Is technology really disrupting the car-buying experience?  

As technologists, we love tech. It's disrupting the world and changing lives -- not to mention fueling careers. But sometimes, we need to pump the breaks and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Case-in-point: The car-buying experience.

Car Buying
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s often easy to get swept up in the excitement of technological disruptions. Just looking at the news coming out of both the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress earlier this year, one would think flying cars are just around the corner. Clearly, technology is quickly driving connected cars and autonomous vehicles forward. In these cases, technology is certainly disrupting the driving experience. However, it’s not disrupting the buying experience as much as one might be led to believe.

Let’s take a look under the hood of the automotive market. Perception assumes few people shop in person anymore, with mobile and digital greatly disrupting the car buying experience. While there is certainly a shift in using mobile for research, data tells us consumers in market for a new or used car are still heading to physical dealerships to augment digital research. In fact, more than 40 percent of Millennials/Gen Y cite visits to the dealership as an important factor in purchasing a new car, according to Deloitte.  And, Gen Z is no different, with 66 percent preferring an in-store experience, says a new survey from Euclid Analytics.

In addition, many consumers aren’t just visiting one dealer; they are visiting multiple dealerships along their path to purchase. A recent UberMedia report analyzing mobile location data from more than 18,000 U.S. dealerships, coupled with research from JD Powers, found car shoppers visit 2.4 dealerships on average, with more than half visiting up to five dealerships during their consideration phase.   

Instead of assuming technology is overtaking the car buying experience, the data shows dealerships should focus on providing useful content online and enticing potential buyers to come to their locations rather than a nearby competitor. I bet Beepi wishes they understood this.

Data also highlights the overlap of visits to different brand dealerships -- aka their competition. For example, shoppers who go to Toyota are also very likely to also visit Hyundai and Lexus.  

As technologists, we often get enamored with the next new thing. But, before shifting to a wholly tech-centric mindset and focusing on online-only autonomous vehicle car sales, let’s pump the breaks and ask ourselves: “Are we using technology for technology’s sake?” and “Does this really impact our business?”

Data provides the necessary reality-check for us, helping us understand actual consumer behavior vs. perception, or even what they might self-report. It also helps businesses determine when and how to use technology to create the best experience for potential buyers.

Oh, and P.S., while we all believe autonomous vehicles are in our future, data shows us Americans’ desire for fully autonomous vehicles is not going from zero to sixty anytime soon. So, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves there either.

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