Part 6: Who is Shopping for Cars Online in the COVID-19 Economy?

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Detroit, MI - Detroit Trading Automotive Research & Insights

Jack Lintol

President & COO at Detroit Trading


This week, our data scientists dug into our ClearPath™ Enterprise Technology historical data to give us an idea of who is car shopping in the COVID-19 economy. The results are noteworthy and demonstrate that there is a major shift in the demographics of who is shopping online, and it is good news for OEMs and dealers.

Background: over the past decade and a half, Detroit Trading has amassed a comprehensive library of demographic and psychographic datasets that give us insight into the profile of online auto shoppers. These datasets include, but are not limited to, information on shopper income, profession, interests, household size, garage data, as well as family type and size.  

At a micro level, we apply the intelligence maintained in our proprietary software to create consumer profiles for each online lead, which allows us to predict each lead's propensity to buy. This ensures our clients receive consistent and reliable close rates on their leads.

At a macro level, these datasets help us get a high-level overview of who is buying. This information helps to power our lead generation activities and better target qualified, in-market shoppers with compelling and value-added content.  

For this exercise, we analyzed the following three demographic areas: 

  1. “Professionals Demographic” - Highest Closing Professional Demographic Increasing
  2. “Lifestyle Demographic” - Two Highest Closing Lifestyle Demographics Increasing
  3. Median Household Income - Median Income Increasing

1. “Professional Demographic”

A key demographic factor that Detroit Trading uses to indicate a higher propensity to buy is a consumer’s likely professional background. The chart below shows our professional scores grouped into quartiles for February 2020 (pre-COVID) and compares against April 2020 (COVID). We are seeing an increase in the most desirable professional demographics (one sample of the many “Professional Demographic” data points in each quartile is as follows: 1st Quartile - individuals with advanced degrees; 2nd Quartile - individuals with professional degrees and retirees; 3rd Quartile - sales and other; and 4th Quartile - skilled workers and hourly service economy workers) in April 2020 for online leads.  

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What this means to us: Shoppers within our 1st Quartile, which have the highest close rates, are a higher percentage of the people interested in purchasing a vehicle. Individuals in our 4th Quartile, which have the lowest close rates, have likely been hit the hardest financially by the COVID-19 economic downturn and may be postponing car purchasing decisions.

2. “Lifestyle Demographic”

Detroit Trading also relies on lifestyle information to evaluate buying habits of online shoppers and assess their propensity to buy a vehicle. We are also seeing increased volume in the highest performing quartiles (one sample of the many “Lifestyle Demographic” data points in each quartile is as follows: 1st Quartile - exurban, upper class, 2 homes, with family or retiree; 2nd Quartile - exurban and urban, upper middle class, 1 home, with family; 3rd Quartile - suburban and urban, middle class, renter or 1 home, with family, single or retiree; 4th Quartile - urban or rural, lower middle class, renter, with family, single or retiree).

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What this means to us: Shoppers within our 1st and 2nd Quartiles, which have the highest close rates, are a higher percentage of the people interested in purchasing a vehicle. Individuals in our 3rd and 4th Quartiles, which have the lowest close rates, may be delaying car purchasing decisions.

3. Median Household Income

Again, while data shows sales are currently being delayed, the demographic profile of online customer interest is better than ever. We analyzed average median income on consumers shopping for cars for the 12 months prior to March 2020 and compared that to the median income of consumers shopping for cars in April 2020. As with the professional background and psychographic profiles, income is a key indicator of propensity to buy and close rate. This is where the shift in who has been shopping for cars online has been the most dramatic. From March 2019 to February 2020, the average household income of those shopping for cars online was approximately $77k. In April 2020, the median household income of those shopping for cars online was approximately $80k, or $3k higher and almost $1.5k higher than the previous highest month during March 2019 through February 2020.

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What this means to us: Although purchases may still be delayed, consumers still need vehicles, and the type of consumer shopping for cars online is changing. Shoppers with higher incomes are becoming a greater percentage of those interested in purchasing a car during this COVID-19 economy.   

Analysis: The Profile of Online Shoppers is Changing  

COVID-19 is changing how we interact and transact. Car shopping is not immune. Detroit Trading is seeing an increased percentage of consumers who have a higher propensity to buy raising their hands to purchase a vehicle. This data suggests a more immediate sales opportunity for dealerships as they gear up their sales efforts to service the re-opening of their local economies. OEMs and dealerships who understand this and stand ready to serve consumers via frictionless online / offline experiences, will subsequently earn new customers and gain market share.  

About the Author - Jack Lintol is the President of Detroit Trading, a Detroit-based firm that is amongst the world’s foremost data and technology providers of “in-market” automotive shoppers and shopper intelligence. The firm provides data and leverages data science for original equipment manufacturers and dealers that is responsible for more than 30,000 and $1 billion in monthly car sales. Contact Jack at jack@detroittrading.com.

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