Managing the Big Shift in Car Shoppers’ Expectations

Apr 24, 2022
Erin Lomax, Cox Automotive VP Ops Consumer Marketplace

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

It’s no secret that customer behavior has recently changed. Like your potential customers, you’re researching, shopping, and buying differently than you were two years ago. Let’s face it: there’s been a big shift in all our lives, so making shifts along with your customers to meet them where they are will save everyone time and money. 

To that end: what are consumers’ current expectations for shopping and buying? And how exactly do car buyers’ expectations affect you and your dealership? 


The shift in car shoppers’ expectation boils down to four things:

  • Car shoppers expect accurate information.
  • Consumers have every bit of information at their fingertips.
  • They’re doing more research throughout their car-buying journey than ever before, arming themselves to be as informed and prepared as possible before making their next purchase.
  • They’re using third-party sites like Autotrader and to bookend their research. Why? Because they see these sources as unbiased, objective, and trusted. (For a deep dive into how and when car shoppers use third-party sites, OEM site, your dealership website and more, download the latest Car Buyer Journey Study.

The good news is that these shoppers are wide open to being influenced by marketing. 

In truth, they see content marketing as an extremely valuable way to get accurate information from a seller. 

Bottom line: you need to be transparent and accurate. This is step one in building trust with car shoppers. 

Everyone wants a personalized shopping experience 

It goes without saying that transparency in pricing is part of a personalized customer experience. 63% of car shoppers say they’ll provide more information online if it results in a more personalized offer.* 

In other words, customers will freely give you more information online to lessen the time they spend once they get to your dealership. Think about that. It’s a significant expectation they have in their minds today. 

Know what else? Nearly 70% of consumers find personal data collection acceptable if it’s from a website they trust.* In fact, they’re willing to share even more if brands are completely transparent in how they’re using this data. 

Digital retailing offers the biggest opportunity to create this truly personalized customer experience. From leveraging customer-entered details to real-time lender information, customers save time when digital options move them through the car buying journey, faster. 

More online options mean higher car buyer satisfaction 

It’s been a wild couple of years, but believe it or not, customer satisfaction with the 

car-buying process has increased since the beginning of 2020 for the first time in a very long time. 

Why has car buyer satisfaction increased since 2020? 

Precisely because the automotive dealerships and our industry as a whole have  progressed and enabled car shoppers to do more of their shopping online. 

This eliminates some of the frustrating time they were spending in the dealership and replaces it with the fun part of getting a new car. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that most car buyers prefer to shop and perform more of their purchase online these days. 

(A full two-thirds of car buyers are more likely to purchase a vehicle 100% online than they were pre-pandemic)*. 

So, we know that consumers expect more online. And that expectation will only grow. Thus, adding components to your digital storefront will enable more and more car shopping and buying steps online. 

  • Also offer a virtual vehicle walkaround—this could be the extra personalized step that wins you the lot visit or remote sale. 
  • And investigate offering at-home services like delivery and test drives. 

These are all steps you can take to make your purchase path more digitally enabled for customers. 

Like many consumers, car shoppers want convenience 

What does “convenience” mean to your customers? Tough to say, because expectations can vary. But the constant for just about everyone is saving time. 

The key here is to meet the consumer where they are and with what you need. 

Truly, consumers are growing to expect this in all that they do: an opportunity to do as much or as little as they want online

Now that you have a better understanding of today’s car buyers’ expectations, you realize that they are all part of a comprehensive strategy, which includes your people, the right technology, the right partnerships, digital options, and personalized relevant experiences. 

Your dealership’s next steps for meeting consumer expectations

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we do have a fair amount of research that gives us insight into consumer perceptions, behaviors and the future of car buying. And here’s what we know: 

  1. Service & repair is essential 

Get online and market your dealership’s services now. People are holding onto their cars longer, getting them serviced again, and looking for service and repair dealers online. Hot tip: You can gain market share (and meet consumer expectations) by allowing potential customers to book service appointments online, and perhaps even offering drop-off and pick-up service, too. 

  1. Gen Z is in the market 

And they’ll soon make up an even larger percentage of car buyers. A seamless digital and physical 

experience is key for them, so make sure your dealership’s digital offerings are near-perfect — and give them a great in-person experience, too. They want it, and their brand loyalty is up for grabs right now. Check out our recent blog posts on Gen Z car shoppers for specific topics on how to win with the newest generation of car buyers.  

  1. Car buying isn’t getting any easier 

The chip shortage and supply chain constraints are here to stay (for at least a while), and with low inventory, we need to work on matching cars to people. Assisted shopping is going to become more prominent, with dealers helping customers find the right cars — whether it’s from the manufacturer, the auctions, or from a dealer trade. It’s time to think about how you’re going to leverage your partnerships and staff up to put the right person in the right car and meet shoppers’ expectations. 

  1. Data is the most important asset you can own 

It enables everything we’ve talked about today, provided you utilize it correctly. In the right hands, data can personalize experiences, market to partners in the right way, and give shoppers a solid online buying experience that translates to a great one in store. And always remember: the more transparent you are with consumers, the more trust you’ll build, and the more data they’ll likely give you. 

Sure, consumer behavior was evolving before the pandemic hit in 2020, but over the last 2 years, the world has moved even more quickly into assuming new habits. Expectations are high and consumers are demanding nothing less — not just from the automotive industry, but every industry. Businesses that don’t move forward will get left behind. 

The time to connect expectations and reality for your shoppers is now

Sure, consumer behavior was evolving before the pandemic hit in 2020, but over the last 2 years, the world has moved even more quickly into assuming new habits. Expectations are high and consumers are demanding nothing less — not just from the automotive industry, but every industry. Businesses that don’t move forward will get left behind. 

*2021 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study