Car buyers increasingly turning online: Google Canada

A new survey from the internet giant indicates consumers are researching vehicle purchases in new ways, with luxury customers turning to mobile in large numbers.

They’ve been called ROBOs (research online, buy offline) and it seems Canadians looking to purchase a new car are especially apt participants in the consumer trend.

Nearly three-quarters of Canadians research online before they buy cars, a new survey from Google Canada indicates, although visits to dealerships still play a large role in the pre-buy phase.

The research shows that 73% of people use the internet while researching and 65% visit a dealership. It also found that 59% of car shoppers turned to the internet several times throughout the purchasing journey and 36% discussed with family, friends or colleagues.

In October, the internet powerhouse interviewed 2,061 Canadian adults who had purchased or leased a new vehicle in the previous year.

The most visited online sources for research were manufacturers’ websites, which were visited by 74% of respondents, and search engines, where 49% started their information gathering. Consumer rating and review sites were visited by 44%, the same percentage that visited local dealership sites.

The average number of digital showrooms visited was three, and visitors generally used the sites to compare specifications and look at photos.

The survey also found that luxury shoppers spent less time researching but trusted the internet more than non-luxury shoppers, and that 25% of luxury shoppers researched cars on their mobile phones, compared to just 8% of non-luxury shoppers. Those figures roughly correlate with smartphone penetration in Canada, which was estimated to be 30% by eMarketer in a June survey, but expected to grow to 50% by 2014, something agencies with luxury car accounts may want to keep an eye on.

Luxury shoppers also found price and promotions less important than non-luxury shoppers and were 300% more likely to book a test drive online after visiting a digital showroom than non-luxury buyers.