The Global Auto Shopper Study: KSA, Kuwait and UAE car shopping habits revealed

Shannon Denny / January 2018

To uncover current habits around new automobile purchases, the ninth annual Global Auto Shopper Study is an analysis of new car buyers who use the internet. Conducted by Kantar TNS and commissioned by Google, the research covers a total of 27 markets. Among these are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, where a significant proportion of new car buyers commence the path to purchase online.

According to the survey, today’s auto shoppers are digitally savvy and visit the dealership less, relying instead on online research, mobile and video to stay informed and make decisions. When they do walk into the dealership, the modern auto shopper is armed with a staggering array of information. Delivering on research needs and inspiring the consumer is critical – brands that succeed in this are more likely to win the sale.

The traditional, linear path to purchase still applies in today’s world, but to reach and engage with the digital auto shopper, successful brands are learning to step outside of these boundaries to capture micro moments of influence in the modern consumer journey. Purchase paths vary in length and process, but typically the journey begins online, with search and online video key influencers across phases.

Let’s look at some of the key features of car purchase journeys today in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

It’s time for a new car

The decision making process is complex, as buyers need to find the best vehicle and deal for their individual situation. The challenge for marketers is to understand where and how to invest to become part of the buyer’s short list. In the Gulf region, search engines are key influencers – 57% of buyers in the KSA and 44% in the UAE start their research with query on a search engine,

The modern auto shopper

Most buyers make their decision within two months (71% of new car buyers in Kuwait, 68% in the UAE and 83% in the KSA). This opens up a relatively short window for brands to be seen. Smartphones increasingly anchor consumers’ experience on the internet. In the KSA, 91% of smartphone users researched their new car on their smartphone, with the UAE only slightly behind at 90% and Kuwait at 97%.

Customization features of the vehicle and online car configurators are also very important during the research process – even more so as some buyers (37% in the KSA, 9% in Kuwait and 12% in the UAE) are making purchase decisions without performing a test drive. In the UAE, 70% of car buyers use configurators, with the proportion even higher in the KSA at 81%.

Online video

By enabling buyers to explore a new car from different perspectives, video is an important information source and critical influencer on the buyer’s short list.

After search engines, online video is mentioned as the second most influential touchpoint among 85% of people in the KSA, 81% in the UAE and 86% in Kuwait.

Buyers do their homework and watch very specific video content to explore their future vehicle. Videos about automotive features or technology, consumer reviews, car walkarounds and safety tests are amongst the main content watched by those in research mode. And buyers value YouTube in the decision making process: 96% of Saudi buyers and 86% of Kuwaiti buyers think that YouTube is independant and credible about vehicle content; for 82% of UAE buyers YouTube is a favourite destination to watch car related content.

In fact, video enables buyers to discover new brands or nameplates: 91% of those surveyed in the KSA and 74% in the UAE said that online video introduced them to a vehicle they had previously not considered, while 84% of those surveyed in Kuwait said that online video positively changed their mind about a car or manufacturer. Video platforms are seen as a decision making tool. For instance 71% of Saudi buyers and 75% in the UAE use online video to narrow down their consideration set.

From digital to the dealership

The most common shopping model of today still has consumers doing a lot of their research in an online environment, only to then step into a bricks and mortar retail location to seal the deal.  In other words, once they’ve gotten to the final point in the path to purchase, everything they’ve done in an online context has prepared them to finalize the transaction. Many buyers find their dealers using online sources. In the KSA, 79% researched online to find their dealer, and in the UAE 66% found the dealer they purchased from in this way.

A tense buying experience might suggest that it’s best to find a dealer with whom you are familiar,  but in fact 54% of buyers in the UAE, 41% in the KSA and 51% in Kuwait purchased from a dealer with whom they had no prior relationship or familiarity.

Customer loyalty

Loyalty influences the buyer‘s mindset: in general, loyal buyers are less likely to change their mind during the consumer journey compared to non-loyal buyers. However, very few of either group felt completely decided about which make or model to choose when they started their research. In the UAE, 6% of loyal buyers had already made a decision when they commenced research compared to 20% of non-loyal buyers. In the KSA, 28% of both loyal and non-loyal buyers already felt certain about their choice from the outset.

The future of auto sales

Online purchase of a car is uncommon, but it is seen as an interesting option for many buyers – 67% of buyers in the KSA and 42% of buyers in the UAE would consider buying online if given the option. Many consumers do have clear concerns about buying a car online though, such as the lack of physical product experience, personal advice or a test drive. Brands that develop clever services to help buyers to overcome these concerns by leveraging digital technology to connect offline experience and online service may well put themselves in a position of advantage.

A to do list

How can automotive businesses act on this new intelligence to sell more cars and build better brands in the region? Here are four key actions to include in a smarter strategy for the coming year.

  • Step in to fill the void. Everywhere the consumer looks for information is an opportunity to engage them. Cover 100% of your brand and nameplate terms on search engines. Work with your SEM experts to capture that demand at every step of the funnel to convert it into concrete customer engagement.
  • The smartphone is the anchor to micro moments, so invest accordingly in the mobile opportunity. Ensure you have the right mobile assets, manage your mobile bids accordingly and promote video as the most immersive mobile format.
  • Build search programs and deliver video content to respond to customer needs at all phases and moments. The average purchase path length is just a bit more than two months, so don’t rely solely on your tactical campaigns – be sure to keep a layer of always-on activity to promote the core of your products and brand values.
  • Every brand interaction leaves an impression. Invest in the experiences that set your brand apart.


Ask a Researcher: How do we decode the messy middle of the consumer purchase journey?