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Much of the consumer car rental business has already moved online, especially in countries with advanced digital habits. Now there's evidence that in Germany, for example, people are also using the internet in their millions to research and buy new and secondhand vehicles.
According to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Online Forschung (AGOF) , nearly 44% of desktop internet users ages 14 and older in Germany—equivalent to some 22.7 million people—researched car purchases or rentals digitally in Q3 2015.
About one-third of people conducting research via desktop—14.4% of all respondents—went on to order a vehicle online. Among mobile web users, the shares researching and then ordering a car through digital channels were even higher, at 48.6% and 16.7%, respectively. Overall, about 35% of desktop users and 38% of mobile web users polled said they planned to buy or rent a car in the next 12 months.
AGOF found that desktop and mobile web users were more likely to research and order secondhand cars than new vehicles. But rental cars were the most popular car type ordered digitally via desktop or mobile device.
Surprisingly, when it came to ordering and paying for a car via digital channels, mobile devices had the edge over desktop PCs, in percentage terms. Some 17.2% of mobile web users polled by AGOF had made such a transaction in the previous 12 months, compared to14.9% of desktop web users. The proportions buying new cars were quite low, though. Among both desktop and mobile internet users, fewer than 6% had actually paid for a new vehicle online. That percentage would presumably be higher if the sample group had excluded young teens.
Additionally, high-earning consumers in Germany were most likely to check out vehicles on the internet. Over 35% of web users living in households with a monthly income of €3,000 ($3,328) or more had researched and/or paid for a car on the web. In other income brackets, no more than 25% of respondents had researched or paid for cars online.
A footnote for marketers: When AGOF compared its data on digital car rental and purchase behavior with automobile firms’ distribution of ad spending across media channels, it found a potential disconnect. According to Nielsen, 15% of the German auto industry’s ad budget in H1 2015 went to the internet, and just 1% was devoted to mobile advertising. TV claimed 39%—the largest single slice—and newspapers 23%. While ads on TV and in printed newspapers can still deliver good returns, and often influence shopping habits on digital platforms, the Nielsen figures highlight a clear opportunity for car rental and sales firms to give more attention to digital marketing, and mobile efforts in particular.
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