Digital car-buying is here to stay after the pandemic, though consumers will continue to adopt the practice gradually, often through the gateway of online financing, according to new research by U.S.-based auto marketplace leader CarGurus.

The U.S.-based automotive marketplace reported that 60% of respondents to its survey would prefer to undertake more of the process from home when they next purchase a vehicle.

Contactless services that emerged from the pandemic with staying power include dealership appointments (with 46% of shoppers expressing interest), solo test drives (42%), test drives at home (32%), and at-home delivery (30%).

The increased appetite for online car-buying comes despite consumers’ greater willingness to return to stores and forecourts versus last year, found CarGurus.

The sticking point in the growing uptake of digital options remains the test drive, with only 18% of survey respondents preferring to do this online–compared to a narrow majority who would rather arrange financing online than in person.

Source: CarGurus 2021 COVID-19 Sentiment Study, US (n = 600)

Dealership appointments, meanwhile, were the most popular contactless service: only 28% of customers walked into dealerships on spec in 2021, down from 43% in 2019, a decline that preceded the pandemic.

Source: CarGurus 2021 COVID-19 Sentiment Study, US (n = 600)

While Covid-19 hit the auto market hard in 2020, the subsequent lifestyle changes–moving houses, new jobs and amassed savings–had precipitated vehicle purchases, returning some vigor to the industry this year, researchers found.

However, issues of supply and demand still affect the U.S. auto market in 2021.

The findings led CarGuru researchers to urge dealers to prioritize digital retail in the sales process:  “Implement digital retail products that allow shoppers to take the transaction as far as they want — and make sure your staff is trained to handle this new online business.”

The survey was conducted on 600 U.S. shoppers in July, following up previous iterations throughout 2020.

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