The New Social Purchase Journey: A Guide For Manufacturers And Dealers

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Shopping has always been social – whether we’re buying a car, a camera or a holiday. Since the first transactions in the earliest marketplaces, people bought from people and discussed their decisions with other people.

But the first era of automotive sites dispensed with all that. Car research became de-personalised, and we all browsed and clicked through isolated, human-free sites. All too often, we abandoned the process before we ever made it to a forecourt.

Download this guide to learn how to weave social engagement into every step of the new purchase journey to make it easy for people to buy your cars or from your dealership – and to share their great experience with others.

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The old purchase journey

It’s hard to believe, but only a few years ago, the purchase journey was a pretty straight line. We’d buy the same make, from the same dealership, every time. Seems almost quaint, doesn’t it? The old idea of a sales funnel that the marketer drives from start to finish has given way to something new.

The new purchase journey

Today’s consumer purchase journeys are multi-channel, multi-step pathways that reflect the unique motivations and dynamics of each specific purchase. From the outside, it looks like the map of a pinball: random, chaotic, rudder-less. But from the buyer’s perspective, each purchase journey is actually a fairly logical, goal-directed exploration of the web’s rich content universe and the wide range of mobile and offline touchpoints.

Of course, no two purchase journeys are identical. There are as many unique purchase paths as there are car purchases. But, as diverse as these journeys may be, a pattern is emerging that lets us distil some principles from this mess.

The new purchase journey is:


With all the channels available to them, people can continue their research on the move and outside offline business hours. The result? The whole purchase journey is speeding up. If you can’t respond quickly to behaviour that signals the intent to buy, you’re out of the game.


70% of today’s purchase journeys start on a search engine and nearly all involve several searches, whether on Google or an on-site search. You need to understand your keyword dynamics and make sure your site is optimised with plenty of social content.

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Above all, today’s purchase journey is social – fuelled by reviews, recommendations, ‘Ask an owner’ services, Facebook visits and Twitter queries.

You need to master social commerce content – on your own site and beyond.

Today’s purchase journeys aren’t always confined to the web. Offline channels – from brochures to car shows to traditional advertising – still play their part. And mobile apps are playing an increasingly important ‘bridging’ role between online and offline touchpoints. The most progressive businesses are deploying integrated, multi-channel campaigns that combine online, offline and mobile into a seamless journey


From the initial research to the final transaction, most purchase journeys involve much more than just a single visit to one website. And, because a car is such an expensive purchase, the process is more complex than usual. You need to be ready to convert interest into action in many different ways.


Yesterday’s path was heavily guided by the vendor. Today’s is buyer-initiated and self-directed. You can influence it, but you can’t drive it. The key is to be helpful to the shopper, making it easy for them to find exactly what they need instead of trying to frogmarch them to the final purchase.


Today’s purchase journeys hop from search engine to social site to price comparison engine to mobile app, bricksand-mortar store and back. They often involve multiple dealer and manufacturer sites, plus review sites, expert blogs and mobile services. You need to be in the right place at the right time with the right content.

The reality is that just like most other things in life, there is no one thing that makes something happen. People use a variety of methods to make decisions using a combination of tools and resources

- Frank Reed, Marketing Pilgrim

Without ignoring the incredible diversity of purchase journeys, it is possible to represent the entire decision cycle in a simplified model that breaks the journey down into four decision steps and four research stages.

The key decisions and research stages

Each of the four decision points either triggers or is triggered by a research phase. The decision points are, as the name implies, moments in time when people’s mindsets move to the next level of the purchase cycle. The research stages are more prolonged and might extend over days, weeks or months.

Identify a need

The moment you realise there’s a car out there that might be just what you need.

Need shaping

The stage in which you start to add dimension to your desires and start to picture vehicle you want to drive.

Intent decision

The moment when you realise that, yes, you are going to buy and do it soon.

Vehicle shortlisting

Where you start to narrow down your choices, first in big chunks, then down to a list of two or three options.

Vehicle decision

You’ve made your mind up. You want the top-end model, with automatic transmission. In green.

Dealer selection

Now where to buy? Where you bought last time, or somewhere new that offers a better price or service package?


You’ve found the right vehicle at the right dealer and you’ve gone for it. Congratulations.

Post-purchase validation

Now you need reassurance that you did the right thing (if only to justify it to your partner or family).

Your experience may vary

Of course, there is no such purchase journey in real life. Some journeys proceed in an orderly way through each of these steps. Others start with the manufacturer (“It’s time for my next BMW”), the dealer (“I think I’ll go see what my usual guy recommends”) or the vehicle (“I want the hatchback on last week’s Top Gear”).

Some journeys go from left to right in the model, others swim upstream or dance around. It’s still useful to analyse a generic purchase journey model, because it helps us see that:

  • Each stage has its own buyer needs and its own set of questions
  • Each involves different kinds of resources
  • Each requires a different approach for businesses
  • Each needs a different kind of social content
In highly complex sales situations, participants in the buying process come and go. They may enter the process at the stage of needs specification, only to depart when alternatives are evaluated, or they may participate only when demonstrations are given, for example.

- Dr Jeff Tanner, MyCustomer

The purchase journey question map

The implications

If people ask different questions as they progress through their purchase journey, shouldn’t you have different kinds of answers for them? And shouldn’t you know where they go to get help?

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The social commerce dividend

Social commerce encompasses anything that harnesses the experiences of owners to help the buyer make a better decision, including:

  • Vehicle ratings and reviews
  • Dealership ratings and reviews
  • Owner-to-buyer Q&As
  • Brand interaction forums
  • Social media sites

The power of social commerce to increase consumer engagement and revenues has been proven many times over in retail and travel. Now social commerce earlyadopters in car manufacturers and dealerships are starting to get first-hand experience of its effectiveness in the automotive sector.

Properly managed owner review, recommendation and conversation solutions deliver a range of benefits, including:

  • Increased traffic through providing content that search engines love (our research indicates around 33% higher)
  • Increased web leads as more people have the confidence to book test drives
  • Happier buyers because they made the right choice
  • Fewer cancelled orders and less lost revenue
  • Improved loyalty locking in valuable post-sales service revenues
  • Better customer insight when you listen and engage with drivers

We won’t bury you in statistics here, but if you need some data to support a business case, give us a call.

The social commerce spheres of influence

Most companies understand the importance of social content – but plenty of them still don’t see the need to have anything but carefully-selected customer testimonials or expert reviews on their own sites. Even more ignore the full range of places where social content can make an impact. Just as the new social purchase journey involves many different kinds of content, it also crosses multiple channels.

Socialising your sales funnel

As we take a closer look at the journey within your own website, the ‘funnel’ metaphor can become useful again. But many businesses ignore most of this on-site funnel when deploying social commerce solutions – confining reviews to just a few pages. The best performers spread social content throughout their websites, encouraging and accelerating sales and testdrive bookings.

  1. Landing pages: Win back traffic from third-party review sites and increase click-through rates by adding reviews to landing pages.
  2. Range pages: Reviews and owner-to-buyer Q&A capture people’s attention (and their clicks) at the very start of the purchase journey
  3. Vehicle pages: Owner reviews, recommendations and owner-to-buyer Q&A can dramatically increase web leads.
  4. Configuration: Provide buyers far down the sales funnel with the information they need through owner-to-buyer Q&A.
  5. Test drive booking page: Reviews of your dealership’s customer care remove last-minute doubts that prevent conversion.

Socialising the entire purchase journey

The implications

Social content only reaches its full power to drive revenues when it’s used throughout the entire purchase process.

Go forth and socialise

If you’ve taken one thing away from this ebook, we hope it’s this: the new purchase journey works much harder for you if you can inject social content at every stage and in all spheres of influence. We hope the social purchase journey model also proves useful as you think about where you can engage would-be buyers and what kind of content is most effective at each step and stage.

Finally, we hope we’ve widened your idea of what social commerce can be – it starts with vehicle reviews but extends much further, into reviews of dealerships and after-sales service, and three-way conversations between buyers, owners and your team – used on your site, across the web, on mobile devices and offline. At Reevoo, we’re passionate about social commerce, and its potential to help businesses get to know their customers better, so they can attract, engage and retain them in the short- and long-term. And we understand how to adapt social tools to achieve businesses’ desired results, and help businesses adapt to buyers’ individual purchase journeys. So do get in touch – we’d love the opportunity to take you through our unique approach and show how it can help you drive new revenue.

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