It goes without saying that the past few months have brought unprecedented change to businesses across the country. By analyzing website traffic and sales trends from the U.S., we can begin to understand just how much the auto industry was impacted by COVID-19 and determine whether car sales are rebounding following the initial coronavirus outbreak.
Using a combination of Google and Foureyes data, we combined website performance metrics from hundreds of analytics accounts with sales insights from thousands of dealerships representing numerous OEMs. Looking at month-over-month comparisons from February through May, you can see when the impact of COVID-19 was felt most acutely and determine which states are beginning to see sales return to pre-pandemic benchmarks.
Website Traffic During the COVID-19 Outbreak
To understand how search behavior changed over the past 90 days, we compiled data from hundreds of dealerships across the country to create benchmarks for the average car dealer and compare website KPIs before and after the coronavirus outbreak. The insights detailed below provide a framework for understanding how online traffic sources for the average dealership were impacted.
Website Traffic for Auto Dealers During COVID-19
The end of March saw the sharpest drop in online traffic for the average car dealer. Comparing the week of March 25 vs. the week of February 19, average users dropped by (-16.39%), average pageviews dropped (-15.22%), and average sessions dropped (-17.64%).
By the week of April 22, traffic was still on the decline, but to a lesser degree. Compared to the week of February 19, average users were down (-3.09%) and average sessions were down (-2.58%), while average pageviews were up (+5.19%).
By the week of May 20, the downward trend had reversed and website traffic around Memorial Day weekend outperformed the week of February 19. Average users were up (+12.33%), as were average sessions (+12.19%) and average pageviews (+11.95%).
Paid Traffic for Auto Dealers During COVID-19
Paid traffic saw its biggest drop in March as well. Comparing the week of March 25 vs. the week of February 19, average paid search sessions dropped (-22.75%), users dropped (-21.99%), and pageviews dropped (-20.95%). Digital advertising campaign metrics stayed relatively stable during this time; average impressions (-4.20%), spend (-10.32%), and CTR (-2.95%) all dropped, while market share increased by (+6.85%) and weekly cost per unique lead action rose (+12.69%).
April’s losses were not as dramatic as March; however, looking at the week of April 22 vs. the week of February 19, paid traffic saw similar declines with users and sessions both down (-23.30% and -22.65% respectively) and pageviews down (-16.94%). Paid search search campaign metrics varied—average impressions (-27.07%), market share (-0.24%) and spend (-27.04%) all dropped, while average CTR rose (+23.48%) and average CPC lowered by (-18.99%).
May brought slight improvements, but overall paid traffic is still down compared to February. Looking at the week of May 20 vs. the week of February 19, users dropped (-16.27%), sessions dropped (-16.04%) and pageviews dropped (-13.45%). Digital advertising metrics showed similar results with average impressions down (-22.85%) and market share down (-1.81%). On the upside, cost per unique lead action was down (-16.00%), CPC dropped (-21.60%) and CTR rose (+36.15%).
Natural Traffic for Auto Dealers During COVID-19
Compared to paid traffic, traffic from natural sources (organic, referral, and direct) saw less dramatic highs and lows. The week of March 25 vs. the week of February 19 saw the greatest drop in traffic, with average users down (-15.53%), average sessions down (-16.92%), and average pageviews down (-13.69%).
Natural traffic at the end of April began to stabilize. Comparing the week of April 22 vs. the week of February 19, users were up (+4.81%), sessions were up (+4.98%) and pageviews were up (+12.43%).
By the week of Memorial Day, natural traffic was showing even more positive results. Looking at the week of May 20 vs. February 19, average users increased (+23.09%), sessions increased (+22.51%), and pageviews increased (+20.13%).
While website performance is not consistently at pre-pandemic benchmarks, traffic is trending in the right direction. As shelter-in-place orders are lifted and states continue to reopen, we anticipate more shoppers coming back online and search interest continuing to rise. We will continue to monitor traffic and trends weekly, but believe that the positive trends we’re seeing at the end of May will continue as we head into the summer months.
Sales Trends During the COVID-19 Outbreak
To zero in on how car sales were impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, we used data provided by Foureyes to compare vehicle sales week-over-week at various points in time over the same timeframe. The insights embedded below provide a look at auto sales by state to determine which states were hit the hardest and whether any have fully rebounded.
How Badly Did Auto Sales Suffer In March 2020?
Car sales in 48 states dropped the week of March 29 compared to the week of March 1. North Dakota and Iowa were the only states with positive results: North Dakota saw a (+1.9%) increase in sales, while Iowa had a (+0.5%) increase. On the other end of the spectrum, sales in Michigan (-94.5%), Pennsylvania (-88.1%), New Jersey (-80.7%), New York (-79.1%), Washington (76.5%), and Massachusetts (-71.3%) were hit the hardest during this time.
Did Auto Sales Rebound in May 2020?
The good news is that by mid-May, sales have rebounded in all of the states hardest hit by COVID-19. Comparing the week of May 17 to the week of March 29, Michigan car sales increased by (+2,013.5%), Pennsylvania by (+937.8%), New Jersey by (+382.3%), New York by (+368.5%), Washington by (+486.0%), and Massachusetts by (486.0%). The positive trend continued across the country; in fact, all 50 states saw a lift in sales during the week of May 17.
Have Auto Sales Recovered from COVID-19?
We’re happy to see sales bouncing back, but it does beg the question whether sales have fully recovered. Results vary by state, but ultimately the majority of states have seen an increase in sales when comparing the week of May 17 to the week of March 1. Of the 44 states showing an increase in sales, Maine (+42.1%), Vermont (+39.3%), Utah (38.4%), and Washington (+38.0%) are showing the best results. The following states have not rebounded and are still reporting decreases in sales: Hawaii (-0.6%), New York (-2.2%), New Jersey (-6.8%), Rhode Island (-8.2%), Massachusetts (-11.8%), and Connecticut (-13.4%).
Across the country, the coming weeks will determine whether states have fully rebounded. The summer months are typically strong for car sales, so we anticipate the good news will continue as states continue to lift stay-at-home restrictions and we head into June.
No one knows for sure what the coming weeks and months will bring, but today’s data can help inform your decision making for tomorrow. If you have questions about current trends or what’s coming, reach out for a free digital analysis to learn more about website traffic and sales trends in your market.