Almost two-thirds say they won't buy cars online.

Six in 10 Britons say they would prefer to visit a car dealer’s showroom than buy a car entirely online, according to new research. The study by the Motor Ombudsman comes as lockdown restrictions force dealers to close their doors to customers, although web-based ‘click-and-collect’ sales can continue.

With these restrictions in force, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show sales have dropped massively. In January, new car sales were down by around 40 percent compared with the same month in 2020 – before the coronavirus pandemic really caught hold in the UK.

But the Motor Ombudsman’s findings show exactly why customers are staying away and holding off on purchases until the lockdown is lifted. More than 2,300 UK adults were quizzed for the survey, and 62 percent said they would not consider buying a car “at a distance” over the internet.

Little girl high fiving her father on the showroom floor of a dealership

Of those who didn’t want to take their car-buying experience online, 85 percent said they would stick with dealers because they wanted to test drive a vehicle before committing to a purchase. Three-quarters of those preferring dealerships also said they wanted to see cars for themselves, rather than relying on any third-party photos, reports or documentation.

Similarly, 41 percent said they were concerned they would not be able to haggle on price when buying online, while 45 percent said they would have to do more research into the seller to confirm the vehicle was from a legitimate source. And female drivers were slightly less keen to move the transaction online compared to their male counterparts.

“Our research has shown that, despite online shopping becoming an even more talked-about phenomenon during the pandemic, visiting a showroom in person, and seeing and trying the vehicle for themselves, is the overriding preference for the majority of drivers if they were to buy a new or used car this year,” said Bill Fennell, the chief ombudsman and managing director of The Motor Ombudsman.

“A completely digital purchase process from beginning to end is clearly proving to be too big a step for most, but what our research has highlighted, is that there is demand in the vehicle sales sector from motorists for a more physical and tangible experience, as well as for one that is purely virtual from start to finish. This means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach if the needs of consumers are to be successfully catered for by retailers when selling cars in 2021 and beyond.”

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