We’re all living in the digital age now, so no one should be surprised that much of the car-shopping process is completed online. If you’ve shopped for a vehicle recently, you might have checked out online sources, including reviews, as part of the process.

Reviews 1According to research done for Ally by the Center of Generational Kinetics, online reviews – digital versions of word of mouth – are having a notable impact on all aspects of car buying. They’re playing a growing role in helping shoppers decide more than just what vehicles to buy – including which dealerships, lenders and even salespeople to use.

Nearly 70 percent of all shoppers say that online ratings are valuable when selecting a dealership. And, nearly half of all women and more than 40 percent of men said they rely on online reviews to choose their salesperson. While men said online reviews were helpful, women generally found online reviews more valuable than men.

Customer Service is More Important Than Ever

The study’s findings suggest that customer service is more important than ever, as even one unsatisfied customer can leave a negative review that influences many other potential shoppers. Think about how online restaurant reviews by people you’ve never met have influenced your dinner plans. The same thing is happening with car shopping. Consumers are looking to other shoppers to find the best car-buying experiences on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or auto-centric online communities like DriveTribe or VINwiki. The power of personal endorsements has been given incredible reach and influence online, which is why first impressions of a dealer could be formed well before shoppers ever step on the lot.

Some Things You Can’t Get Online

Reviews 2Shoppers in the survey said that test drives and being left alone to browse were among the most important things they want once they arrive at a dealership. This is likely because you can’t take a test drive through the Internet – at least not yet – and vehicles look different in person, so shoppers want to be free to really examine a car.

But interestingly, some “old school” customer service techniques appealed more to younger buyers – who, despite stories to the contrary, still love cars. Millennials – more than Boomers or Gen X – like being greeted by a salesperson when they walk onto a sales lot and want to get follow-up messages – text, calls, or emails – from the staff. Younger buyers also put more value on the free coffee and snacks offered in some showrooms compared to other generations, proving that even the little touches can make a big difference.

We’ve already discovered that car culture is alive and well among Millennials, who are much more likely than other generations to proudly share their car purchases online, but feel more overwhelmed when shopping.

Values Matter to Young Shoppers

Millennials also place a lot of value on social activism, diversity, inclusion, and corporate responsibility. These principles have been shown to impact purchasing decisions and brand preferences. More than other generations, Millennials like to do business with companies and brands that align with their own personal values, which is why it makes sense that our study also found they reported feeling more at ease than other groups when shopping at dealerships with:

  • Casually dressed people
  • Salespeople who are the same age and gender
  • Signs that show diverse customers
  • Pictures that show a diverse sales team

As an organization, Ally makes a huge effort to give back to the communities we do business in. We believe it’s important to give back. For instance, through Ally WalletWise, we provide free financial education courses to help consumers make financial decisions. We know this is the right thing to do, and as the research suggests, demonstrating strong values is a customer expectation.

What can dealerships do to make you want to keep coming back? Do you rely on online reviews? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Andrea (Riley) Brimmer is the chief marketing and public relations officer for Ally. Andrea oversees Ally’s marketing and advertising strategies and is also responsible for market research initiatives and brand management. In 2018, she was named among Notable Women in Marketing by Crain’s Detroit Business as well as AdAge’s esteemed list of Women to Watch, cited for her forward-thinking, disruptive approach. For a full bio, click here.