From previous Facebook IQ automotive research in the US and Brazil, we know that mobile is helping to drive a shift in the auto path to purchase. Whereas people may have once relied solely on dealer information, they can now check their smartphones while on the go and use friends, family and social media as resources and to help them gather intel. But what’s happening in Europe? What is the impact of mobile on the car purchase journey in France, the UK and Germany? With almost half of European smartphone users spending three or more hours on their mobile device each day,1European car brands would benefit from understanding the opportunities and challenges this presents.

Facebook IQ conducted a three-pronged study to understand how car buyers now shop. Firstly, we commissioned GfK to survey 1,500 people in the UK, France and Germany, who had either bought a new car in the prior 12 months (buyers) or who said they are looking to buy a car in the next months (in-market shoppers). Then GfK looked at historical laptop and mobile data for 50 UK in-market shoppers and 50 UK buyers. And finally, they conducted face-to-face interviews with 20 in-market shoppers and buyers in the UK.


We discovered that the process of buying a car is a multi-screen and social activity, and that brand and features, not offer price, can be more of a determining factor when it comes to choosing a car.

The auto path to purchase is a multi-screen journey

Our research revealed that a path to purchase a vehicle in Europe lasts up to 24 weeks, spans five distinct phases across devices and happens both on- and offline.

Car buyers used to begin their search for a car at a dealership, but today they tend to visit a dealership only after they’ve settled on two or three brands and models. Many in-market shoppers said they use their mobile phones to find inspiration, for example, over a third of people (34%) said they use their smartphone to browse visual content related to cars from other consumers. When it comes to research, laptops and desktops are the dominant device, with 69% of in-market shoppers saying they use their laptop/desktop for conducting research on manufactures websites.2


The automotive path to purchase in Europe spans five phases2


Each of these phases afford automotive brands the opportunity to potentially engage with and influence in-market buyers in a relevant way. For example, during the qualifying consideration phase, an in-market shopper tended to select 3-4 brands to explore more later, so that’s a potential window where your brand could help her shorten her list. Later, she’ll likely be looking for support to help her ensure choices of model, features and financing are the right ones for her. If you communicate with your in-market buyers in the right way at the right time, you reduce the risk of being seen to bombard them.

I made an inquiry about a car and have not been left alone by the company since. If I want more information I will gladly ask for it, please stop sending me emails and calling me. When I am ready to make a purchase I will make the calls.

Adele, 33 years old

When we asked people about the source they consulted while considering their purchases, the top sources ranked fairly evenly — from friends and family (31%) to car reviews and news sites (30%), from manufacturer/brand websites (37%) to dealer websites (32%).2

The online monitoring in the UK, showed six in ten of the 50 media-tracked UK in-market shoppers browsed Facebook while conducting their research, and of these, most (72%) do so on mobile. These 50 in-market shoppers visited Facebook, on average, 44.7 times in the month prior to purchasing a new car, Instagram 6.9 times and the manufacturers sites 5.4 times.4

Think brand and features — not price

When we asked which were the most important features influencing a car purchase decision, we can see that brand and features tend to determine what cars people buy, whereas the offer and the dealer are far less important. Perhaps buyers are less reliant on dealers than they once were, as they can get accurate, frequently updated information just by checking their smartphones.


Brand/make and model of car were cited as the most important purchase influencing factors3

Friends and family are more influential than dealers

So, who or what is influencing the decision to purchase a car? As we highlighted earlier, our research shows that 31% of respondents said they rely on the advice of friends and family during the consideration phase of their purchase journey.2 How do they get this advice? Some 40% of media-tracked UK respondents use Facebook to reach out to family and friends.4

If we look closer at the influence of friends and family, we find the network of influence is wide, but that the key influencers are closely connected to the person buying the car. For example, our survey found that a person’s partner is 1.68X more influential, and friends are 1.63X more influential, than a dealer.

The friends and family network is wide, but key influencers are close1

What it means for marketers

  • Keep conversing with in-market shoppers.

    People settle on two or three brands and models early in the path to purchase, so an always-on approach is important to drive awareness and consideration. With so many automotive conversations taking place on social and with friends and family, brands should think about how they can keep having conversations with in-market shoppers throughout the year, not just during periods like product launch.

  • Make the most of multi-screen.

    The new path-to-purchase — fueled by online research and social media — opens up new opportunities. Auto brands now have the opportunity to combine the best aspects of a visit to a dealer — personalization, customization, information exchange — with the powerful targeting, relevancy and reach of online.

  • Measure and optimize.

    People-based marketing can help empower automotive marketing teams to engage with in-market buyers based on the intent those buyers have shown online, including on mobile devices, which are largely invisible to standard online cookie-based tracking methods. Find out more about how to use the Facebook Pixel, which makes conversion tracking, optimization and remarketing easier.

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