Window shopping: Are Americans ready to buy cars online?

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Taylor Covington

Content Researcher

As a qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collected, organized, and analyzed data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and be…

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Renata Balasco

Senior Content Strategist

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Renata joined The Zebra in 2020 as a Customer Experience Agent. Since 2021, she has worked as licensed insurance professional and content strategist.…

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Car shopping: in person or online?

When it comes to car shopping, Americans aren’t thrilled by the typical car-buying experience. Spending valuable weekend hours at the dealership in a high-pressure and time-consuming buying process seems more like a dreaded chore for most. Could these pain points be streamlined via an online car shopping experience?

To get a better understanding of consumers’ attitudes toward the car-buying process, we surveyed 1,000 Americans per question and found that:

  • 46% of people prefer to shop for cars alone.
  • Only 7% of people want help from a salesperson.
  • Instead of turning to a salesperson, 48% of people begin the car buying process online.

Nearly half of people prefer to shop for cars alone

Close to half of Americans want to do their car shopping alone. Across all age groups, we found that many people would rather shop for a car without anyone else’s help. 


Buying a car is an important life decision, so it makes sense that most people value their own opinions over others. However, for couples and families, cars are often shared, so it’s surprising such a large number of people would rather make this important financial and lifestyle decision without any input from others.

Hardly anyone wants help from a salesperson

Sales personnel may play into why people would rather shop alone. We found only 7% of people value the help of a salesperson during the car buying process. Of those, men are 1.6 times more likely than women to prefer the help of a salesperson.


One study found 61% of people have felt taken advantage of while at a car dealership.[1] Sales personnel are known for attempting to upsell customers on unnecessary features and do extensive follow-ups in an attempt to lock down a deal. From intimidation factors to confusion about the process, shoppers may feel pressured into making a decision on the spot. Choosing the right vehicle on a budget is challenging enough, especially when a carbuyer doesn’t trust the people that are supposed to guide them through the process. 

Are people ready to buy cars online?

Online shopping has transformed how we buy many things — from groceries to car insurance — but are people ready to make big-ticket purchases like a car completely online? Our survey indicated that people already start the car buying process online, mostly for researching (48%) and browsing the inventory at nearby dealerships (38%). However, it seems the traditional in-store dealership still offers a familiarity that most consumers prefer.  


Shopping for a car online may be more convenient, but it lacks the in-person experience of taking a test drive. We found only 6% of people would like the ability to take a virtual test drive, revealing dealerships’ necessary place in the process of purchasing a car.

Shoppers are already trading human help for the internet

What does the future of car-buying look like? Accenture reported nearly half of people are prepared to buy a new car online and that 16% have already done it.[2] It’s likely that within the next few years, the majority of people will continue to use online sources before their trip to the dealership, where they’ll make their final purchase. 

Technology offers enhanced transparency about the car buying process, helping consumers compare options and make decisions they feel good about. Similarly, comparing car insurance options online can lead to better rates without even leaving the house. 


This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in October 2019.

  1. How much longer will consumers keep buying cars at dealerships? Digital Trends

  2. Accenture