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Online Auto Shoppers Tough to Target

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Posted February 21, 2002 By ClickZ Stats staff     Feedback

A close examination of the online behavior of auto shoppers by Forrester Research found that the $1 billion that automakers, dealers and independent auto sites spend in an effort to convert browsers to buyers may be missing the mark.

A close examination of the online behavior of auto shoppers by Forrester Research found that the $1 billion that automakers, dealers and independent auto sites spend in an effort to convert browsers to buyers may be missing the mark.

Forrester analyzed three months of continuous online behavior data and buyer-reported purchase data provided by comScore Networks. To find the correlation between online shopping behavior and car buying, Forrester observed 78,000 individual consumers' paths through 170 auto sites and interviewed 17 auto site owners and software providers. It found that behavior patterns such as frequency and intensity of research sessions and cross-site comparison-shopping were strong purchase predictors.

To effectively select serious car buyers from the millions of site visitors, Forrester found that auto site owners must correlate car buyers' unique multisite shopping behavior to near-term (within three months) vehicle purchases. By tracking individual users, Forrester found it could find users likely to buy.

The theory of a "marketing funnel" doesn't map to actual car buyer behavior, the research found. Conventional wisdom suggests that shoppers first visit information sites, then OEMs, then online retailers or dealer sites as they go from awareness to interest, desire and action. But after mapping consumer data, Forrester found a messier, more complex consideration process.

"Common assumptions about customer behavior when shopping for vehicles online are wrong," said Mark Dixon Bünger, senior analyst at Forrester. "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.

Repeat visitors to auto sites are rare. Sixty-four percent of all buyers complete their research in five sessions or less. Roughly one in four auto site visitors buys a car within three months. While independent sites remain popular with consumers, OEM sites have surpassed them with a 59 percent increase in traffic in 2001.

Forrester segments auto site visitors into four distinct car buying profiles:

"Car buyers' paths illustrate the multisite consumer experience, and each brand's buyers are different," Bünger said. "We recommend using carbuyers' paths to improve the bottom line by using proprietary data and combining it with data from outside organizations. This will lead to a better understanding of buyer behavior, improved payback from CRM investments, and a more harmonious customer organization."

Reprinted from CyberAtlas.

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