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Car Buyer Satisfaction Dips Amid Inventory Shortage, High Prices

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If you’ve shopped for a car in the past year, you might be all too familiar with this one-two punch: sparse dealer lots and high prices.

So it’s no surprise that the 12th annual Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study showed a dip in the percentage of car buyers satisfied with their shopping experience in 2021 — 66%, down from a record-high 72% in 2020.

This drop comes as 35% of consumers said they plan to own or lease more vehicles in five years than they do now. Here’s what else we learned from Cox Automotive.

Despite dips, new buyers more satisfied with shopping experience than used buyers

Both new and old buyers reported less satisfaction with the car shopping experience in 2021 than the year before, though new ones were happier overall. More than 7 in 10 (71%) consumers who purchased a new car expressed overall satisfaction, down from 74% in 2020. Among used car buyers, 65% felt satisfied, compared with 71% the year prior.

In particular, the chip shortage — which isn’t going away anytime soon — has impacted prices and inventory, contributing to the changing shopping experience. Respondents noted the following experiences, which point in various forms toward the chip shortage:

  • Paying more than initially intended (48%) (specific to those who reported higher-than-expected price)
  • Being offered a limited selection (39%)
  • Seeing prices that are higher than expected (31%)
  • Being contacted by dealers or retailers with incentives, such as trade-ins, early lease returns or financing deals (18%)

Similar to the shopping experience, the dealer experience can be just as important. In 2021, that dipped, too — 75% of buyers expressed a satisfactory dealer experience in 2021, down slightly from 77%. Satisfaction last year was higher among new buyers (78%) than used buyers (74%).

But where are car shoppers hunting for vehicles? According to the Cox Automotive survey, the majority use third-party websites (75%), followed by dealerships (57%) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — straight from the factory.

Are digital buyers weathering the impact of limited inventory?

Whether digital buyers have been able to deal with the recent limited inventory phenomenon depends on the online involvement of the shopper.

Among mostly-digital buyers — those who completed 50% or more of the steps entirely online — 57% said their car-shopping journey in 2021 was better than ones in the past, a dip of only 1 percentage point from 58% in 2020.

Meanwhile, only 28% of those who dipped their toes slightly as light-digital buyers — those who completed 20% or less of the buying steps online — said their experience was better, a 10-percentage-point drop from 2020. (Overall, 34% of buyers said their car-shopping experience in 2021 was better than previous ones, down from 43% in 2020.)

But if you’ve already found the right vehicle, make sure to search for the best auto loans and rates for you — and you should start by factoring in all of the costs of car ownership. Besides the price to drive the car off the lot, consider everything from insurance premiums and repairs to fuel and depreciation.

Methodology: Cox Automotive surveyed nearly 3,000 consumers who purchased or leased a new or used vehicle between September 2020 and August 2021.

 

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