The Funnel is a Shot Glass

It seems that just yesterday, the most common way that people researched a car was to buy the neighborhood gearhead a six-pack. Or read a car magazine, one of those “New for …” special issues. Then they’d talk to friends, look at cars and, gradually, make a decision.

That was yesterday, right? Back when the sales funnel meant something? That would be the way a person’s research would go, mostly, prior to visiting a dealership and taking a test drive. And while the fundamental practice of kicking tires and shaking hands is still at the core of every vehicle purchase, virtually everything else has changed. Today’s car shopper now uses up to 24 points of research before making a purchase decision. Thanks to social media, mobile technology and our voracious appetite for video, the good ol’ fashioned funnel is more like a shot glass. Case in point: According to The Borrell Report, in 2014 almost 20.3 million people went from dreaming to thinking, researching and deciding in just three months, all of which resulted in 16.3 million car buyers. Just six years previous, in 2008, that same volume of activity took twice as long.

The reason for the hyper drive is not only because of the amount of content available, but also the ease of accessibility – and the number of points of entry. Google’s The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior revealed that 65 percent of searches start on a smartphone, and continue on a laptop or tablet. And car research behavior is no different: today, 47 percent of vehicle queries come through mobile. The mobility of technology has changed the way people consume content, and as a result, savvy dealers are shifting to a nimble, mobile-centric approach that places on emphasis on accurate content within a user-friendly experience.

This fundamental shift in shopper behavior, driven by technology and accessibility, is a great thing for automotive retailers. As consumers shop for more information, they increasingly go to the source of the most accurate data: dealership websites. In fact, a recent Compete/Google Auto Purchase Study reported that 83 percent of consumers surveyed used dealership websites to research their decision. That’s second only to the test drive/dealership experience and far more frequently used than professional review websites.

It makes sense. We live in a connected and on-demand world, so as consumers, we naturally demand more and more accessible data and higher quality real information that we can use to form and support our purchase decision. As automotive professionals, we should be focused on delivering that experience throughout the car buying process, with actual vehicle data and transparent pricing, all in an easy-to-use experience.

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