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Press Releases

15 August 2013
Tipping point: Car sales set to accelerate onto digital superhighway

With Mercedes-Benz set to begin online sales of its vehicles, research by GfK shows how increasing numbers of Britons are happy to use the web as a way of buying cars directly.

In the week when luxury manufacturer Mercedes-Benz further embraced the digital age and launched plans to allow customers to order and finance new cars through online shops, exclusive research by automotive research experts GfK reveals how tech-savvy younger Britons are increasingly embracing the idea. 

Among the key findings of GfK’s ‘Future Trends’ survey:

  • Nearly one third (31%) of under 35-year-olds would buy a new a car directly via the internet. At 28% the figure is only slightly lower for older drivers
  • The experience of going to a dealership is changing, with as many as 80% of potential new car buyers having all the information they need on a particular car before stepping into the showroom. People now come to view a car model for reassurance and for a test drive - rather than to be ‘sold at’
  • Social networks are playing an increasingly important role in the decision making process. 16% of under 35-year-olds use Facebook for research before buying a new car vs 2% of older drivers
  • Manufacturers such as Vauxhall, Nissan and Audi are responding to the role of the internet in car buying by launching virtual showrooms and demonstration centres.

From salesroom banter to digital dealing
“BMW’s recent decision to make their new i3 electric car available to buy online is a significant event,” observed Damian Long, Divisional Director for GfK Automotive. “With Mercedes-Benz also announcing plans for online sales in Germany by the end of the year, buying cars directly from manufacturers via the web is only going to gather momentum.”

“Although they’re at different ends of the market, Renault’s Dacia brand is already selling its low-cost cars via the web to defend its leadership of Europe’s buoyant budget vehicle market. And with the world’s biggest search engine set to enter the market, the next place you buy a car may soon be Google. The move is set to revolutionise the market, improving transparency and empowering consumers as automotive pricing data becomes increasingly normalised and easily searchable.”

From Millennium false start to tipping point
At the start of the Millennium, the automotive industry was confidently forecasting that new car buyers were about to enjoy the benefits of online purchasing. Unfortunately the predictions proved premature.

“It’s fair to say that so far both car makers and the public haven’t been able to capitalise on the transactional benefits the internet has offered other sectors,” said Joe Vaughan, Research Manager at GfK Automotive. “But we’re now at a tipping point where the auto industry is revisiting the principle of leveraging the web as a sales channel. The signs look a lot more promising this time.

“Car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz are responding to changing attitudes towards car ownership and how the public research and buy their car of choice. But as our research shows, they need to combine online sales opportunities with experiential marketing. Demonstration centres like Nissan’s Brand Centre at the O2 Arena, road shows and pop-up dealerships will be essential to give customers that all-important chance to see and try their preferred car in the real world before purchasing in the virtual one.”

Don’t forget the haggling
In GfK’s survey, while nearly half (45%) of owners agreed that negotiating over the price of a car is something they enjoy doing with a dealer, opening up the internet for car sales will allow buyers to choose the purchase process that suits them best.  A move to easier online purchasing at a fixed price with all the financial information up front is likely to make the journey smoother for those who don’t enjoy negotiation.

The bigger picture
The British are among the world’s most enthusiastic digital shoppers, with online retail sales growing at 15% and sales now totaling £660m / week. And from October, changes to the law will make it easier to buy and sell properties over the internet.


Kevin Maxwell 07817 698366

About GfK
GfK is one of the world’s largest research companies, with more than 12,000 experts working to discover new insights into the way people live, think and shop, in over 100 markets, every day.

GfK is constantly innovating and using the latest technologies and the smartest methodologies to give its clients the clearest understanding of the most important people in the world: their customers.

In 2011, GfK’s sales amounted to EUR 1.37 billion.

In December 2012 GfK won the coveted award for ‘Best Research Agency with a turnover over £20m’ in the UK by the Market Research Society.

To find out more, visit or follow GfK on Twitter:

Responsible under press legislation: Marketing, GfK, Richard Morland,, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London, UK, SE1 9UL

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Damian LongUK Lead, Automotive