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Used car buyers and their information behavior in 2020

Topic of the month April

Six points about the customer journey under COVID-19 conditions

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in 2020, including the car market. While the new car market was down significantly on the previous year at just under 3 million units, the used car market withstood the crisis somewhat better, recording just over 7 million changes of ownership. This high figure demonstrates both the importance of car ownership as a form of individual mobility and the significance of the used car market itself.

Six key points about the purchase of used cars are analyzed below.

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  • More intensive searches for information – including in print media:
    Thanks to lockdown, working from home, or reduced working hours, many buyers had more time to carry out extensive research. 99% of all used car buyers used at least one offline source during their customer journey, while 89% used at least one online source. Both these figures rose by almost nine percentage points in 2020. What is striking is that buyers took more time to read test reports in printed media, with the importance of these reports growing from 5% to 15%. The amount of passenger car advertisements in print media also increased – albeit it at a low level – from 6% to 9%.

  • Test drives still a decisive factor – despite COVID-19: At 68%, test drives became the most popular offline source for the first time in 2020. Although there were fewer test drives overall – no doubt due at least in part to a fear of infection – the hygiene measures put in place by dealers managed to reassure customers, ensuring that in 2020 this touchpoint remained a very important way of gaining an impression of a car and its features. In general, dealers also became more relevant as a source of information (2019: 39%, 2020: 46%).

  • Customers test drive and buy from the same dealer – very little “showrooming”:
    When asked whether, after a test drive, they went on to purchase the vehicle from the same dealer, 97% of used car buyers answered “yes.” Conversely, this means that only three per cent of buyers test drove a vehicle at “Provider A” and bought it from “Provider B” – and were thus guilty of “showrooming.

  • Dealer websites become more important – social media channels on a par with manufacturer websites: The use of online sources has also increased. What is striking is that dealer websites have become noticeably more important, growing in popularity from 22% last year to 35% now. Social media channels are also online sources of information, and, at 14%, their relevance for used car purchases is now on a par with that of manufacturer websites.

  • Newer vehicles – higher purchase prices: Purchases in 2020 consisted mainly of newer used vehicles with lower mileage (average age: 5.6 years; mileage: approx. 38,530 miles; newer and better equipped cars). As a result, used car buyers spent an average of EUR 14,730 on their used cars, more than ever before (+18% compared with the previous year).

  • Strong desire for mobility – once a used car buyer, almost always a used car buyer:
    For the majority of all used car buyers – 84% in total – the new used car was purchased to replace an existing vehicle. Four per cent bought another vehicle in addition to an existing one. Willingness to buy a used car again was also high: 81% had previously bought a used car, while 19% were former new car drivers.

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