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Engaging today's online vehicle shoppers

Jan 19 2017

The vast majority of consumers today shop online. There's no shortage of great websites and online tools for searching, researching, and comparing various products. Most of them work equally as well from a desktop computer or mobile device. The key factor to success for many of these websites and tools is a top-notch user interface (UI) that's intuitive and allows each consumer to create their own shopping experience.

With hundreds of models and thousands of configurations, shopping for a vehicle requires much more legwork than most consumer products. As a result, it's difficult to meet the needs of all vehicle shoppers within one website or research tool. However, there's a significantly better way to interact with vehicle inventory than traditional online vehicle shopping.

To provide this better shopping experience, it's important to understand today's consumers. So, we've compared below what consumers have come to expect from shopping online with the way most vehicle shopping tools work, and have provided suggestions on how to better meet the needs of the modern vehicle shopper.

How most online shopping works

Picture yourself shopping for a product on Amazon, or another popular e-commerce site. In this case, you're looking for a new flatscreen TV. Besides familiarity with some major electronics brands, you might not have a clue what's on the market for TV options. However, you know that you want an HD TV between 40-50" in size within a price range of $500-$600.

Amazon has made it simple for users to research by either...

1. Selecting a product category (electronics_TVs for this example) and then filtering by certain attributes (TV type, size, price range, rating, brand, etc.) 



2. Plugging in the product and specific attributes in the search bar (ex. 42" LG flatscreen TV).


Whether it's a new TV or dog food, Amazon and other successful shopping sites allow shoppers to start with a very broad search and get very granular, without constraining the search. Consumers want to control and drive their online shopping experience. And successful shopping websites have recognized this by providing search functionality that accommodates these needs, except for one industry...

Most vehicle shopping websites and research tools work much differently. 

How online vehicle shopping works

Most online vehicle shopping sites or research tools require consumers to plug in vehicle year, make, model, price range, and sometimes body style as a starting point to begin the shopping process. This method works just fine for vehicle shoppers that already have an idea which brand(s) or model(s) they are interested in. However, users that are undecided on their next vehicle --6 out of 10 consumers according to recent studies-- are forced to either work with these artificial search constraints or abandon the starting search and sort through an overwhelming amount of inventory.

Consumers are dissatisfied with the current options for vehicle inventory interaction, as evident from this following Google statistic:


Google: Digital Drives Auto Shopping

Many of these touch points, if not all, could be bypassed with one stellar research tool. This is a flashing neon "opportunity" sign that only a few websites, including cars.com and AutoTrader, have started to act on. The majority of online vehicle shopping sites are missing out.


If your website fits the mold of traditional online vehicle shopping, it's time to take a new approach in order to evolve with today's consumers.

Simplifying the online vehicle shopping process 

As you know, online vehicle shopping can be an overwhelming process with many shoppers not knowing where to begin. Here are some ways you can improve your vehicle shopping website or research tools to better align with the expectations of today's consumers and satisfy their needs, which will result in more conversions and ultimately more vehicle sales.

1. Allow vehicle shoppers to search by vehicle attributes

As mentioned above, not every vehicle shopper knows which vehicle make or model they are looking for in the early stages of their research. In other cases, they may just not have loyalty to a particular brand and are open to other brands that best fit their needs.

Every vehicle research and shopping website needs to empower consumers to start their search based on attributes that are most important to them. For example, a young family will often put safety at the top of their list while a number of millennials care more about entertainment and tech features. Rather than requiring users to search by year, make, model, and price range --though it should still be an option-- they should be able to control their shopping experience based on their wants and needs. 

Here's a great example from GrooveCar of how vehicle research can be much more intuitive.


2. Provide more advanced filtering criteria

AutoWeb-Search-Filtering-ScreenshotOnce your site visitors have gotten their feet in the door with their initial search, your vehicle research tool should allow them to filter their searches in greater detail. This could include certain safety equipment, technology features, luxury features, vehicle specs, color, and etc. Check out this blog article for some advanced search filtering ideas.

Several auto listing and dealer sites have done a better job with this portion of the research process. Still, there are a significant amount of sites that provide a limited amount of search criteria to work with. 

3. Create a top-notch UI/UX

Finding the right vehicle requires many steps, and often many websites, if the UI/UX is less than great. Chances are that your visitors will want to build off of their initial search, adding and removing filters, or even starting from scratch.

Make it easy for users to navigate through your research tools without bouncing over to your competitor's sites. After all, how many other websites do you need to visit when you're purchasing a product on Amazon? They have everything from product recommendations (based on your search activity) to customer reviews and Q&As, and it's easy to navigate through their site.

A few items you can implement for a great UI/UX could be:

  1. A compatibility rating based on the researcher's criterion
  2. The ability to easily add and remove filters for your attribute-based search
  3. Functionality for serving up other recommendations based on searcher's activity

Building a new solution is time-consuming

Restructuring your vehicle research tool(s) is a big project that you probably don't have the time and resources for. However, improving the experience for your site visitors should not be pushed aside. Online vehicle shopping is continuing to evolve, and continued success will be dependent on your ability to meet consumer's increasing needs and expectations. 

Fortunately, DataOne offers a fully built out vehicle shopping solution, PerfectFit® Software Suite, that can be implemented quickly via our CORS Plugin or completely customized for different use cases using our API. PerfectFit is a great solution for OEMs highlighting their vehicles, dealer groups selling several makes, Auto listing sites with endless inventory, and vehicle research sites connecting consumers with dealers.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay 

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