U.K. consumers continue to want to have physical and digital parts to the car buying process, according to Auto Trader.

In an interview with Car Dealer Magazine, Auto Trader’s COO, Catherine Faiers said she thinks omnichannel retailing is still likely to be the future of car buying, even as consumer behaviour develops. The theme has been developed in a new report published by Auto Trader today, titled, ‘Digital Journeys, Physical Retailing.’

This view has been Auto Trader’s position for some time, but in a retail environment that has changed and developed rapidly in the last few years, it is revealing that this remains the view of the U.K.’s leading auto retailer.

In October 2021, Auto Trader CEO Nathan Coe told AIM Group in an interview that its research found just 2%-3% of people wanted to buy a car fully online and outlined the company’s strategy for its e-commerce roadmap.

Faiers comments to Car Dealer suggest Auto Trader’s approach remains the same, no rush to digital retailing but to provide options for consumers and dealer partners to conduct as many parts of their process online as they choose to do and to provide a system that caters for all.

“When we ask consumers, most say that they want to do more online and that they’re comfortable doing more of the jobs in the buying journey online,” Faiers told Car Dealer Live. “But not as many say that they want to do all of the buying journey online.

“And I think that is a really important difference between an online transaction and an omni-channel experience that might involve a digital journey, but a physical experience or actually transaction happening on the forecourt.”

Auto Trader has tracked the mount of cars purchased fully online. So far, it has seen the figure reach 4% between 2020 and 2022 but that figure has now dropped year-on-year, supporting Co’s 2021 assertion of 2%-3%.

“We’re seeing record engagement on Auto Trader with consumers doing more of those buying jobs online, but then the majority looking for us to hand over to the retailer to complete the jobs that they’re less comfortable doing online on the forecourt with the retailer,” added Faiers.

“When we talk about digital retailing, we very much mean omni-channel – bringing the best of the digital experience and connecting that with the best of the forecourt experience provided by retailers. We think that’s the future for the industry.”

Widening gender gap in EV market

Separate research from Auto Trader suggests action is needed to reduce a widening gender gap in the U.K. EV market.

It found women are buying fewer EVs than men due to marketing strategies. This is despite women owning 48% of U.K. driving licences and having more disposable wealth and independence than ever before.

Auto Trader found that most marketing is currently focused on technology, even though just 12% of women say this is a priority for them when buying a car. Auto Trader said the focus should switch to safety, an area that 65% of women say is important to deciding on their purchase.

A lack of marketing has also led women to feel misinformed about the practicalities of owning an EV, according to Auto Trader. Research within the report showed 25% of women thought EVs were more expensive to run than diesel and petrol vehicles. However, as of April 2023, EVs were, on average £86 cheaper per 1,000 miles to run than petrol or diesel cars.

The research also highlighted knowledge gaps that could affect women deciding on whether to buy an EV or not. These were how they drive, how long they take to charge and their environmental impact. The report said there should be more EV promotion on social media and through friends and family to reach women. The Digital Marketing Institute found that 86% of women use social media for purchasing advice, yet most EV promotion is currently in car magazines and newspapers.

Auto Trader wants a more tailored approach to reduce female consumers perceived fears about EVs. This could include focusing on showcasing EVs in more familiar spaces for women. Auto Trader also thinks the issue could be improved by more women test driving EVs, education about EV charging technology.

“You’d be forgiven for assuming the advent of electric cars (EVs), with their more lifestyle-oriented stories around sustainable materials, enhanced services and carbon footprints, would fundamentally change women’s relationship with cars for the better,” said Erin Baker, editorial director at Auto Trader. “And yet, as our new data shows, the gender gap is widening.

“Addressing the issues raised in this report should help a large chunk of U.K. drivers to feel confident enough to take that leap. Without action, adoption will falter.”

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