Chicago Automobile Trade Association

Even millenials bypassing social media during car-buying journey

August 15, 2014
Millennials are changing the way consumers buy cars, but a new study from shows these young buyers are not as different as one might think.
There are 74 million Americans in the generation born after 1980, second only to the 83 million baby boomers in the market. The younger generation accounts for 12 percent of new-car sales, but that will grow to 40 percent by 2020, so understanding their buying trends is vital, said Isabelle Helms, 
Helms presented highlights of the 2014 Automotive Buyer Influence Study at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit on Aug. 12.
Like older buyers, 70 percent of millennials don’t know what they want when they start shopping. The difference is they have put off buying their first car until later in life — much as they are delaying marriage and buying a home. But when the time comes, they want a new car as much as the generations ahead of them, Helms said. It usually is an affordable compact car they feel reflects their personality.
All consumers spend an average of 15.5 hours shopping for a new vehicle, two hours less than in 2011. But millennials put 17.6 hours in their search, and 82 percent of that is done online.
"The opportunity to influence shoppers’ purchase decisions is online," Helms said.
Buyers, especially this generation, do not find newspapers, TV and other forms of traditional media helpful. But just 5 percent of them use social media in their research, only slightly higher than the 1 percent of the overall population.
More than three-quarters (78 percent) of millennials surveyed do not care if a carmaker is social media savvy, largely because it rarely provides the information on pricing and availability buyers seek. They turn to third-party sites for comparison shopping, Helms said.
Once they decide, younger shoppers will go to an automaker’s website to get the location of the nearest dealer, hours of operation and whether their vehicle is available.
Dealers should recognize that buyers are using computers and laptops less and using tablets and smartphones more. Not having a mobile site hurts a brand, 35 percent of millennials said.
"It is important we start investing in mobile applications and optimize experience for those devices," Helms said. "If you are going to have a mobile presence, do it right or don’t do it at all. If done badly, it can hurt perception of brand."
Once they enter the dealership, younger buyers want treatment comparable to what they find in an Apple store. They expect someone to greet them and be a product specialist, providing more detail about the car and its technology.
"The dealership experience should reinforce the decisions made online," Helms said. Social media can be used to keep in touch with dealers after the purchase.
"Millennials are not hugely different than the average shopper, but enough to swing things," said Stephanie Brinley, an auto analyst with IHS Automotive, which conducted the study of 1,900 car buyers, including about 300 millenials, within the past year.


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