Google exec calls buying cars online a ‘sustainable trend’

PRAGUE — The number of European car buyers willing to make their purchase online has increased dramatically during the pandemic and has remained at that level even as freedoms return, a senior Google official said.

“We’ve seen the surge in online car buying stay post-COVID,” Christian Richter, Google’s automotive retail director, told Automotive News Europe Congress last week. “People have learned that they can buy just about anything online, including cars. It’s now a lasting trend.

Richter oversees the automotive side of the tech giant’s advertising arm and uses data from Google searches and customer interaction with automotive advertising on Google platforms to map shopper trends.

About 14% of cars are now purchased online, Richter said, citing a Google study.

“The question is: what is a 100% online purchase? Does that mean delivery, no paperwork, electronic signature on documents only? ” he said. “But 10-15% of sales are very, very online.”

The bulk of car sales, around 80%, are what Richter calls “omnichannel” purchases, where the customer journey mixes physical and digital elements to enter the chosen vehicle.

The variation between those who prefer a more digital process over a physical route to ownership does not differ dramatically between countries in Europe, Richter said.

“The Nordics and the UK are more digital and Southern Europe is slightly less digital, but there’s only a 5-10% difference,” he told Congress. “It’s more about which player can provide the best customer experience. As soon as you offer a great online shopping journey, customers get on board.

Google data showing that 14% of customers buy cars online is higher than data from the Customer Research Survey collected in 2021 by retail analyst firm ICDP, which indicates that 7% of buyers buy entirely online.

“We don’t see any evidence that customers want to buy online,” ICDP chief executive Steve Young said in a separate interview with Congress.

Data from ICDP, however, shows that electric car buyers are twice as likely to complete the entire process online at 15% overall.

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