Want a satisfying car shopping experience? Try Porsche or Buick

Porsche and Buick ranked highest in terms of a satisfying sales experience for new car buyers, according to an annual report released Wednesday from J.D. Power.

This is familiar territory for the brands that have dominated the car shopping experience in the premium and mainstream segments over the last few years. But the annual survey of nearly 30,000 buyers who bought or leased a new vehicle this spring reveals more insightful trends as the car shopping experience increasingly shifts to digital platforms. 

More and more, shoppers expect to be able to buy cars without visiting a dealership but that doesn’t mean dealers can remain hands-off and still expect to close online sales. At the same time, a potential customer’s first impression of a dealer’s website matters more than ever. 

Those are just two of the findings of the J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study. This year’s SSI study shows that even as buying habits shift away from an in-person experience, 90% of customers will still visit a dealership at some point in the buying process, and that dealers can’t afford missteps in these narrow windows, lest they lose customers before they can even start working a deal. 

“While digital retail is on the rise, shoppers aren’t quite ready to adopt an Amazon-like business model when it comes to purchasing a vehicle; they still want to view inventory in-person and often rely on salespeople to explain how the vehicle technology works,” Chris Sutton, VP of automotive retail at J.D. Power, said in a statement.

The key for dealers is to ensure they don’t lose the sale before a customer even steps foot on their lot,” Sutton said. “If a new-vehicle shopper isn’t satisfied with the dealer website or facilities, they aren’t going any further in the sales funnel, and that sale is lost before a dealer can demonstrate how well it does everything else.”

According to the study, fewer than 50% of buyers reject a dealership before they even start negotiations. Nearly half of those buyers will make that decision before even speaking to a sales representative at all, and oftentimes these buyers’ first impressions are made online. 

In the SSI study summary, J.D. power says that the three key takeaways for dealers are that the buying experience still counts even if customers are shopping remotely; dealers should still put a priority on the in-house experience and promote the use of tech in their dealerships; and that sales representatives should communicate the way customers want, with an emphasis on the use of texting if customers show a preference for it.

Porsche and Buick scored the highest marks in attracting, retaining, and closing new car sales as measured by customer satisfaction. Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti ranked second and third in the premium category; GMC and Mini trailed Buick among mainstream dealers.