Internet shopping has reached parity with visits to dealer lots as the primary method for used-vehicle buyers to locate used vehicles, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Used-Vehicle Market Report.

The report finds that the percentage of used-vehicle buyers who rely on the Internet as a method for locating vehicles for sale has increased from 40% to 46% since last year.

That's equal to the percentage of buyers who visit dealer lots as their primary shopping method. Further, 31% of buyers found the vehicle they ultimately purchased on the Internet, compared with 28% of buyers who found their vehicle by visiting dealerships.

“Internet shopping provides prospective buyers with the opportunity to search through enormous amounts of specific vehicle information without ever leaving home, allowing for a more efficient medium of matching buyers with unique used vehicles in the market,” says Arianne Walker, director of marketing and media research at J.D. Power.

“In light of this, dealers should expect the Internet to continue to increase in importance among used-vehicle shoppers and adjust their online presence accordingly,” she says.

The report also finds that awareness of certified pre-owned vehicle programs is strong, with more than 60% of used-vehicle buyers indicating they intend to purchase certified pre-owned vehicles at the start of their shopping process.

“Automotive marketers have worked intently to provide information to the public about certified pre-owned programs, but the benefits of these programs can be very complex to explain,” Walker says. “However, explaining the value of CPO programs to prospective buyers may carry long-term benefits.”

There has been a slight increase in the number of repeat buyers of certified vehicles — up from 22% in 2008 to 24% in 2009.

“This indicates that buyers of CPO vehicles are increasingly loyal and should be considered an important segment of used-vehicle buyers in their own right,” Walker says.

Half of all buyers of CPO vehicles say they used the Internet to locate used vehicles, while a slightly lower percentage (45%) shopped primarily by driving to dealer lots.

The percentage of buyers who visited dealer websites specifically for CPO vehicle information has increased to 29% percent in 2009, compared with 19% in 2008.

Other traditional sources of used-vehicle information such as newspapers, television and radio have low usage rates among buyers seeking CPO-vehicle information.

Among used-vehicle shoppers who use the Internet, third-party sites are visited more frequently than other types of sites, including dealer websites.

More than nine in 10 buyers say they visited at least one third-party site during the shopping process. Slightly more than three-fourths of used-vehicle buyers report visiting a dealer website.

“Not only has visitation increased for third-party sites, but they also continue to be viewed as the most useful sites during the shopping process,” says Walker. “Users rate sites such as AutoTrader, Cars.com and Edmunds highly for overall usefulness.”

The study also examines overall customer satisfaction with the certified buying experience. As a whole, import luxury brands continue to provide the highest levels of satisfaction, compared with other brands.

The report is based on the self-reported shopping habits of 10,328 used-vehicle buyers. The study was fielded from July to August 2009.