As COVID-19 continues its hold on the country, the impact on consumer behaviour is becoming clearer.
The last month has been characterised by demand-side uncertainty, with consumers battling logistical challenges and mixed messaging. Lockdown, however, has created some semblance of certainty – or as close to as it we are likely to come – and that has filtered down to elements of consumer digital behaviour.
The stories we’ve seen this week show a wide distinction in fortunes between first-party and third-party sites. For the former, Sophus3 reported this week that UK OEM sites had seen a 62% drop in daily visits since the start of lockdown in the UK, a trend that held across all page types. In fact, the share of visits to each page type – brochure, dealer locator, test drive, offers and configurator – did not change, falling proportionally with volume.
With regards to the latter, ComScore reported this week that, in line with a huge surge in social activity, publisher sites have seen a significant increase in user visits since the imposition of lockdown conditions across Europe’s “Big 5”, with the UK seeing an increase of nearly 50% to news sites between the first and third weeks of March.
The trend is becoming clearer: consumers are looking for news with greater relish, have more time to browse content, and are choosing third-party sites as their preferred destination.
What does this mean for brands?
Third-party publisher sites offer the most direct access to consumer eyeballs in current circumstances. While the numbers would suggest that engagement has suffered – with metrics down across the board, both for first- and third-party sites – we would argue that, in the case of automotive, this is a question of the messaging and value that consumers are presented with, and how it appeals to their stage in the buying funnel.
The distortion of the buying funnel has not necessarily removed intent, but extended purchase timescales. A 44% year-on-year fall in new vehicle registrations in March confirms that, in the short-term, purchase activity will be significantly reduced as consumer confidence wanes, but this does not condemn the medium-term future of automotive retail; as Auto Trader reported this week, 88% of consumers will use the lockdown period to research their next purchase, and 60% plan to purchase later in the year.
As requirements change, TLA is leveraging first- and third-party publisher networks to engage with buyers with a longer purchase timeframe; those who displayed pre-lockdown intent, but now have no viable mechanism to buy and have therefore extended their timescale to 3-6 months, rather than TLA’s typical 0-3. The needs of these consumers have shifted, with an increasing appetite for deals and offers and wider consideration sets, as buyers consider more affordable alternatives.
Engaging with these consumers during the coming months will be crucial for brands looking to accelerate away from lockdown and into a successful second half of 2020. More time for research, alongside affordability concerns, will challenge brands to retain brand-loyal buyers, and will present others with an opportunity to win away buyers from competitors. Engaging with consumers now and interjecting during their extended research process will provide the opportunity to get ahead when the time comes for dealers to reopen.