The competition for car sales in China is heating up with more than one in four potential buyers disqualifying a brand before even visiting its dealers, according to a survey by JD Power released last week and reported by China Daily.

Customers who remove a brand from their wish list without visiting its dealerships has increased to 26% from 10% in 2017, according to the China Sales Satisfaction Index Study.

The results are based on a survey of 23,197 customers who bought cars from July 2018 to May 2019 across 75 Chinese cities.

The study, now in its 20th year, measures satisfaction with the sales experience among new vehicle buyers and “rejecters,” who are defined as those who visit a dealership but purchase elsewhere.

Both groups are surveyed on six aspects: online experience, salespeople, dealer facilities, deals, paperwork and deliveries.

According to the study, for potential customers who do not have a clear idea of what vehicle to purchase, their decisions are easily swayed by their impressions, prices and others’ opinions, all of which are available online.

“Consumers’ purchase decision is formed in the very beginning of their purchase behavior,” said Eileen Ren, vice-president of digital customer experience at JD Power China.

She said offering customers opportunities, such as test drives, in their initial decision-making phase can help enhance their understanding and experience of the vehicle, improve their impression of the brand, and reduce the possibility of losing customers to other brands as a result of prices or negative comments.

The study found that inefficient pre-visit communication is another reason for customer loss, including the salesperson not understanding the potential buyers’ needs, making them feel uncomfortable, or not offering transparent prices, the report said.

“Improving the response speed and shopper experience in pre-visit communications could not only help avoid customer loss, but also offer a good opportunity to identify customer demands and then ease the pressure of in-store sales service, improving sales,” said Ren.

The study found that premium brands including Audi and Porsche perform better than volume brands. On a 1,000-point scale, premium brands scored 701, while volume brands stood at 672.

Another finding is that customers are more satisfied with information provided on carmakers’ own websites, especially in terms of vehicle information, the report said.

The satisfaction index of customers who buy vehicles through third-party platforms is 23 points higher than for those who purchase vehicles at dealerships, according to the study.