A Look at Today’s in-Market Auto Shoppers and What They Want

Dec 9, 2022
The Autotrader Team

Every dealer in today’s times wants and strives to get in front of their ideal customer. And they can do that with the right digital retailing tools as well as both building and activating a marketing strategy around them.  

However just getting in front of your customer is no longer enough. You need to stay alongside them, show them you truly understand who they are, demonstrate you know what they want (or don’t want!) and prove you know what their preferences are.  

When you can do this, you’ll stand out as the dealership a car shopper should choose because you offer them the experience you know they desire. And the first step to building a successful digital retailing marketing strategy, that will help an in-market shopper to the finish line in the purchase process, is by taking a closer look at the persona of who your customer is, and will be, for the next 5 – 10 years.  

Consumers want to do more business online 

We all know that our industry, and most others, were fast tracked over the last few years during the pandemic into a world where more consumers want to do business online. Originally it was due to necessity, now it has shifted to choice. 

Cox Automotive just completed our annual car buyer journey study centered around consumer behavior and it revealed just how much the last few years have shifted consumers and their preferences. More specifically, who your buyer segments are and what they are looking for in the car-buying purchase process now vs. previously. And it’s ultra-clear that today’s consumer wants choices, to save time, things to be easy and to have flexibility.  

Bottom line… they are used to the simplicity of digital shopping 

and are now expecting it, even when purchasing a vehicle.

More and more they’re willing to take actions they used to do in a brick and mortar setting and complete them online. Everything from the steps they’ve been taking for years online like research, and trade in values… all the way to credit and financing. 

But they’re not all the way there yet to wanting to do it 100% online. There’s still a difference between ordering dog food or running shoes online, and purchasing a $50,000 vehicle of course.  

Meet your in-market shoppers 

To stay ahead of the constantly changing market, it’s essential for auto dealers to truly understand consumers and who their ideal in-market shoppers are – specifically their personas. Today’s shoppers each come with their own set of unique needs, that are constantly evolving.  

As you can see above, our latest study shows consumers falling into 5 main segments, and 2 categories – one shrinking in the market and one growing.  

Shrinking Segments – Researcher, Traditionalist, Resister. 

Growing Segments – Efficient Independent, Guided Innovator 

Both of these segments make up who your current in-market shoppers are. When you’re reaching out and using data to speak to your potential customers, the key here for both segments is to educate them on what you have and highlight the benefits your dealership offers as well as the unique experiences that keep them coming back to you. 

The shrinking segments – the Researcher, Traditionalist and Resister – are willing to do some steps online, but still prefer to purchase a car in-person.  

Growing segments of car buyers 

Now, let’s take a closer look at the growing segments, which will ultimately represent the bulk of a dealership’s business over the next decade. 

The Efficient Independents – This growing segment makes up 18% of today’s market and consists of mostly Gen x’s and Millennials.  

The Guided Innovators – This is the largest sector making up a quarter of in-market auto shoppers and is comprised of predominately Gen Z and Millennials. 

What they have in common  

This group of 2 segments have quite a few things in common: 

– they currently do the majority of steps in the purchase process for a vehicle online 

– they’re both motivated by saving time, ease and convenience   

– they’re willing to buy a car online  

– the cars they indicated they had an interest in purchasing were predominately electric or hybrid vehicles as well as luxury vehicles 

– both are more ethnically diverse 

– they both have good credit 

Some of their differences 

Next let’s look at some of their differences:  

The Efficient Independents – 

– mostly Millennials and some Gen X  

– they need to see others buy online first in order to feel comfortable and confident in doing it themselves 

– they do believe online is the way of the future, and they are excited and on board 

– they are looking for information and examples of how completing more steps and purchasing a car completely online works 

The Guided Innovators – 

– predominately Gen Z and Millennials 

– these consumers have higher income, are mostly younger and urban dwelling 

– they are willing to buy completely online, but they are seeking personalized support from a real person in real time 

– they are looking for the experts (you!) to help guide them 

– they want a digital process, but they want to be able to ask questions along the way if they have them 

– they require personalization, in both the communication and approach you have in supporting them 

Their pain-points 

Now that we have a clearer picture of who these shoppers are – let’s look at what their pain-points are. Here at Cox Automotive, we build the right digital retailing tools to help ease and provide solutions based on consumers pain-points, so it’s important to really know what they are looking for so that we can meet their needs.  

Your dealership should be providing an experience and marketing to your ideal customer with the following in mind as well when it comes to their pain-points:  

 The Efficient Independents – 

– applying for financing 

– not being able to schedule a test drive 

An example of how to tailor marketing and messaging to Efficient Independents would be to speak to them about how the steps to apply for financing online are doable and educate them on the step-by-step process. Additionally, knowing this consumer wants to see others have done it successfully first, consider sharing testimonials from others to showcase not only that something worked, but how easy and beneficial the entire process was. 

This is how we can use the information we know about these consumers to tailor our marketing to this segment.  

The Guided Innovators – 

– researching 

– applying for financing 

Some solutions and suggestions for what’s working when marketing to the Guided Innovators would be promising convenience for the tech-savvy shopper and providing live real-time support throughout the entire purchase cycle.  

For the road forward 

Now that you have a better understanding of who your audience is now, as well as a deeper grasp of the personas of in-market consumer segments that will be growing over the next 10 years, the better you should be able to connect with their wants, needs and preferences. By tailoring your digital retailing tool’s data, marketing strategy and messaging as you stay alongside them across the purchase spectrum, you’ll have increased opportunities to fast-track your leads and ultimately sales.  

In this transformed world, consumer behavior and demand has forced dramatic change from automotive dealerships and our industry. Together, at Autotrader we’re providing the digital retailing tools and solutions car buyers demand, to help you get the results you need.  

Whatever your goals are, Autotrader can help you get there faster, and we invite you to connect with us to take a deeper look into ways to capture, connect and activate your data to make it more efficient and effective to drive both leads and business in the coming year with your marketing strategy. 

Want more ways you can build a successful marketing strategy in the coming year? Watch the on-demand replay of Are You Digital Retailing Ready? 3 Steps to Build a Succeessful Marketing Strategy in 2023 Automotive News webinar with Jessica Stafford, SVP of Consumer Solutions at Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book and Dealer.com.