The Entire Process of Automotive Channel Change

In the presence of multiple channels, which channel has the greatest impact on consumers' decision-making, when does it occur, and what type of assistance does it provide to enhance consumers' driving satisfaction.

Ann Zhang Jun 2021 · 10 min. read


After conducting various research on automobiles, we discovered that the "information channel" is always a crucial factor during the process of purchasing and using a vehicle. This is especially important when new car owners need to make decisions or learn how to drive. Currently, the sources for understanding automobiles are rapidly changing. An official dealership is no longer the only option available in the market, and a variety of new channels have emerged, such as automotive websites, official social media accounts, and video-sharing sites. Consumers also have access to private social channels, such as their family, friends, and coworkers.

We would like to share our research results on the following topic: In the presence of multiple channels, which channel has the greatest impact on consumers' decision-making, when does it occur, and what type of assistance does it provide to enhance consumers' driving satisfaction.

Psychological changes of car owners at different stages

The process of purchasing a vehicle begins with the thought, "I want to change my car." From this point on, the consumer begins to interact with various car channels.

Based on our research conclusions, the entire process of purchasing and using a vehicle can be summarized into three main stages:

• Stage 1 – Before purchase

In the first stage, the primary state of mind of consumers is "decision making." The amount of time it takes for consumers to go from generating the idea of purchasing a car to making a final decision can vary greatly, depending on their individual personality. It can range from a few days to 2-3 years, but research shows that it typically takes about half a year. During this stage, consumers may face various decision-making challenges, such as:

1) Initial questions like, “Should I buy/replace the car?” “Is now the best time to do so?”

2) Mid-term questions like, “What type of car do I need?” “A SUV or a sedan?” “An electric vehicle or a gasoline car?”

3) Questions that indicate the end of the first stage, such as “Where do I buy this car?” “How long will it take for the car to be delivered?”

Once consumers have made a final decision and purchased a car, they have completed the first stage. The first stage is often a crucial moment when the "channel" plays a significant and indispensable role, and the consumers' purchase satisfaction will be influenced to varying degrees by the channel they use.

• Stage 2 – After purchase and before delivery

This stage is a waiting period for consumers after they have purchased a car. During this time, consumers transition from being potential car owners to prospective car owners, and their state of mind shifts from "decision making" to "expectation". Many consumers will learn how to use their new car through various channels during this stage. For instance, they may learn about the advanced driving assistance systems and how to use them. Some car owners will also make modifications to the exterior and interior of the car during this stage. A few car owners may also prepare extensively to understand how to pick up the car and what to pay attention to when inspecting it, to avoid any unpleasant experiences.

• Stage 3 – After delivery

This stage begins on the day of delivery and the key word for this stage is "learning". During a certain period of time, new car owners will learn about the basic functions of their car. For car owners who are curious and eager to explore, this is a period of "learning," while for those who are less enthusiastic about their car, this is a stage of "wear and tear." The length of these periods can vary and can be further explored in our previous article Mobile Phone with Wheels.

The role of channels at different stages

Channels serve varying auxiliary functions at various stages. What type of channel is involved during the process of purchasing, delivering, and utilizing a car?

We categorized the channels mentioned by respondents in the research.

Category 1 – Brand stores: car dealers, flagship showroom, customer service center etc.

Category 2 – User manual: electronic and paper manuals

Category 3 – Social Relationship: relatives, friends, colleagues etc.

Category 4 – Websites: search engines (Baidu, Bing, etc.), online communities (Tieba, Douban, etc.)

Category 5 – Apps: official Weibo/WeChat accounts, WeChat car owner groups, official vehicle-related accounts, car portal websites (Autohome, Yiche, Dcar, etc.), video websites/apps (iQIYI, Youku, TikTok, etc.)

Since consumers' core purposes vary at different stages, we observe changes in the channels they use, even for the same consumer. In the following sections, we will provide insights into these changes.

• Stage 1 – Before purchase

The pre-purchase stage for car owners typically lasts from one week to one month, although some consumers may take longer to make a decision. During this stage, consumers primarily seek detailed information about specific brands and models. Family and friends often play a significant role in their initial consideration, with most respondents seeking suggestions or referring to cars owned by colleagues. Some end up purchasing a car from the same brand as their friends. Search engines and automotive websites/apps are widely used to gather information such as public opinions, prices, exterior and interior features, fuel efficiency, and more. This helps consumers narrow their choices and make more informed comparisons and evaluations. Ultimately, the car dealer shop is the most important channel for the final purchase decision, as all respondents visit to view the car and take a test drive. Some continue to use search engines and automotive websites/apps, while others consult knowledgeable relatives or friends, or watch related videos on video websites.

• Stage 2 – After purchase and before delivery

The post-purchase, pre-delivery stage typically lasts from half a month to a month and primarily involves waiting for car delivery. During this stage, most respondents do not seek information related to the car as it has not yet been delivered. However, some consumers may research new features or look for accessories (such as deodorants or welcome lights) through automotive or video websites, or by seeking advice from other car owners. This stage involves fewer channels compared to the other stages, as the purchase decision has already been made in the first stage and learning about the new car's features usually occurs after delivery.

• Stage 2 – After delivery

During this stage, the respondents' primary focus is to understand the available functions and how to use them. The most commonly used channel for resolving issues is the paper user manual, which is provided with each car at delivery. Respondents will refer to the official instructions in the manual if they encounter any problems. The electronic user manual is used less frequently, primarily by individuals who have a strong interest in the car and have downloaded the e-version online. However, most respondents only check the paper manual when they encounter problems, which is a passive form of learning. A few individuals will read the manual or e-version at home to actively learn new features. Half of the respondents turn to automotive websites or search engines such as Baidu when they encounter issues. Some prefer to seek help from family members, friends, or sales assistants at car dealer shops, with female car owners being more inclined to do so. If unfamiliar features are encountered, respondents will usually first attempt to resolve the issue by reading the user manual, searching on Baidu or automotive websites, and only then reach out to sales assistants for assistance. A few respondents have joined WeChat car owner groups and rely on the shared experiences and questions of others in the group for support.


At each stage of the customer journey, different channels are utilized and no single channel is able to encompass the entire process from car purchase to usage. The choice of channel is dependent on the shifting purpose of the customer.

During the decision-making stage, consumers prioritize balancing the value of the car with its cost. They rely on a combination of “official information and market insights” to make informed decisions. However, when it comes to the stages of expectation and learning, consumers tend to rely more on official channels such as sales assistants, paper user manuals, or electronic versions. Providing customers with relevant and high-quality information during this stage will enhance their satisfaction.

In conclusion, while multiple channels offer a wealth of information, they also present the challenge of choosing the right one. Brands face the task of establishing a trusted, official channel that stands out among others. Digital showrooms and offline experience stores are popular options, aimed at making the car buying and usage experience more convenient. The key to success is providing consumers with the relevant information they need, at the right time.

Read Next

Whose Common Sense Is It Anyway?

When encountering others with divergent environments, we fail to recognize differences in formative experiences. This underscores the need for empathy in an interconnected world - the ability to understand life beyond our own perspective amid varied realities.

Maffee Wan
April 2024

Unlocking the Hidden Potential: Beyond Transportation, What Else Can a Car Be?

The development of intelligent cabins and the diverse demands of users have brought unprecedented opportunities to Chinese car manufacturers. The concept of creating a "third space" has now been put into practice by many automotive brands.

Marie Chen
January 2024

Today, I "interviewed" ChatGPT

We want to share our understanding and thoughts regarding how we, as UX researchers, can or should know about ChatGPT (and the broader AI concept) and how to work with it.

Maffee Wan
February 2023

About Research Ethics

In our interviews or experiments, might suffer from physical and psychological “damages”, whether minor or major.

Maffee Wan
June 2022

Smartphone on Wheel

With the presence of various new features, how do new car owners learn about them? How much time will it take? What issues will be encountered? What factors will affect their expectations of these features?

Ann Zhang
June 2020