Understanding Complex Buying Behavior:

Dominion Dealer Solutions - couple buying a car

Understanding Complex Buying Behavior:

George Carlin, the late comedian and actor once noted, “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”

Perspective is invaluable. In fact, amazing things happen when we go beyond what people do and aim to understand their thoughts and feelings.

This could not be more true for the automotive industry. Understanding shoppers’ behaviors, thoughts, and feelings is key to unlocking greatness in the way we relate. Doing so changes our message. It changes our lot and showroom experiences. It changes our online presence. And, it could disrupt everything we have grown accustomed to doing in the past — for the better.

A great place to begin is understanding — rather, appreciating — the complex buying behavior that shoppers exhibit while researching and purchasing vehicles.

Complex buying behavior comes into play when consumers exhibit a high level of involvement in purchase decisions. Involvement refers to what shoppers must do to understand a product of interest (i.e. a new or pre-owned vehicle). A high level of involvement, typical of car shoppers, means that the individual goes to significant lengths to understand the product. This behavior is driven by the nature of the decision itself.

First, complex purchases are expensive. Whether the vehicle is $10K or $50K, it is far beyond what would be cataloged as regular, discretionary spending. This prompts high involvement.

Second, complex purchases are emotional and include a deep sense of commitment. Whether the buyer and owner experience is good or bad, the vehicle purchased is the vehicle one lives with for an extended length of time.

Third, complex purchases are extremely personal. Because a vehicle purchase is expensive, shoppers equate the purchase with the time and effort behind it. The decision becomes reflective of the buyer. For dealers it’s one more unit. For shoppers, it is intensely personal.

Fourth, complex purchases are uncommon or  infrequent.  The average consumer thinks of purchases in terms of a monthly cadence. Since vehicles are not purchased often, it drives higher levels of involvement. Even when shoppers choose short-term leasing, it still falls far outside the bounds of a common purchase.

Fifth, not only are complex purchases uncommon, they are unfamiliar. Regardless of brand-loyalty, the purchase cycle is unfamiliar territory. Since I was last in market, what has changed? Which make or model is better? Will I love what I end up with? Today’s shoppers spend nearly six months researching vehicle purchases, in large measure, to make the unfamiliar, familiar.

Finally, complex purchase decisions are rarely made alone. Regardless of how much a dealership drives positive ratings and reviews, shoppers are inundated with data throughout their research. The ease with which a shopper makes his or her complex buying decision is related to the degree in which one is informed, based on the experiences of others.

This level of decision-making can be intimidating, but it is through this journey that car buyers understand and develop perspectives on vehicles prior to purchase. This is good news for the dealer. In fact, this is great news. Why? It means car shoppers are highly influenced in this process. If we can learn their perspective, we can influence decision-making. And if we can influence decision-making — well, that’s what business is all about.


Steve Lausch is the Director of Product Marketing at Dominion Dealer Solutions. Join Steve at the 20th Digital Dealer Conference in Orlando, January 19-21, 2016, as he further explains Complex Buying Behavior in his workshop: Rocking Your Sales Funnel: Practical Insights to Influencing Your Customer’s Shopping Journey.

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