Understanding mobile’s role in the automotive purchase journey

Timothea Horwell

Weve’s Marketing & Research Manager, Timothea Horwell, explores the paradox of the modern day automotive purchase: a wealth of mobile data to understand how to reach prospective customers at moments that most influence their decisions, but a decreasing time-frame in which to do so.

Weve’s research provides context to understand different drivers at each stage of the automotive journey.

Buying a car used to mean spending hours perusing the local dealership. In 2017, however, consumers are increasingly looking online for much of the purchase process, and mostly via a mobile device: Weve’s Automotive Research 2017 found 84% of consumers use their mobile at some stage when buying a car 

The move towards mobile is disrupting the path to purchase and traditional dealership experience, resulting in the time spent in the market for a new car decreasing by a week year on year, now taking on average just six weeks from start to finish. In a high involvement and measured purchase like a car, mobile data plays a critical role in identifying and understanding consumer mindsets from the beginning of the purchase journey, allowing marketers to target consumers accordingly, measure campaign performance, and continue communication post-purchase. 

This presents marketers with an interesting situation: a decreasing time-frame in which to target prospective customers, but a wealth of data to understand how to reach them at moments that most influence their decisions.  

Before they enter the automotive purchase journey, consumers tend to have an initial set of brands in mind; advertising is broader and more emotional than rational, with the aim to drive brand recall once they’re triggered into the consideration stage. Weve’s research found that while TV drove the strongest ad recall (76% recalled an automotive advert on their TV recently), it was followed by OOH (28%) and mobile (25%), but certain car groups like PSA Group are no longer thinking TV first – “even though it is an important element; we must integrate the range of formats from the moment of creation so that it impacts on all broadcasting media”.  

When it comes to taking a secondary action as a result of these adverts, mobile (11%) is the second strongest channel at driving secondary action, significantly above desktop (6%) and OOH (3%). But, dependent on media, actions don’t always happen in the form of directly attributable campaign engagement, so how else do marketers know when someone has been triggered from the awareness stage into the consideration stage? Mobile network data provides an unprecedented view of this through active network events, including calls, web logs, app logs, and search engine queries to compare prices and specifications, with 59% using their mobiles for this stage. 

Once an action has been taken and the consumer is in the consideration stage, the average process takes six weeks from start to finish, varying dependent on car brand, type, and consumer profiles. Second-hand car buyers are far more likely to use automotive apps and general motoring websites in the process, spending just over five weeks researching before they purchase. New car buyers, on the other hand, spend seven weeks researching, favouring brand websites and going into dealerships.  

While suggesting a strong level of intent, dealership visits are happening later in the purchase journey and less frequently than before, with an average of slightly less than two visits per purchase. As a result, it’s important to know when and why they’re occurring: location technology such as cell, small cell and WiFi provide insight from passive network events to show who’s visiting, where they’ve come from, how long they’ve stayed, and if their actions can be directly attributable to a campaign.

Research shows that half are even using their mobile while in a dealership to check prices and specifications elsewhere, searching for nearby dealerships and calling to check stock levels. Exactly who they’re calling and what they’re searching for is picked up by mobile network data to build up a bigger picture of in-dealership behaviour.

Other actions seen through mobile data suggest varying levels of intent, including getting a quote online (28%) and booking test-drives (11%) via mobile. While both actions have been traditionally arduous on mobile, brands like Hyundai are leading the fore in improving the user experience with the likes of initiatives like Click to Buy, the UK’s first entirely online car-buying platform.  

Although 61% are using their mobiles as this late intent stage, the majority of sales are still offline. Weve’s research showed 23% of consumers go through the entire process on their mobile and then purchase in a dealership – how do we make sure we continue to track them through the journey? Location technology such as geofences, small cell, WiFi and GPS in partnership with transactional data allows for attribution of media to a purchase and beyond, allowing for continued communication with the customer post-purchase. 

But some are shunning the traditional dealership experience for a more streamlined journey. Consumers and brands alike are looking online for a quicker, easier, and more simple process: one in ten purchased a car on their mobile, while one in four are likely to buy their next car entirely online. As Citroen point out in their move towards an increasingly online approach, this would allow car brands to exert more control over the customer relationship data that dealerships have owned to date, and manage the after-sales process more effectively.  

Some brands manage the post-purchase experience better than others – Audi owners are the most loyal of all brand owners, significantly over indexing in likelihood to purchase their next car from the same brand. Overall, 1 in 3 of those who purchased a car in the last 12 months purchased the same brand as their previous car, and over half are likely to buy a car of the same brand for their next purchase, suggesting a clear benefit for improved CRM strategies across the automotive sector.

So where does our research road lead us? The path to purchase is getting shorter, and with it the window of opportunity for marketers – making it more important than ever to reach consumers at moments that most influence their decisions. Mobile is invaluable as a research tool to consumers, but mobile data plays an even bigger role for marketers in the planning, delivery and measurement of automotive campaigns. It’s used as a planning tool in identifying and understanding consumer mindsets from the beginning of the purchase journey; a delivery tool to target the right person, at the right place and at the right time; a campaign measurement tool to attribute online and offline behaviour to media; and as a customer relationship management tool beyond the purchase. 


When conducting their annual automotive research, Weve wanted to understand how the automotive purchase journey has changed over time and where it’s headed to now, in order to continue providing market-leading insight and campaigns.  

Weve’s base of 22m adults and the billions of network events they see each day as part of a telco provide unprecedented access to a nationally representative primary research base, allowing for robust market and sector insight into consumer behaviour and journeys. 

Base n = 1,979 UK adults | Live May 2017 

Written by

Timothea Horwell


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