Cox Auto's Car Buyer Journey Study Shows Satisfaction with Car Buying Improved

Cox Auto’s Car Buyer Journey Study Shows Satisfaction with Car Buying Improved

The rise in satisfaction can be attributed to several factors such as improved inventory levels, the return of discounting, and the further proliferation of an omnichannel approach to vehicle buying.

Cox Automotive‘s annual Car Buyer Journey (CBJ) Study reveals that satisfaction with the vehicle shopping and buying experience improved in 2023 after declining in both 2021 and 2022.

According to the 2023 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study, overall car buying satisfaction increased significantly, with 69% of consumers being highly satisfied with the process. This is a notable increase from the 61% reported in the 2022 study. The rise in satisfaction can be attributed to several factors such as improved inventory levels, the return of discounting, and the further proliferation of an omnichannel approach to vehicle buying. This approach combines online and at-dealership activities, resulting in a more satisfying and efficient vehicle buying experience.

Notably, the percentage of buyers highly satisfied with the overall shopping experience increased to 73% for new-vehicle buyers and increased from 58% to 68% for used-vehicle buyers. At 80%, new electric vehicle (EV) buyers continue to report the highest levels of satisfaction with the process.

Retail outlets – dealerships – continue to deliver levels of satisfaction that many critics may find surprising: When considering the dealership or retailer experience in 2023, 74% of all vehicle buyers and 79% for new-vehicle buyers reported that they were highly satisfied. Satisfaction among new-vehicle buyers matched an all-time high, equal to the level reached in 2020, the peak of overall car buying satisfaction. Positive feedback extends to crucial touchpoints such as the test drive experience (82%), vehicle pickup and delivery process (79%), and interaction with the sales team (77%).

“There is an often-cited narrative that suggests going to a car dealer is worse than a root canal,” said Isabelle Helms, vice president of Research and Market Intelligence at Cox Automotive. “Our research and data, however, suggest that this is simply not the case. In fact, 79% of new-vehicle buyers were highly satisfied with the experience provided by their local automobile dealer.”

Affordability and Inventory Levels Affected the Car Shopping Experience 
While affordability remains a concern, the latest CBJ suggests the situation is improving. Regarding the price paid, 49% of buyers report paying more than expected, down from 54% in the 2022 study. Dissatisfaction with the price paid was highest among used-vehicle buyers. Better inventory levels were a key driver, as vehicle supply levels in the U.S. improved throughout the second half of 2022 and all of 2023, according to Cox Automotive’s vAuto Available Inventory database. More options for buyers also triggered many dealers and automakers to increase incentives. Lower prices and a sense that the purchase “was a good deal” helped improve overall satisfaction.

In the 2023 survey, 68% of buyers considered both new and used vehicles, up from 64% in the previous report; 78% of used-vehicle buyers considered a new vehicle during the shopping process. Buyers typically considered two vehicles and visited two dealerships. Nearly 80% of shoppers visited a third-party website during their buying journey (e.g., Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book (both Cox Automotive companies),, or CarGurus). New EV buyers were more likely to visit third-party sites, particularly first-time EV buyers. The report also reveals that fewer shoppers visited automaker websites or used online retailers (e.g., Carvana, Vroom) compared to 2021 and 2022.

With Better Digital Tools, the Buying Process Becomes More Efficient
When it comes to car buying in America, the desired state is omnichannel, not entirely digital. According to the latest survey, 50% of all car buyers completed 100% of the steps in person, while 43% completed steps in a mix of online and in-person at the dealership. Only 7% of car buyers in 2023 completed all the steps online. Used-vehicle buyers were more likely to cite in-person as the solution.

When asked about the desired state and how they’d likely complete their next vehicle purchase, 71% of consumers indicated their preference for an omnichannel approach. Twenty-one percent of buyers suggested their ideal vehicle purchase process would be entirely online, while only 8% said they would purchase entirely in person.

Interestingly, buyers of new EVs are already living in the future: In the study, 69% indicated they used an omnichannel approach, far higher than traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) buyers at 39%. Meanwhile, 16% of new EV buyers bought entirely online, and 15% pursued an in-person process.

Seamless Car Buying Process Shortens Time Spent and Increases Satisfaction
One reason the shopping experience improved in 2023 over 2022 was that the time required from start to finish was shortened by more than an hour. A key takeaway is that an omnichannel approach greatly reduces the time required and, in turn, improves overall satisfaction.

In the most recent survey, new-vehicle buyers reported spending approximately 11 hours and 45 minutes from beginning to end, down more than 80 minutes from the prior year. In comparison, used-vehicle buyers reported spending more than 14 hours, a one-hour decrease. New EV buyers, who spent less than 11 hours in the process, were the most satisfied with the process duration. Seventy-six percent of new EV buyers reported being highly satisfied with the time required, while 59% of new ICE buyers reported being satisfied with the time required, a drop from 2022.

“Year after year, our studies suggest that consumers are not pursuing an entirely digital experience,” added Vanessa Ton, senior manager of Market and Customer Research. “Rather, we believe car buyers want a seamless experience where they can start the process at home, shop, fill out any required forms, and then go to the dealership, test drive a car, complete the deal, and learn about their new purchase. Dealerships that fully embrace an omnichannel approach are the most successful, as the process becomes more efficient for everyone involved and delivers happier buyers as well.”

Who Bought a Vehicle in 2023 and Why
The study suggests that car buying in America continues to be driven by households with above-average incomes. In the survey period, the average household income (HHI) was $140,000 for an EV buyer, $115,000 for a new-vehicle buyer, and $96,000 for a used-vehicle buyer. The survey also reveals that EV buyers were notably younger than average (41 years old versus 52 for all new-vehicle buyers).

Key triggers for a vehicle purchase continue to be the aging of an existing vehicle, which was true for both new- and used-vehicle buyers. In 2023, more buyers were adding a vehicle to their household: 15% of buyers noted the purchase was triggered by the need for an additional vehicle in their household fleet, up from 11% in 2022, a 36% increase.

Recent studies from Cox Automotive also suggest that consumers are putting a higher value on vehicle ownership, not just transportation. This trend is likely a result of changes in attitude following the global COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, 43% of consumers suggested that transportation is necessary, but ownership is not. In more recent surveys, that number had dropped to 35%.

Study Methodology
The annual CBJ study from Cox Automotive looks at several attributes tied to vehicle buying in America and focuses specifically on new- and used-vehicle buyer satisfaction. The annual survey considers vehicle buying from multiple angles: There’s a generational analysis, a CPO deep dive, a look at satisfaction with the auto financing process, and even consideration of how electric vehicle buyers differ from buyers of traditional automobiles (internal combustion engine or ICE vehicles). The 2023 Car Buyer Journey results were derived from surveys of nearly 3,000 consumers who bought a new or used vehicle in a 12-month period ending August 2023. The survey was conducted in August and September 2023.

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