Multisite online car purchase behaviour

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Forrester (2002) has analysed online buyer behaviour in the car industry in detail. They estimate that different sites such as car manufacturers, dealers, and independent auto sites collectively invest more than $1 billion each year trying to turn online auto shoppers into buyers. They recommend that to effectively identify serious car buyers from the millions of site visitors, auto site owners must correlate car buyers' multi-site behaviour to near-term (within three months) vehicle purchases. In the research, Forrester analysed behaviour across sites from three months of continuous online behaviour data and buyer-reported purchase data provided by comScore Networks, extracted from comScore's Global Network of more than 1.5 million opt-in Internet users. To find the correlation between online shopping behaviour and car buying, Forrester observed 78,000 individual consumers' paths through 170 auto sites and interviewed 17 auto site owners and software providers. Behaviour patterns like frequency and intensity of online research sessions and cross-site comparison-shopping were strong purchase predictors. By researching user paths from site to site, Forrester found that:

• Online auto marketing and retailing continues to see strong growth despite weak demand in 2001 from the car market. While independent sites remain popular with consumers, manufacturer sites saw a 59 per cent increase in traffic in 2001.

• Site owners currently lack the data and software tools to know where they fit in the online auto retail landscape - or even how individual customers use their sites.

• Roughly one in four auto site visitors buys a car within three months.

• Repeat visitors are rare. Sixty-four per cent of all buyers complete their research in five sessions or less.

• Auto shoppers' web research paths predict their probability of vehicle purchase; on some paths, 46 per cent are near-term buyers.

• The theory of a 'marketing funnel' doesn't map to actual car buyer behaviour. Conventional wisdom suggests that shoppers first visit information sites, then manufacturers', then e-retailers' or dealer sites, as they go from awareness to interest, desire, and action. Mapping consumer data reveals a messier, more complex consideration process.

Summarising the research Mark Dixon Bünger, senior analyst, Forrester Research says:

Common assumptions about customer behavior when shopping for vehicles online are wrong. For example, loyalty and repeat visits are actually an anti-predictor of purchase. Most people who buy come in short, intense bursts, and don't hang out on auto sites. Single-site traffic analysis is not enough to understand and influence multisite, multisession auto shoppers. Today's Web site analysis tools weren't created to measure the complex nature of online auto shopping, which involves many sites over several episodes.

A segmentation of car buying profiles

Forrester developed what they call a 'site owner road map' to help car site owners better understand their customers and segment them into four distinct car buying profiles. Since this segmentation is not predictive, Forrester suggests that to sell more cars through a better site experience, companies need to help each type of buyer reach its different goals. The four types are:

• Explorers. Forrester suggests that car buying is a 'journey of discovery' for these users, so suggests giving them a guide tour or user guides. This should lead them through a convenient, explicit buying process.

• Offroaders. These perform detailed research before visiting showrooms, but often leave without purchasing. If dealers can identify these visitors through the number of configurations, comparisons and number of page views they have, then dealers should quickly respond to the number of quotes they require.

• Drive-bys. These are the largest segment of car site visitors. They visit four sites or fewer, but only 20 per cent buy online. Forrester suggests profiling these customers by incentivising them in order to better understand their purchase intentions.

• Cruisers. Frequent visitors, but only 15 per cent buy a car in the short term. These are influencers who have a great interest in cars, but are not necessarily interested in purchase.

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