• Studies

Survey: Word-of-mouth has biggest influence on car purchase

By Analytics Team | February 11, 2020


  • Word-of-mouth from friends, family, and coworkers has the biggest impact on what vehicle people buy, with 52 percent of respondents saying it had influenced their decision.

  • Data-backed organizations like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power ranked second on the list of influences for car shopping, with 33 percent of respondents saying this had influenced them.

  • Media awards like the North American Car/Truck/Utility of the Year, and those handed out by outlets like Motor Trend, Car & Driver, KBB.com, and Edmunds.com ranked third, with 26 percent of shoppers citing their influence.

  • Social media influencers ranked low, with just 11 percent of respondents across all age groups citing them as influential.

  • Younger shoppers (18-23 years old) had different influences than all other age groups; this cohort relied more on social media influencers and YouTube than any of the other age groups, and less on data-backed organizations.

Full story:

When it comes to influencing a car shopper’s decision on what to buy, nothing has the power of old fashioned word-of-mouth, according to the latest survey by Autolist.com.

The poll found that personal recommendations -- from friends, family, and coworkers -- ranked as having the biggest influence on a car-buying decision, with 52 percent of respondents saying it had influenced their purchase in the past.

That majority was well ahead of the other influences respondents could choose from, which included recommendations by data-backed organizations (Consumer Reports and J.D. Power), media awards (North American vehicle of the year, Motor Trend Vehicle of the Year, etc.), YouTube reviews, community recommendations (Reddit, Facebook groups, online forums), and social media influencers on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.

“When someone in your immediate circle has a good or bad experience with anything, it makes you feel better about making the same decision,” said Chase Disher, analyst at Autolist. “Because cars are such a huge purchase in our lives, word-of-mouth means that much more here.”

Tesla and its all-electric lineup of cars and crossovers is perhaps the most obvious example of what strong word-of-mouth can do for an automaker’s success. The brand is famously averse to marketing and advertising and yet it easily outsells its more entrenched EV rivals by a wide margin.

Autolist surveyed more than 1,100 current car shoppers in late January and early February to conduct the survey. Respondents were given a list of influences on their car buying in the past and asked to pick up to three that affected them.

Trusting data

While the ‘Personal Recommendations’ category was the top pick, ‘Data-backed media recommendations' from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power ranked second, with 33 percent of shoppers surveyed saying they had influenced their purchase in the past.

Both of these organizations have long provided objective and quantitative rankings, paired with recommendations of brands and specific models. This has earned them a high degree of trust among consumers; that they also review products beyond cars means their reach and name recognition are extensive.

“Clearly there’s a lot of goodwill and respect for the Consumer Reports and J.D. Power brands that extends outside of the car-shopping experience,” Disher said. “That serves them well when people do enter the car-buying funnel."

Thus, automakers themselves have come to covet a high ranking from either of the two entities.

Chevrolet JD Power

J.D. Power awards are regularly touted by automakers in their advertising (a privilage for which automakers like Chevrolet, seen above, must pay J.D. Power).

Consumer Reports doesn't allow its name or awards to be used in advertising, but automakers still take their impressions seriously. Honda famously revamped the 2013 Civic after the 2012 model was so poorly received by Consumer Reports that the outlet dropped it from its 'Recommended' list for the first time in 20 years.

Media Awards

The third most-influential platform for car shoppers in Autolist’s survey were ‘Media Awards,’ handed out by the likes of Car & Driver, Motor Trend, the North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year, Kelley Blue Book (KBB.com), Edmunds.com, Autotrader.com, and Cars.com.

Just over a quarter of respondents (26 percent) said awards from outlets like these had influenced their purchase consideration.

When respondents were asked which of these outlets they trusted the most (they could pick up to three), the top three choices were KBB, Autotrader, and Edmunds.

Other influences

YouTube reviews were a close fourth in the ranked list of car-buying influences in Autolist’s survey. Across all age groups, 22 percent of shoppers said YouTube reviews played a role in their purchase consideration.

“Other” ranked fifth in Autolist’s ranking of influences, with 17.43 percent of shoppers choosing this option.

Just under 17 percent of respondents (16.51) said they had been influenced by so-called ‘Community Recommendations’ -- input from various message boards like Reddit, Facebook Groups, or other online forums.

Social media influencers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok was seventh on Autolist’s rankings, chosen by 11 percent of respondents.

Finally, nine percent of those polled chose “None of the above.”

Youthful outliers

Interestingly, younger shoppers in Autolist’s survey (those 18 to 23 years old) cited notably different influences in their purchase considerations than their fellow respondents.

This age group cited YouTube as the second-most influential source (behind friends/family/coworkers), with 36 percent of respondents choosing it. That compares with the aforementioned 22 percent of respondents of all ages citing YouTube as influential.

This younger age group also placed the least importance on the grouping of data-backed organizations; just 15 percent of people 18 to 23 years old said these were influential, compared to the survey average of 33 percent across all age groups.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this age cohort also relied more on social media influencers than any of their older peers. Seventeen percent of people 18 to 23 years old said their car-buying decision was impacted by social media posts, far higher than any other age group. That compares to just 11 percent of respondents across all age groups saying social media affected their decision.