google, twice as many consumers are starting their car-buying journey online. Digital transformation firm Capgemini agrees, noting that after the onset of the COVID-19, nearly half of consumers want to minimize their visits to the dealership and opting to shop online.
  • Google further asserts that customers engage in “over 900 digital interactions” with a car dealership before they make a purchase. 9 Clouds asserts that of the 23 most common touchpoints in the car buying journey, 20 of them are digital.

Touchpoints in the Car Buying Journey.

  • Morgan & Co posits that during the initial steps of buying a car online, prospective buyers are not thinking about the dealership yet. They are weighing the pros and cons of buying a car, deciding if they do need or want a new car, and prioritizing the most important features of their new vehicle. They are looking for information that will help them make the smartest decision in their car purchasing journey.
  • When starting, Digital Marketing Institute asserts that 6 out of 10 online car buyers are undecided on the model they want. Call Source notes that the time between the start of online car buying to actual purchase stands at 12.6 weeks. For premium and pickup purchases, the length increases to 14.15 weeks. Call Source further asserts that the “path to purchase” increases with age, with Gen y and Z expected to take the longest.

Path to Purchase According to Age

Online Research

  • Morgan & Co asserts that online research makes up about 60% of the research done by prospective online car buyers. The marketing agency further asserts that most of this time is spent on third-party websites.
  • Digitas adds that consumers tend to trust independent third-party sites such as TrueCar and Edmunds over Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). V12 Data cites that over 80% of prospective online car buyers consider third-party websites.
  • Call Rail asserts that other aspects of this step include organic searches on Google, getting referrals and opinions from friends and family, interacting with online banner ads, and interacting with potential dealerships on social media.
  • 9Clouds agrees, adding that this is also the step where prospective car buyers view test drive videos and read consumer reviews on the models they are considering. Morgan & Co asserts that video, virtual drives and 360-degree vehicle walk-arounds are some of the most popular ways that enable prospective car buyers to experience a car of their consideration.
  • Google estimates that it takes 65% of prospective buyers about 3 weeks to conduct online research. Morgan & Co further asserts that prospective online car buyers spend nearly 15 hours conducting online research. 9Clouds adds that 90% of the buyer’s “auto journey” takes place on smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Decision-making Considerations

  • In this stage, Morgan & Co asserts that prospective online buyers are looking for greater details on the vehicles they have narrowed down to, hence shifting from third-party websites to dealership websites. Key considerations at this point include features, benefits, and price points.
  • At this step, Call Rail asserts that prospective buyers begin to request for quotes from their identified dealers, begin to fill out any paperwork required such as financing agreements, leasing agreements, and proceed to visit identified dealerships. Morgan & Co adds that at this point, the search becomes localized to the prospective buyers’ vicinity.
  • Call Source adds that at this point, 2.4 models have been considered and prospective buyers have visited 3.7 manufacturer websites, 2.6 third-party websites, and 2.4 dealership websites. Independent or third-party websites were cited as the most useful at 36%. Digitas reports that 52% of prospective online car buyers used third-party websites to make their final purchase decisions, while 34% and 33% used dealership and manufacturers’ websites respectively.
  • Call Source further adds that pricing was the most important consideration at 73% and model information at 71%. Digitas reports that brand names tend to dominate car buying search queries and decisions.

Pain Points

  • According to V12 Data, the major painpoints for the prospective online car buyers were as follows: filling out paperwork at 29%, negotiating purchase terms at 28%, finding the best deals at 22%, and finding the right vehicle and applying for financing at 14% and 12% respectively.


Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at Simple Manifestation with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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