Study highlights importance of online reviews

Digital Air Strike released its ninth Annual Automotive Customer Experience Trends study at the 2022 NADA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, offering dealers, lenders, OEMs and providers information that they can use to improve the vehicle ownership experience.

The company said its report offers “compelling insights” on the impact of the vehicle inventory shortage, online interactions that help move the customer journey forward, and the importance of the online and digital communication experience for consumers, along with the platforms that they prefer to use.

“The vehicle researching, buying, and ownership processes have changed exponentially since the onset of the COVID pandemic,” said Alexi Venneri, Co-founder and CEO of Digital Air Strike, adding that “the data has consistently proven to be helpful for our dealers and the industry as a whole.”

The report shows that a third of consumers felt significantly impacted by the inventory shortage. Of those that were affected, 21 per cent went to a different dealership, 8 per cent asked the dealer to order a new build from the factory, and 21 per cent had to wait for the vehicle they really wanted.

Of this particular group, 71 per cent waited up to three months, while 27 per cent waited up to a year, and 50 per cent paid a $500 (or more) deposit. Also worth noting is that 20 per cent of consumers said the dealer did not keep them informed about the status of their vehicle.

And again, among consumers affected by the vehicle inventory issue, 32 per cent did not get their first-choice vehicle, and 17 per cent bought a used vehicle instead of a new one.

The study advises dealers to present alternative options to consumers, including new and used vehicle options. Some dealers also offered important information in their communication to consumers about the vehicle delivery time, delivery process, and the car’s features.

“Dealers need to ensure their pre-order process includes a plan for ongoing communication to keep their customers updated and to retail vehicle deposits,” said Digital Air Strike in its report.

As for the online environment, some of the main reasons consumers did not contact a dealership when researching their vehicle include a lack of special offers (40 per cent), high prices (35 per cent), a lack of dealership photos (26 per cent), there was no easy way to contact the dealership (11 per cent), bad reviews (8 per cent), and a lack of COVID-19 protocols (3 per cent).

Consumers expect to access accurate information on the first page of their search results—not outdated information, the report notes, adding that dealerships should have an updated Google Business Profile with one place to browse reviews, receive their frequently asked questions, see the store’s photos, and find special offers and announcements. There should also be an easy way to contact the dealer on that page.

“Online sources continue to be the most dominant resource in reaching consumers when making a purchase decision, while ads on streaming networks are close behind traditional media sources,” reads the report. “Without a solid online presence, consumers are more likely to select another dealership for their purchase or service.”

Without a solid online presence, consumers are more likely to select another dealership for their purchase or service.

The study shows that consumers select dealerships based mainly on online searches and reviews—at record levels. It notes that 93 per cent of consumers that purchase a vehicle (up from 88 per cent in the previous year’s study), and 87 per cent of service customers said online review sites helped them select their dealership.

Based on consumer rankings of their top source for dealership research and reviews, Google slots number one with 60 per cent (up from the last study), followed by Kelley Blue Book with 17 per cent (down from the last study), with 17 per cent (down), VehicleGurus with 13 per cent (down), and with 13 per cent (down).

“Because of the inventory shortage, consumers don’t have as much time to research because vehicles are being sold quickly. Eighty-six per cent of sales (down from 93 per cent in the prior study) and 51 per cent of service (down from 74 per cent for the previous study), researched a few days or more before selecting a dealership,” said Digital Air Strike in its report.

On reviews, 58 per cent of consumers said the dealership did not ask them to write an online review about their sales experience, while that percentage jumps to 71 per cent for service. Thirty per cent of service customers said a dealership’s response is the “most important” part of a review. For consumers overall, a four or five star rating can impact their decision when selecting a dealership.

It is also worth noting that most reviews written by consumers are positive (81 per cent for sales and 88 per cent for service), and that 58 per cent of consumers find these review sites helpful.

Overall, the report lists five key takeaways for dealers to consider:

  • Engage in online interactions that can improve the customer journey.
  • Communicate with effective and timely messaging.
  • Increase lead conversion and protect your online presence with reviews.
  • Turbocharge your marketing game.
  • Improve your online experience.

Digital Air Strike surveyed more than 2,300 vehicle buyers and more than 2,700 service consumers from transactions conducted over the last six months for its study. These consumers were between the ages of 25-54, a near-divide of male (57 per cent) and female (43 per cent), had no pre-qualification criteria other than those transactions, and they were not predisposed to be online shoppers.

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