A Guide to the Car-Buying Customer Journey

February 8, 2024

Team ACV




A Guide to the Car-Buying Customer Journey

ACV facts & figures

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A used car facing a sunset.

The car shopping journey can be exciting for buyers—but it can also be confusing. With so many options available, potential customers rely on a combination of their own research and a knowledgeable sales team. Given the long-term value of the customer relationship, the more aware dealerships are of the car-buying journey, the more they can adapt their automotive retailing strategies to accommodate buyers throughout the process. 

Although price is an important factor for buyers, a satisfying customer experience can often be the determining factor in whether they’ll make the final purchase. The best way to attract and retain customers is to continually improve the shopping experience by providing the guidance and support buyers need at every step.

Why Is the Car Shopping Journey Important?

The car-buying customer journey consists of 5 stages¹:

  • Awareness
  • Research
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Loyalty

As much as dealerships love raising awareness to get new customers in the door, it’s important to recognize that car buyers have a high lifetime value (LTV), sometimes called customer lifetime value (CLV). This metric examines the value of the customer relationship for as long as they do business with you, not just during a one-time purchase². This makes LTV an effective marketing strategy for dealerships.

The average customer is estimated to own 6 vehicles throughout their lifetime³, so a savvy dealer will want to capture as many of those purchases as possible. The key to creating this type of loyalty is a positive customer experience at every stage of the buying process.  

Research shows that people spend a lot of time buying a vehicle and are getting frustrated by it. Shoppers are spending over 14 hours shopping, with nearly 80% of survey respondents visiting third-party sites during their research stage. Dealer websites account for 59% of this research, demonstrating their importance to would-be buyers. This statistic should motivate automotive marketers and dealerships to pay attention to the early research and consideration stages⁴, especially as younger, more tech-savvy customers enter the market

What should get dealers’ attention for customers in the loyalty stage? The fact that a significant number of buyers are open to a fully online shopping experience, bypassing physical dealerships in favor of a more streamlined experience⁴. This reinforces the importance of maintaining customer relationships after their initial purchase—the journey doesn’t end once they drive off the lot.

How Dealers Can Help Customers at Each Stage of the Buying Journey


The awareness stage of the car shopping journey is when a customer initially discovers your brand¹. At this point, they have decided they are in the market for a new vehicle. They may have seen a television advertisement, heard a commercial on the radio, or been served social media content, pointing them to your inventory.

Although a sale is rarely guaranteed during the awareness phase, dealers who engage customers through strategic marketing and advertising can find themselves several steps ahead of their competitors in any given market. 


Car buyers hoping to secure the best deal on a new or used vehicle will undoubtedly perform online research to determine the exact type of make, model, and features right for them. Automotive marketers who help facilitate this process with strong digital merchandising can reap the benefits.

By clearly marketing inventory that is available now or will be available soon, buyers have access to the latest information available to help facilitate their decision-making. From videos showcasing features to well-crafted vehicle detail pages (VDPs), the more informative content dealerships can provide, the more confident buyers will be in their car shopping journey. 


Moving into the consideration phase indicates a higher likelihood of making a purchase, both what the customer wants to buy and where¹. This is where great customer service truly makes a difference and can put you on the path to loyalty.

Dealerships can improve their customer service by ensuring buyers feel welcome during all interactions, from building a detailed, easily navigable website with a contact form to creating a welcoming in-person shopping experience. Investing in sales training is a surefire way to create a more knowledgeable and engaged team. Manufacturer training provides teams with knowledge about vehicle specifications and ownership, while internal training encourages employees to learn from one another. External training lets employees hear from outside specialists and experts, giving them a fresh perspective on customer experiences and sales goals.

In a competitive sales environment, knowledgeable employees and a comprehensive website can be the difference between a seamless customer service experience and a frustrating one.  


By this stage of the car shopping journey, customers have narrowed their search to a few specific models and found the dealerships that have it in stock. The customer’s previous online interactions with your dealership can help them determine whether they want to visit. This is when they’ll schedule test drives and commit to a purchase—and it’s the stage when having a welcoming, knowledgeable sales team pays off.

Dealerships can improve their chances of landing the sale through digital retargeting efforts, like personal emails asking whether customers have any questions about the vehicles they saw. This helps maintain brand awareness and paves the way for a continued relationship. 


Once a customer has made a purchase, it is important to stay in touch. Not only can buyers become valuable repeat customers, but they can also offer referrals through word-of-mouth. Car buyers often display loyalty toward dealerships that go above and beyond to make their experience convenient and personal¹.

Communicating with customers after a sale should be a two-way street. Don’t just solicit reviews or survey responses. Follow up with a thank-you note and respond to their online reviews. Keep their needs and goals in mind, and reach out if a new addition to your inventory seems relevant. Send reminders of promotions and service due dates to encourage repeat visits. And sometimes, the simplest touches are the most thoughtful, like greeting card lists for birthdays and holidays. 

Great Customer Relationships Start With Great Inventory

Get your dealership ready for buyers with help from ACV Auctions. We source vehicles from across the country and create comprehensive market reports that give you the details you need before bidding. Join today to browse our listings and choose your newest acquisitions.



  1. Gotter, A. (8 March 2021). Automotive Customer Engagement & the Journey to Car Purchase. LeadsBridge. Retrieved on January 12, 2024, from https://leadsbridge.com/blog/automotive-customer-engagement/
  2. White Paper: The Importance of Lifetime Value in Driving Dealership Revenues. Fullpath. Retrieved on January 12, 2024, from https://www.fullpath.com/blog/ltv-for-driving-dealership-revenues/
  3. Ortiz, P. (12 January 2023). How Many Cars Does the Average American Own (2023 Update). HouseGrail. Retrieved on January 12, 2024, from https://housegrail.com/how-many-cars-does-the-average-american-own/
  4. Cox Automotive’s Car Buyer Journey Study Shows Growing Frustration with Car Buying Process. Cox Auto, Inc. Retrieved on January 12, 2024, from https://www.coxautoinc.com/news/2022-car-buyer-journey-study/