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Australian car consumers utilise online resources at all stages of the buyer journey, but offline sources still play an influential role, according to a new automotive study. 

The Nielsen Australian Automotive Report 2012 found that when it comes to awareness and discovery, traditional media is still particularly popular with 65% of car buyers using print resources at this stage.

But when car buyers begin the research stage of shopping, they invariably turn online - something Econsultancy has long highlighted. In fact, 73% of new and used car buyers use online media as part of their car buying research process.

Much of this online research is done at home, with 64% and 62% of car consumers using laptops and desktops during this stage. However, consumers are beginning to turn to mobile devices and social touchpoints

Smartphones and tablets were used in 29% and 26% of searches respectively and these figures saw a significant rise on the year prior. In 2011, only 14% of mobile phones were used in the car decision process and only 5% of tablets were used. 

The move to online

The internet is currently the second most popular resource for new car buyers who are researching their next purchase, falling behind visits to car dealerships and auction yards. However, for used car buyers, the internet is the most popular resource, with carsales.com.au reigning supreme as the most popular website visited. 

Almost three-quarters of used car buyers (73%) visited the above website, yet in contrast, only 45% of new car buyers used that source. Car manufacturer websites were also popular, with 72% of new car buyers visiting these websites during the awareness and research stage.

But it was online classifieds that was the most heavily utilised online resource among used car buyers, with a huge 97% of consumers visiting these sites. 

Social media was also used to research possible options, although on a slightly lesser scale, with 25% of new and used car buyers turning to this medium during the decision making process. Melanie Ingrey, research director at Nielsen Media Division APMEA, says this shows the shift in interest to peer reviews. 

These finding signal a real interest in peer reviews and feedback from like-minded consumers. They also highlight the continued opportunities for brands to utilise social platforms and spaces as a means of connecting with, and communicating with customers.

The changing path to purchase

Mirroring the trend seen across other industries, car consumers are increasingly looking to varied sources for information during their path to purchase. 

While newspapers, magazines and TV are still an important part of the awareness and discovery stage, Ingrey says that online sources have become unquestionably important in the car decision making process, and she expects this trend to continue to increase.

The opportunities held by online media to build awareness, engage potential vehicle purchases, fulfil their information needs and move car buyers through their decision making process are abundant.  

Ingrey also points to Smart TV’s as having the potential to change the path to purchases even further, especially given that the home remains the most prevalent place of accessing online resources. 

Internet connected TV’s have the potential to be used as a shared online device for group viewing and browsing in the living room. This new connected screen (once penetration increases) holds opportunities for marketers and content providers to support ‘family’ or group experiences to move car buyers through their decision making process, particularly as many car purchase decisions are made with the recommendation and input of friends and family. 

[Image credit: Eadey]

Claire Brinkley

Published 9 April, 2013 by Claire Brinkley

Claire Brinkley is Econsultancy Australia's news and insight reporter. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ or connect with her on LinkedIn

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