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“Surf’s Up” Less than a generation ago, searching for automotive information focused primarily on media sources such as newspapers, print advertisements, radio, and television. Potential customers also relied on word-of-mouth and advice from peers and family, as well as surveying vehicles at the local dealerships.
No doubt, these avenues are still leveraged today. However, over the past decade the information landscape has changed dramatically with a growing access and understanding of the Internet. Today, a wealth of vehicle-related websites, message boards, review sites, chat rooms, and “blogs” are available at the touch of a fingertip. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of U.S. households with a computer and Internet access has increased from 18.0 percent in 1997 to 54.7 percent in 20033. According to other published estimates, some say over 60 percent of the U.S. households use the web4. With time being finite, using the Internet as an information provider has replaced personal time that was once allocated toward traditional media.
For those addressed in this study, participants were asked about the importance of various sources of information during their decision to buy their first vehicle. As depicted in Figure 1, results show that 35 percent of respondents consider the Internet to be the most important source of information: a higher percentage than is attributed to television, radio, newspaper, and magazines combined. With a relatively young, technology-savvy segment in this cohort giving such a high priority to the Internet, this finding continues to challenge conventional media outlets that have been in place for decades.
From a regional view, almost half of the respondents in the Western region of the U.S. (45%) pointed to
the Internet as a very important source of information, the only region higher than the national average
(35.3%). Supporting this finding, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s (USCB) report on computer and Internet usage, the Western region of the country has the highest percentage of homes with computers and Internet access.
Additional findings from this current study show that FTBs with a higher level of education and income are more likely to mention the Internet as a “very important” source. However, marketers should not assume that lesser educated individuals or those with lower incomes prefer to avoid the Internet as their top informational source. It is wise to realize that those with access to it tend to use it. So with availability and usage of technology in mind, the opportunities to capitalize on alternative media are equally important to all strata of first time buyers.
3 Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2003. U.S. Census Bureau.
4 “Capgemini: Consumers Use the Internet More Than Any Other Tool When Researching Vehicles.” The Auto
Channel. 17 Nov. 2005 http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2005/11/17/148409.html
5 Please see Appendix A for a complete listing of regional definitions based on state assignments.
6 Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2003. U.S. Census Bureau.