Press release

Van buying process remains challenging, but retailers remain vital to positive experience

Read the findings from the Auto Trader Van Buying Report 2021

Van buying remains difficult, with most buyers forced to complete a non-linear and often complex process of jobs before they’re able to buy. However, a positive retailer experience is the biggest accelerator to purchase. That’s the key finding from the Auto Trader Van Buyer Report 2021, which found that buyers significantly underestimate the number of jobs required to purchase their next van. In fact, both personal and SME buyers expected to complete circa five jobs, whereas the actual number is around 20.

The report comes at a time when Auto Trader is seeing record demand for vans on its marketplace. Last month visits to Auto Trader Vans reached an all time high, increasing 47% on March 2019[1], whilst advert views increased 49%. This increased level of activity on the site resulted in a significant surge in the number of van leads being sent to retailers, increasing 158% last month when compared with March 2019.  

March also marked the 15th month of consecutive price growth for used vans, increasing a record 22% year-on-year (YoY), far outperforming their car counterparts, which saw average prices grow 7% YoY. Underpinning the strength of the van market, despite such high retail prices, the average speed of sale continues to fall, with 72% of vans on Auto Trader selling in less than 60 days – 39% sold in under 20.

Pain points are slowing down the buying experience  

However, the research suggests retailers could be missing out on this rapidly growing market, due to prevalent pain points for both personal and SME buyers. These pain points can typically be grouped into three categories:

  • Function: comparing different makes and models can be a very challenging process, often due to a lack of transparency or clarity in pricing or features. In fact, 74% of personal buyers found it difficult to work out the full cost of ownership, whilst 50% of SMEs said they experienced a lot of unclear information around the features of the vehicles they were researching. What’s more, for 72% of SMEs, a major gripe is not being able to see the availability of the van they want to buy.
  • Repetition: worrying about making the wrong decision was a key pain point for 80% of personal van buyers, with four out of five thinking the choice is simply too complex. And 50% of SMEs, which are typically more familiar with the van buying process, agreed. It’s not surprising when between three major CV brands, there are over 400 model variants.
  • Trust: Like other aspects of the retail experience, trust is a major issue amongst van buyers. In fact, 86% of personal buyers are concerned about being ripped off, whilst 66% of SMEs don’t know whether to trust a dealer.

Possible steps to mitigate these pain points include providing full transparency on the real price of the vehicle, including VAT and admin fees; ‘catches’ or hidden costs often perpetuate the reputation of retailers as untrustworthy. What’s more, with the huge surge in online retailing, it’s never been more important for businesses to build trust in the vehicle and their brand, by providing extensive imagery, videos, and customer reviews, as well as promoting buy online services.

Having stock online and visible at all times is vital, not only because over a third of van purchases are completed within a month, but also for unpredictable purchase triggers, such as the 28% of personal buyers who “felt like a change” or the 1 in 5 SMEs who “happened to see a good deal.”

Retailers should also make it easy to be contacted – more than half of retailers on Auto Trader don’t have their text or chat enabled. It’s critical to respond quickly to customer enquiries and provide accurate information that will help in their process. Slow responses add to the frustration and slows the process down even further. In a mystery shop of 100 independent and franchise van retailers, 29% ignored the enquiry.

Commenting on the findings, Leanne Thomson, Auto Trader’s Sales Director, said: “Since the start of the pandemic we’ve seen the van market, both new and used, go from strength to strength, and it’s extremely reassuring that on the verge of forecourts reopening, demand has never been stronger. Our report highlights that many businesses might be missing out as result of inherent complexities or inefficiencies in the buying process. However, through small but impactful incremental steps, retailers can make the process of buying a van easier and faster for customers, and as a result, not only sell more vehicles, faster, but often build a long-lasting and profitable relationship.”  

Retailers remain integral to the buying process

The research revealed the biggest factor in improving the van buying experience, is the retailer themselves, with a third of both personal buyers (32%) and SMEs (34%) saying the information they’re able to provide is a key influence on the decision making process. Such is the value van buyers place on the relationship with the retailer, 62% of SME buyers will buy from the business they considered at the very beginning of their research journey - typically the same retailer from which they made their previous purchase. As such, the importance of the interactions and relationship with the retailer cannot be overestimated, and each lead should be considered a potential customer for many years to come.

To read the findings in full, please visit: Auto Trader Van Buyer Report 2021


Research methodology

The research was conducted in January 2021 by Join the Dots and took place across two phases:

  • Interviews: 10 x remote, one-hour in-depth interviews.
  • Online survey: Total of 250 respondents; 100 personal owners (incl. 11 sole traders); 100 personal considerers; and 50 SMEs

[1] It’s now more accurate to compare the current performance against 2019 given the growing impact of COVID-19 this time last year.

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