How many car buyers are still online in the UK?

In this time of crisis, brands want to understand how their performance matches up to the market. Patrick Fuller, our Head of Insight, describes the view from eDataXchange, the collaborative online platform between car brands across Europe


At Sophus3, we have a unique view of new car market through eDataXchange, a partnership between car manufacturers across Europe that has provided independent insight into the latest car buyer behaviour since 2003. It can accurately track audiences at scale across multiple brands, providing detailed information into shopping habits and customer behaviour.


First, our data shows the impact of the early spread of the coronavirus in the early months of this year. Whereas the US was suffering a hangover from its weak performance in 2019, and Asia Pacific countries were already experiencing the emerging pandemic, in Europe traffic to automotive brand sites was up strongly between December and February. The UK led the way with an impressive 20 per cent increase in daily traffic to automotive sites year on year.


Global traffic to auto brand sites December, January, February. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


However, a month later in March, things looked very different, with all continents seeing dramatic falls in audience as the unprecedented restrictions on movement were introduced.


Global traffic to auto brand sites March. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


The steep declines started when the partial lockdown in northern regions of Italy was announced on February 21, with neighbour Germany reacting strongest. By the time the German and UK lockdowns were implemented on March 21 and 23 respectively, audiences in each of the Big 5 were in steep decline, although the bunching of the graph in late March shows that countries that were first to react, Italy and Spain, had stabilised to a degree.


Daily auto traffic totals across Big 5 European countries. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


Turning to the UK specifically, the reversal in fortunes is stark. After the strong start to the year, which saw daily visits to new car brand sites rise to 774,000 in February, March crashed to 572,000 daily visits overall and just 294,000 per day following the UK lockdown between 23 and 31 March. That’s in a month that would usually see increased traffic thanks to the biannual numberplate change.


Daily traffic to UK automotive sites February to lockdown. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


UK media sites such as AutoTrader and What Car? have since reported that the remaining audience, albeit significantly smaller, is still engaged and sending out ‘in-market’ signals. Our data supports that view, with KPIs such as bounce rate, time on site and pages viewed down by a much smaller percentage than traffic. Many people are still researching their new car purchase despite the temporary shutdown of retail.

Engagement KPIs across UK auto brand sites following the coronavirus lockdown on March 23. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


If we go deeper and look at funnel actions such as brochure request and finance quotes, there is also evidence that a hardcore of visitors remain active in the car buying process. The ratio of visitors who go to a configurator, dealer locator, finance quote, brochure request and even test drive landing page is all but identical to what we would expect in normal times. So while the number of visitors is dramatically lower, with declines of between half and two thirds, those that are still active are visiting key pages in the same proportions.


Daily visits to key funnel landing pages across UK auto sites Q1 2020. Source: Sophus3 eDataXchange


It is too early to say which sectors are performing best in the reduced market. Electric vehicles recorded a dramatic rise in consumer online interest in January and February and it will be interesting to see if that is sustained in any way in March and April.

However, we can report that mainstream premium brands from Germany and UK are currently outperforming the average, as are German and South Korean mass brands. Those who are underperforming the market include niche premium brands and other mass brands.

In the coming weeks, Sophus3 will continue to report on the latest market movements and help brand marketers and planners to make informed decisions as the coronavirus crisis develops.