As retailers in England and Wales fully reopen this week, the latest data from Auto Trader reveals the exceptionally strong levels of demand recorded in March has accelerated. In fact, all the initial retailer feedback, coupled with the incremental increases in sales activity and consumer confidence recorded each month this year, all point to April seeing a significant step forward.
Last week (5th – 11th April) the number of daily cross-platform visits to Auto Trader averaged at 2.4 million, which is a 38% increase on the same period in 2019, and an 8% increase on the prior week (29th March – 4th April). By Sunday, daily visitors had reached 2.5 million. The average time spent on Auto Trader also saw a significant acceleration towards the reopening of physical forecourts: last week, consumers spent an average of 379,339 hours every day on its marketplace, which is a 35% increase on the same week in 2019, and up 11% on the week before.
As a result of this increased activity on site, the average number of leads being sent to retailers surged last week, increasing 81% on the same period in 2019.
Adding to this promising picture, Auto Trader’s latest on-site consumer sentiment survey, conducted in March, shows that the average number of car buyers intending to purchase within the next three months has seen a similarly positive trajectory, increasing from 57% and 58% in January and February respectively, to 62% in March. In fact, out of 1,575 car buyers, nearly a third (32%) intend to buy within the next two weeks.
This will be fuelled, in part, by the extra £18 billion Auto Trader research found consumers had managed to save during the pandemic, of which 41% of the 2,000 consumers surveyed in March intend to spend on a brand-new car.
Commenting on the results, Auto Trader’s director of data and insight, Richard Walker, said: “As retailers are able to finally fully reopen their forecourts, it really is wonderful to see all of our consumer metrics at such exceptionally high levels. It gives us every confidence that over the coming days and weeks, businesses will see strong sales levels, which many of our retailer partners said began first-thing on Monday morning. Despite the restrictions, most businesses were close to recording almost normal sales volumes in March; if they’re able to achieve that with just online retailing, we can’t wait to see the success the industry will make with a blended retail strategy in place.”
Car ownership driving demand
Separate Auto Trader research conducted last month suggests some of the increased demand is being driven by the growing importance of car ownership as a result of COVID-19. Over a quarter (27%) of the circa 800 consumers surveyed agreed that owning a car is more important to them today than it was before the pandemic, which is a slight increase on the 25% recorded in February. What’s more, 8% of onsite users in March are in market specifically to avoid public transport. This should provide retailers with confidence that the strong levels of consumer demand being recorded is likely to continue for some time to come.
Retailer confidence reflected in pricing behaviour
Based on the number of retailers making price changes and the value of their adjustments, last week’s pricing strategies highlight the confidence in the current strength of the market.
In fact, on average 2,178 retailers made price changes last week, which is 12% fewer than the same week in 2019, whilst the average daily price reduction of £194 was 34% less compared with the same period. On average, there were circa 14,350 price changes made each day, which was circa 1,000 fewer than two years ago.
 It’s now more accurate to compare the current performance against 2019 given the emerging impact of COVID-19 this time last year.