A Look Into the Car Buying Customer Journey

Written By Ted Rubin

The car buying process can certainly be compared to a journey. An adventure, even.

And just like any adventure you can think of in a book or movie, the car buying journey can be filled with unexpected turns and trials to overcome. Now, that might be an exaggeration. But, between pre-research and finding a dealership, selecting the perfect car, test driving, figuring out financing - well, it's starting to sound like an adventure, right?

The car buying journey is unique for nearly everyone — because people are unique!

But, in the digital age, with online shopping and digital interactions gaining prominence even for bigger ticket items like vehicles; there are a few constants that can help car dealerships map out the automotive customer journey.

What is the Car Buying Journey?

While the name is pretty self-explanatory, the car buying customer journey goes well beyond thinking and then buying.

Generally speaking, a vehicle will be the second most expensive purchase of a customer's life and the first most emotional one. This is a heavy consideration and requires quite a bit more planning and thought to make an informed decision that makes sense for the customer, while also incorporating the emotions needed to make that final decision.

So, what is the car buying journey? Let's ask a friend!

According to LeadsBridge, the automotive customer journey is as follows:

  • "Awareness, when a customer first discovers your brand
  • Research, where they are considering buying options 
  • Consideration, when they are actively considering purchasing 
  • Purchase, where they cross the i’s and dot the t’s 
  • Loyalty, where they may refer other customers to you and purchase again in the future"

The Car Buying Journey Never Ends!

As you can see, the journey...never really ends.

You'll need to ensure that every step of their customer journey, as it relates to you, has the best customer experience and customer satisfaction that would lead them to maintain long-term customer loyalty and to refer friends and family to you.

A Stellar Customer Experience is a Hybrid One

The rise of the digital age means that customers expect a seamless and personalized experience, even when shopping for a car. The vehicle buying experience is certainly not a simple snap-decision purchase, a la Amazon.

But, it's becoming increasingly important to an ever-changing world with a reliance on technology to universalize an easy digital shopping experience when shopping online.

Carvana comes to mind.

They almost went too far in the other direction with their entire process, however, and didn't consider what else the customers might need to go alongside their vehicle moving forward. Dealerships very often offer their own service and repair center. Carvana cannot say that they offer that!

Not to mention, ending the car buying process in person gives the customer hands-on assurance, and avoids a lot of back-and-forth during a very complex process!

Meet Car Buyers Where They Are in the Car Buying Process

Paying close attention to where car buyers are at in their car buyer journeys can give you an incredible edge when it comes to how to approach them. Meeting them where they are is the ultimate key to success!

In fact, noting where car shoppers are in their car buying journey can be a cheat sheet on the best way to build the most trust with a customer, and affirm their decision to work with you.

While price is still somewhat important, modern car shoppers highly value a convenient and transparent customer experience. This means they could be more willing to make a car purchase at your dealership if the process is smooth and they are treated in the best way possible.

4 Ways to Use the Car Buying Customer Journey to Your Advantage

Dealers are best primed for action and to attract customers in the Research Phase through the Loyalty Phase. Here's how you can use the car buyer journey to your advantage:

1: Attract customers in the research phase.

The research phase is important for car dealerships to capitalize on.
Clearly mark what inventory is available today, or on its way in. (Make it exceedingly obvious if something is In Transit!)

If it's neither available nor on the way, have a way to display that model and allow them to communicate with you about it. You can still be a resource for the customer, and potentially look into a dealer trade or order a vehicle for them; you never know! (Our behavioral offer tool, ActivTarget, is perfect for engaging customers and waitlisting them for something that might not be readily available!) 

Video can be a big help when customers are researching. What a great place, on your site, to have videos of vehicles they are interested in to provide that extra rush of emotion. (Our virtual test drive tool, MyDrive, allows us to float videos of vehicles in action right to your customers!) 

2: Accommodate car shoppers in the consideration phase.

You've piqued potential car buyer interest with your crystal clear inventory portrayal, information, and set the right expectations. Now what? Your dealership is now in consideration to do business with.

This is where ease of doing business plays a critical role. Do customers feel welcomed on your site? Do they feel listened to and regarded? Do you have tools that help them continue to the next step?

This includes having an advocate available to assist these vehicle buyers (a real person, ideally!) and a digital retailing tool option that can get them started on the path to purchase.

3: Wow vehicle buyers in the purchase process.

Buying a vehicle is a complicated process and differs greatly each time. How easy is it to get started online? Is there someone to help them go as far as they may want? Is there someone to answer basic questions and let them know what steps are next?

What needs to be present in terms of numbers will differ based on what is most important to the shopper. However, what we know is important to every person is that they are heard and assisted.

4: Foster and nurture continued customer loyalty.

Perfection is unattainable, so what is your plan to address concerns when steps may not live up to the customer's expectations? Who is responding to online reviews? What is your post-sale follow-up process?

You've done the extremely tough work of capturing your customer initially. Now, it's time to foster and nourish that relationship beyond winning their business. Now, it's time to win future business, and peripheral business from their family and friends when you wow them enough to get referrals by word of mouth.

Level Up Your Car Buying Customer Journey Approach with ActivEngage

When it comes to having customer conversations, no other automotive live chat provider does it better than ActivEngage

We use 100% live customer engagement experts, no bots and/or AI, and are an effective BDC-style implement that helps support your sales and service teams. We bolster your digital dealership, and you'll never miss another opportunity with ActivEngage on your dealership website. 

Start having better conversations today, and meet your shoppers wherever they are in their customer journey with our messaging solutions. Choose from:



ActivEngage Can Help You Level Up Your Dealership Customer Experience! 

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