Net is main information source for car buyers: study

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DoubleClick Performics has found that 53 percent of consumers use the Internet in the days leading up to making an automobile purchase, making the Internet the most prominent information source used by consumers in deciding to purchase a vehicle.

The study shows consumers not only use the Web as a tool for initial and follow-up research but also are influenced by the Web at the last minute.

"The Internet has become an 'always-on' media that is part of consumers' entire decision-making process," said Nick Beil, vice president of sales and account management at DoubleClick Performics, Chicago. "As a result, targeted impressions and clicks to the dealer's Web site are just as important as the leads generated from the site."

Consumer use of the Web throughout the purchase cycle should be top of mind for marketers when creating search campaigns and advertising messages, Mr. Beil said.

Sixty percent of respondents said they prefer to visit a dealership in person, and more than half access the Web as part of their consideration process, providing dealers another avenue to educate consumers and potentially convert a search into a sale.

In addition, the study found that common auto search terms, including names of brands and models and functionality, were followed closely by state, city, ZIP code and dealership names.

"Everyone searches locally and our survey demonstrates that local search plays a prominent role in automobile consumers' search queries," Mr. Beil said. "Including vital information such as location or dealership name in a search result may provide an added boost and, ultimately, increase sales."

Mr. Beil also said marketers need to ask how they are managing their local search campaigns. If a local dealer is bidding competitively against the regional and national campaigns, their online ad budget is being wasted and they are driving their own costs up.

When narrowing their automobile search, about half of respondents said they would visit a variety of Web sites including consumer-review sites, comparison sites, dealership sites, search engines and automobile company Web sites.

"It's imperative that marketers consider and harness the impact that search has to drive offline sales," Mr. Beil said. "In this research the fact that consumers went back to the Web right before they purchased an automobile is significant not only to the auto industry but all online advertisers.

"Be it awareness or branding or e-commerce sales, the Web is no longer an alternative form of media and should undoubtedly be part of every advertiser's marketing tool box," he added.

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