Tracking individual users shows which ones are likely to buy, but they are hard to catch - unless you know how. A new Forrester Report explains how.
Millions of potential car buyers do their preliminary shopping on the internet. Some are serious, others are just looking, and yet others are simply dreaming about what they would do if they won the lottery. They research features and stockists, and compare promotions, prices and finance deals. But how many of them actually buy a car through a web site?
Carmakers, dealers and independent dealers collectively invest more than US$1 billion per year trying to convert online shoppers into buyers. Many of them don't even use the data that they collect from their own sites. And even if they do, they're still missing a trick. According to a new Forrester Research report, Carbuyers' Path to Purchase, there is much more to it than simply following up leads on your own web site.
Forrester analysed in detail three months of continuous online behaviour data, correlating it with purchase from the actual car buyers. This was extracted from comScore's network of more than 1.5m opt-in internet users. Forrester observed the paths of some 78,000 individual consumers through 170 sites, and also interviewed 17 car site owners and software providers. What the researchers found is revealing.
Research paths are good predictors
While independent sites are still popular, original equipment manufacturers' (OEMs) sites saw a 59% increase in traffic during 2001. Some one in four site visitors buys a car within three months. More than six out of ten buyers complete their research in five sessions or less. But, most interesting, is the fact that the shoppers' web research paths are good predictors of their probability to buy: on some paths, almost one in two buy in the near term.
Loyalty an anti-predictor
Conventional wisdom suggests that shoppers first visit information sites, then OEMs, then eRetailers or dealers sites, but mapping the data reveals a messier, more complex process. Mark Dixon Bunger, senior analyst at Forrester, says: "Common assumptions about customer behaviour when shopping for vehicles online are wrong. For example, loyalty and repeat visits are actually an anti-predictor of purchase. Most people who buy come in short, intense bursts, and don't hang out on auto sites. Single-site traffic analysis is not enough to understand and influence multi-site, multi-session shoppers. Instead, Forrester suggests a car buyer cartography - a map, over time, of the shopping process.
Site owner road map
Forrester developed a site owner road map to help owners understand their customers, and to segment them into distinct groups. However, the segmentation isn't predictive: companies need to help each group reach its different goals:
· Explorers need a guided tour: create user guides that lead them and explain advantages every step of the way. Nearly half will make a purchase within 63 days.
· Off-roaders need quick responses to their requests for quotes and quick follow up. One in three will buy.
· Cruisers are frequent visitors but only one in eight actually buy in the short term. However, they are car buffs and so are important influencers. Site owners can learn from them and should encourage them to participate in online panels and surveys.