Mumbai: At least half the car buyers in Indian cities research online before visiting a dealer, according to a survey, pointing to the increasing influence of the Internet on shopping.
Of these, 54% changed their preferences after comparing prices and reading reviews online, said the study by the Indian arm of Google Inc., the world’s biggest Internet search engine, and consumer survey firm AC Nielsen.
India has more than 120 million Internet users, the third-largest online population after China and the US, according to the study.
The study was based on surveys of customers visiting auto dealers, Rajan Anandan, managing director, Google India Pvt. Ltd, told reporters on Tuesday.
Nielsen conducted the study in eight metros and interviewed 2,791 respondents across 234 dealerships of seven car makers—Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, Tata Motors Ltd, Ford India Pvt. Ltd, Chevrolet (General Motors Co.), Hyundai Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd and Volkswagen AG.
Mohit Dubey, co-founder of online auto portal CarWale.com, agreed with the findings, pointing out that user traffic on his website had nearly doubled over the past year.
Buyers go “online to do a lot of things such as get prices, read reviews, fill test drive forms and do not limit themselves to the manufacturers site”, he said. Such customers aren’t necessarily hung up on a particular brand.
Car buyers researching online lose interest if they don’t get a response from an automobile company within four hours of posting a request for a test drive, Dubey said, citing France-based consultancy firm Cap Gemini SA’s 12th annual global automotive study published earlier this year.
Online queries related to autos on Google by Indian users increased 70% in 2011, making it the fastest-growing “query” category on the search platform. In comparison, the volume of queries on the well-established travel sector increased 40%.
The number of online queries on cars is “growing exponentially”, said Anandan.
The study also found that 42% of the people surveyed preferred “search engines as the first source of information, just behind the opinions of friends and relatives” at 47%, for auto-related content.
The Internet was rated over television and the print media, which were used by just 2% and 9% of the consumers, respectively, for information on cars.
In terms of “query volume growth”, sports utility vehicles were the fastest-growing car segment at 83% annually, followed by premium cars at 82%. Queries on hatchbacks, at 53%, grew the slowest, though small cars account for the biggest chunk of passenger vehicles sold in India.
The survey revealed that 72% of online users trusted the websites of car makers the most.
“There is no direct correlation with the data of search queries to the buying pattern of the consumer,” said Abdul Majeed, analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers India. “There could be a possibility that the reason for high queries from the buyers is because the survey was conducted in the eight metros of the city.”
Google also released a “Top 10” search list of cars launched in 2011. Hyundai’s Eon topped the list followed by Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s XUV 500 and Honda’s Brio. The results were based on query volumes in the weeks leading up to the launches as well as during the launch and after the cars hit the market.