Online auto shopping plummeted during hurricane, study says
Dealers in most coastal areas reported little damage during the hurricane, but online traffic suffered. Photo credit: MARK ELIAS
Vehicle online-shopping traffic plummeted nearly 60 percent in coastal cities such as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., the weekend Hurricane Matthew traveled up the East Coast, research from Jumpstart Automotive Media shows.
The online advertising company compared traffic patterns of certain automotive websites from Oct. 7-9, when the hurricane hit the U.S., to the four weekends prior. The study found Savannah area shopping activity dropped 57 percent. In Charleston, online shopping traffic fell 55 percent.
The cities of Florence and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina each saw a 41 percent decrease in traffic.
Some residents in Savannah and Charleston were still returning home Sunday, Oct. 9. In South Carolina, the governor’s evacuation order for Charleston County was lifted that morning. The evacuation order for Chatham County in Georgia, where Savannah is located, wasn’t lifted until Sunday evening.
Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is, did not receive orders to lift evacuation until the following Monday, while Florence County had no evacuation orders but was later approved for disaster declaration and federal assistance, the South Carolina governor’s office reported.
McClellanville, a small town between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, was the only area Hurricane Matthew made U.S. landfall, according to The Weather Channel.
The city of Jacksonville in Florida had the next largest drop in online traffic at 37 percent, followed by Wilmington, N.C. at 30 percent. West Palm Beach, Fla., saw a 21 percent decrease in traffic the weekend of the hurricane.
In Jacksonville, which was spared from major damage, one dealership told Automotive News it was able to access power and reopen Saturday, Oct. 8, but then closed early because a lack of customers. Some cities in North Carolina remained flooded and without power through Monday after the hurricane passed.
Although Hurricane Matthew missed Orlando and Miami, the cities still had a 3 percent drop in online shopping activity, along with Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Jumpstart said.
Libby Murad-Patel, vice president of strategic insights and analytics at Jumpstart, said customer online activity in the affected areas may soon increase.
“We’re now anticipating a slight boomerang effect with impacted areas seeing a lift in shopping activity due to an above-average number of people who might now be looking to replace cars and trucks that were damaged or destroyed in the storm,” Murad-Patel said in statement.
Murad-Patel’s hypothesis reflects a study by Detroit research company Urban Science, which outlined a timeline for vehicle sales patterns after natural disasters in September.
Dealerships can expect slowed vehicle sales in the 30 days following the onset of Hurricane Matthew. Consumer demand — which the study says shifts from small cars to pickups — will then increase to a peak selling period in the 60 to 120 days after the storm.
Urban Science said vehicle sales gradually return to typical levels around 12 to 18 months after the natural disaster.