Digital Content Primary Driver in GCC Car Buyer's Path to Purchase

December 2016

Gulf residents have slashed the time they take to choose a new car by using their smartphones to research potential vehicles, with more than 80 percent of survey respondents viewing online videos as showroom visits and the number of test drives slump.

Buying a new car is probably the biggest financial commitment most people make aside from purchasing a house, so it’s understandable that few rush into such an important decision. Yet new research shows online resources, particularly search engines and videos, are helping prospective buyers in the Gulf sign for that dream vehicle in about half the time they used to take only a few years ago. The reason is that the wealth of information available in cyberspace cuts down on showroom visits.

Most of today’s buyers now only make that trip to the dealer near the very end of the purchasing process, according to a 2016 survey by Google and internationally renowned market research firm TNS.

The study was conducted in about 20 countries worldwide including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and those are the markets we’ll talk about here.


Only about 1 in 10 of respondents in Saudi and the UAE decided what car to buy alone. The percentages vary, but buyers most commonly consulted their spouses or partners, followed by family and friends and then colleagues. Even children had a say!

Those discussions allowed respondents across the three countries to have a pretty clear idea of the make and model they wanted at the beginning of their research – about a fifth of new car buyers said they had already made a final decision, while nearly three-quarters had narrowed down their options to be “somewhat decided” and only about 1 in 20 would-be buyers had no preconceptions about their likely purchase.

Buyers in the “somewhat decided” category seem to have needed just a little more convincing, with only 8 percent of Saudis, 16 percent of UAE respondents and 12 percent of Kuwaitis signing for a different car than what they first had in mind.


Buyers are also becoming less eclectic in their car tastes – two years ago, Saudis on average considered 3.7 different makes but now that is down to 2.4 while in the UAE the potential field has been slashed from 5.2 to 2.7 over the same period; 2016 was Kuwait’s first survey appearance.

The Middle East has a vibrant car culture, more so than many regions where public transport is better established, and the vehicle you drive is considered an important status symbol as anyone who’s waited for valet parking at a Dubai hotel can attest.

Roughly half of respondents decided to splurge on a new car after their financial situation improved, while other less-cited reasons include a growing family, new job and moving to a new place.

Once the decision has been made to go for that new motor, respondents described their secondary conditions behind flashing the cash, most notably the need to replace an old car, a straightforward desire for some virgin wheels, and wanting better fuel efficiency.


The internet has democratized access to knowledge, especially free expert knowledge, and our car buyers were wise enough to exploit this to help them make a more enlightened purchase – 37 percent of respondents used a greater number of information sources than when they bought cars previously.

Most buyers made their first trip to the showroom near the end of their research. Prior to that, they’re going online - 94 percent used search engines, 82 percent watched a video about a car or manufacturer and 86 percent did research via their smartphone.

Nearly half flicked between information sources. Smartphones allow users to productively utilize any free moment and a large minority of respondents researched their prospective car purchase while commuting, between other tasks and while watching TV.

Such online research is more convenient and less time-consuming than traipsing around endless showrooms and so has accelerated – no pun intended – the buying process.

In Saudi Arabia, buyers on average now take 1.6 months from the start of their search to signing on the dotted line, down from 3.3 months in 2014. Similarly, UAE respondents spend 2.4 months on the same process versus 2.9 months two years ago.


Among video, YouTube was the most utilised resource as well as the most useful, followed by social networks and dealer websites.

The three most-watched video genres were those highlighting their prospective vehicle’s features or options, vehicle comparisons and adverts – roughly 40 percent of people viewed these. Other popular video types covered consumer reviews, vehicle ratings and performance and test drives.

And most must have liked what they saw because 90 percent of respondents went a step – or several steps - closer to buying the car they had just learnt about via video. Of these, 58 percent visited a dealer website, 46 percent asked for a price quote, 41 percent found a dealer and 25 percent booked a test drive.

Consequently, buyers felt less need for multiple dealer visits – UAE respondents, for example, on average went to showrooms 2.7 times, down from 3.7 in 2014. Saudi buyers’ behavior has undergone similar changes, with the average number of test drives in the kingdom falling by more than half from 2012 to 2016.


A vehicle is a complex machine and many of us are happy to have guidance to discern between good and bad to streamline the decision-making process for buyers. But with expert information on every model easily found online, knowledge has empowered Gulf buyers and as the survey results show they’re growing increasingly confident and decisive about what vehicle they want.

Travel Review 2016