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Consumer Behavior in Autos Category Revealed by Greg Sterling

August 16, 2006

Chris Sherman in SearchDay writes up a new study from Yahoo! and comScore that offers an in-depth examination of the behavior of users in the autos category:

The study, which tracked the click stream data of a subset of thousands of comScore users for three months, with follow-up interviews with 342 users, sought to answer questions about the scope of auto-related search activity, and the effectiveness and user perceptions of the key groups of search marketers within the segment.

Over the three month period of the study, 45% of the U.S. population visited automotive web sites, amounting to 716 million unique visits. “We were incredibly surprised at just how large this market is,” said David Schwartz, senior manager of automotive category, Yahoo Search Marketing, who presented the findings in an online webinar.

The study closely analyzes and segments users:

The study found, however, that most users were visiting the OEM and first tier sites more than the second tier aggregators. Most visiting the second tier sites were already far down the buying process and much closer to making a purchase decision.

Despite the large numbers of users visiting automotive web sites, the study found that only 6% engaged in actual shopping behavior. However, these users represented 36% of total visits— 4.6 million customers with over 250 million visits, or more than 50 visits each.

Of these “engaged shoppers,” as Schwartz labeled them, ultimately more than 77% either bought a car or said they were planning on buying a car within a year.

What types of queries were used? 77% were related to specific model research. 56% were looking to find a dealer, but only 32% requested a quote on a specific model of car. But Schwartz thinks that evaluating results solely on a cost-per lead basis understates the effectiveness of search.

Key takeaways from the study: At least for now, users prefer to use OEM sites for research and aggregators for pricing and quote information. This means it’s imperative for brands to have a consistent and consolidated communication platform across all media, and to “play nice” with the aggregators to avoid alienating customers.

There are lots of interesting takeaways and implied recommendations for auto marketers in this research – where are newspapers? (nowhere to be found apparently). But one thing it clearly shows is the purchase cycle of consumers in the category. It reflects how they engage with multiple types of sites (OEMs, aggregators, search) in doing autos research before buying offline. Note: “56% were looking to find a dealer.” This is the new convoluted purchase cycle laid bare with the ultimate transaction happening offline.

by Greg Sterling

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