What do consumers really want in a car buying experience?

Most of you (the one’s that sell cars for a living) may have to make a concentrated effort to look past the way you like to sell cars in order to answer honestly. With any luck, everyone that comments will do so from the perspective of a consumer.

Is there anything in the traditional or expected car shopping/buying experience that consumers really like? I’ve had dealers, General Mangers and salesmen tell me over and over for years that “buying a car is an emotional experience.” Those words are always spoken with an “I’m so smart and I really understand people” kind of tone. Do I disagree? Yes and no. Buying a car obviously involves some emotion, but the truth is that it’s primarily negative emotion. Car dealers and the typical way they run their businesses create tension, worry, frustration, anger, fear and depression often before the customer has even considered them.

Not that any of you read the newspaper, watch the boob-tube, listen to the radio or use the internet, but if you did then you’d know that car dealerships advertise in these places. Have you ever seen a TV commercial advertising a vehicle at what seems to be an impossible price? Have you ever seen a newspaper ad doing the same? Can you say loss-leaders? Can you say trickery, manipulation, coercion? So, what’s my point? When dealers market and advertise themselves in these ways they’re already stirring emotion in consumers. Guess what kind of emotion? Maybe this video will help paint the picture.

So…what do consumers want in a car buying experience? I have my opinions, but I want yours. You took the time to read this, so think like a consumer (if you can) and let the community know your thoughts.

With encouragement and hope.

Shaun is the CEO and Consultant for Dealer Advisor

Shaun Raines

I am a true internet car guy and the Vice President of Marketing at DealerOn.
My automotive career started in a parts warehouse after I fell in love with a girl (long story... ask me about it sometime). The internet part of my automotive career began in 1998 with the Reynolds and Reynolds team that launched Microsoft’s CarPoint.com, CarsDirect Connect, Yahoo Autos, Automark Websites and Reynolds Web Solutions. Some people say my Marketing prowess coupled with expertise in Social Media allow me to effectively market DealerOn’s capabilities, extend its reach and build the right reputation. I probably wouldn't disagree with those people. On purpose, I try to blend my sense of humor and automotive experience in effort to make true connections with people. This has made me a sought after speaker at industry events including NADA, NCM, Digital Dealer, DrivingSales Executive Summit and 20 Groups. I'm grateful, blessed and deeply appreciate the opportunities offered by so many to speak to, coach and consult. I don't take it for granted.

I live in Frisco, Texas with my wife, kids and dogs.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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42 thoughts on “What do consumers really want in a car buying experience?

  1. Most car buyers are afraid that they will not get a “good deal” on their new car. Why? Most everything else they purchase in life has a set price, there is no negotiation, and they can usually identify that lowest set price with little difficulty if they do some research. When it comes to cars, they feel like they are out of their element (unlike overseas, Americans are not very experienced in “haggling/negotiating”), and are wary of car dealers. They don’t know the “cost” of the car, and they know that the MSRP is certainly not the “set” price, so they wonder – “what is a fair price for this car?”. They are also afraid to speak to or meet with a dealer as they feel they will subjected to high-pressure sales tactics. Ultimately – I believe the consumer wants to know that they are getting a fair deal with superior service that respects their needs and desires. Our challenge is in how to successfully (and consistently) meet those needs while being realistic about what actually works in the demanding auto sales environment. Kevin Frye/eCommerce Director/Jeff Wyler Automotive Family

  2. I am a marketing director and newbie in the auto industry (4years). Prior to this I have been self-employed for decades so I understand Darwin’s rules of financial survival. I am the PERFECT outsider to address this question.

    Shaun Raines writes:
    >>>Can you say loss-leaders? Can you say trickery, manipulation, coercion?<<<

    Loss leaders do not belong to this industry. Good grief, have you spent any time out of our industry? Loss Leaders = shame? What about loss leaders for:
    —SuperMarkets
    —Sporting Good Stores
    —Hardware stores
    —Vacation Packages
    and on and on and…

    C’mon, pop your head up Shaun, take a look around. Marketing trickery, manipulation, coercion are a marketing hallmark of ANY seller that has a lot of inventory (read: risk) and needs traffic to pay the rent.

    I am sick and tired of the bad rap this industry gets. The days of old are gone. Consumers have all of the information tools needed to chart their own course, they can take control of their own fate. What of the personal responsibility to understand what rolling over negative equity means down the road? That falls into the realm of education does it not? We’re here to move iron, not be mini Dr Phils.

    Sorry about the rant Shaun, but I am that marketing bastard that cooks up underhanded schemes to lure shoppers to our point.

    Joe

  3. Let’s not kid ourselves here. Joe’s comments are dead on. We are forced by the virtue of our the basics of our business to create hype (ala King of Cars) to create a circus-like level of excitement with customers. Newspaper ads for 1/2 off new cars, ultra-low purchase prices, payments so low no one could qualify for are all the same. They are created because the customer asks us to. That is the only way to get people into the door is the hope for gain. And it isn’t only in our business. As I am looking for a big screen t.v., I find myself scouring Amazon, Cnet and other websites for info and prices on t.v.’s, and realize at some point, the price will drop to a point where the customer service (or product quality) will not be palatable at any price.

    As honest as we are with our dealership, we still have customers who ask us to lie to them when they have offers from other dealers who are using rebates with incentivized rates, obscenely high trade values, etc. We refuse to.

    If customers want the “game” to stop, they will stop rewarding the unscrupulous handful of dealers who lie to them and buy elsewhere. If, on the other hand, your advertising WORKS, and it is accurate (the disclosure is thorough, the vehicle is/was actually available, etc.) then we have done our job. Like Nike always said, “Just Do it!”

  4. I agree with Joe, the consumer is armed and full of information (no duh) but I recently shopped as a consumer. I was more educated than any of the sales people I talked to. They didn’t know about the product well enough and especially how to combine options and equipment packages. Why?

    Little money is left over for the car dealer = less quality sales people = poor buying experience. They were nice guys in my recent experience but not knowledgeable enough.

    In my opinion a customer wants to make sure he gets a good deal and that a neighbor doesn’t tell him what a fool he is because he could have gotten a better deal. Help them make a good decision, help them with questions and give them a fair deal. It wasn’t about a couple hundred dollars for me. It was about the confidence of shopping with an advisor/ consultant to my automobile purchase.

  5. Joe,

    Sorry, but I need to get Shaun’s back on this one. With the (possible) exception of the travel industry, I can’t think of another business that advertises using loss leaders the same way we do in this business. Come on, Supermarkets? Sporting goods stores? When my supermarket chain advertises Ribeyes at $7.99/lb, I don’t get the butcher coming out to tell me “those particular steaks have been sold, but follow me, we have some steaks just like them with some additional equipment!” Last week when I bought a new Driver (spring is coming, almost time to get back on the course!!!) at Golfsmith, I went looking specifically for a particular model I saw advertised in their Sunday paper insert. Guess what? Every single club was priced exactly as the ad said they would be ($299, a hundred bucks off, great deal!!!). Thinking like a consumer for a moment, I would be really pissed if I had gone in there and been told that the ad only applied to one particular stock number, I just missed the fine print.

    These types of businesses don’t use the “loss leader” in the same way. When they do use loss leaders, they do so in order to drive sales of other profitable products, i.e. eggs and milk may be advertised and sold at a loss in order to sell more ribeyes to those same shoppers. A certain golf club may be advertised at a loss in order to sell a dozen golf balls to every buyer as well. I think what Shaun is referring to is the shady business practice of “only one at this price” advertising.

    Using the argument that “Consumers have all of the information tools needed to chart their own course, they can take control of their own fate” only makes it more shameful that some (read: almost all) dealers still try to use this type of trickery to seduce customers. And we wonder why they don’t trust us. They have all the information available and we still insult them with our dishonest ads. Why don’t we just be honest with our customers? I know, I know…because the dealer down the road is advertising pickups at $12,988…so we have to!!!

    You can come up with better than that for your marketing efforts, Joe. We have all been familiar for quite a while now with your level of intelligence, you are an impressive guy with a lot of great ideas. Loss leader advertising is beneath you.

    Now, back to Shaun’s original question: what do consumers want in a car buying experience? I think they want an honest, open, transparent, non-confrontational process. If I were buying a car today, I would want the freedom to compare makes, models, and options in order to further educate myself. I would want a sales consultant who is familiar with the product and his/her own dealership, who can display legitimate reasons to do business there. Next, I would want a transparent pricing/trade discussion. By transparent I mean a process that is easy to understand, shows me the dealer has nothing to hide, and doesn’t insult me by assuming I have not done my research. Next, I want an honest financing discussion, and as an educated consumer, I understand that the financial aspect all boils down to arithmetic, so please don’t try to juggle numbers…otherwise I will feel like their is something hidden. After that, just give me a clean car with a full tank of gas.

    Tim

  6. I am not a marketing person. But I have bought a car before and I disagree with Joe. I am a twenty-something web consultant (which means I know everything, right?), so here’s my take on it.

    Auto sellers—like real estate agents—depend heavily on information-asymmetry; their value and advantage is that they (used to) have more information than the buyer. They know about all the cars and they know the bottom line of what the car is worth. The car that they are selling is no different from the car down the road, so the only value they provide is the information.

    Shopping for cars is one of the most anxiety-producing experiences I’ve had. In Joe’s words, I feel like they’re using their “underhanded schemes” to try to lure me into buying anything. I will avoid sales people at all costs, I know I’m not alone in this.

    As a result, I do most of my shopping and research online. I’ll read reviews to figure out what I want to buy, and then search around to find a good deal. Since the sales person no longer provides any value in this transaction, I will buy it online if I can.

    If I can’t, then I’ll walk into a dealership armed with all the information I need. If I can’t get a fair price, I’ll find someone that can give it to me. Note that I say “fair” price; I’m not looking for bottom dollar but more importantly best value, which includes the experience.

    So, how do dealers appeal to a person like me?

    1) convince me that I can trust you. This means throwing out all your schemes and trickery and being honest with me. This may even involve acknowledging that you’re not willing to sell it cheaper than what I could get it elsewhere. So how do you compete?

    2) Give me some other tangible value for free, like service. If I trust you, and you can give me something that no one else is offering, I am willing to pay more for it. You need to differentiate yourself from the other guy that’s trying to con me on the same product.

  7. Joe,

    To answer your question (which I assume was rhetorical), I have spent time outside of the car business. While I appreciate your honest comments, I respectfully disagree with your industry comparisons. I know that any marketing effort with a chance must be creative, compelling and convincing to attract buyers, but the car business has in many ways become proud of justifying the art of lying.

    You may be sick and tired of the rap this industry gets and you may believe the old days are gone, but being a self-admitted marketing bastard responsible for cooking up the luring schemes contributes to the rap the industry gets and keeps the old days very much alive.

    Last, but not least… no need to say sorry. We’re all big kids and I really appreciate your points of view. I don’t believe you meant any offense and even if you did, none taken.

    To all,

    So… what do consumers really want in a car buying experience?

  8. Note to all,
    Under no circumstances do I support LYING. Because I don’t take the pollyanna view point, does it mean I support lying.

    Let’s look at “what a customer wants…” by comparing Tim Morris’s visit to Golf Galaxy to buying a car.

    do we go to Golf Galaxy and negotiate? What? no one going there even tries to negotiate? That’ll be the day at a dealership.

    Did you get a low trade-in price on your old clubs? Were you pissed when you found that you owed more on your old clubs than the trade-in offer? What? A straight deal? No upside down trade?

    Did you get the color of your golf clubs that your wife wanted? What? They only come in one color?

    Did they stock the golf club with that exciting options upgrade package that your pal has? What? There are only a few shaft flex options?

    We make comparisions to other industries and think it’ll translate to car sales.

    If cars were CHEAP like golf clubs then dealers would stock every damn option/color group… just like Golf Galaxy does.

    Joe

  9. Sorry, but does anybody really care about what the consumer wants as long as we sell the car and make the money? This CSI stuff is so over rated. The Factory makes a big deal about it, but they really don’t care. It is all lip service to them. They just use the CSI as leverage to hold over a dealer, but it is not because they really care.

    The consumer cares about price, getting in and getting out, they don’t want to be your friend, sorry. Believe me, they will gladly go to lowest dealer and give two cents about their buying experience. How many of them even remember their sales reps name a week after they buy the car? Not many to be sure.

    Some State’s and the Fed’s for sure have dealer’s so regulated that it is very hard for a dealer to pull the kinky stuff they did back in the day. If they do kink it they eventually will get caught and they either get fined, suspended, or lose their license. Granted, there are several state’s that have absolutely no regulation and it is still the wild west and the factory is the only one regulating the dealer. In any case, the factory calls at the end of the month for your sales numbers, not your CSI.

    All this hog wash about the “Buying Experience”, la dee da, stuff is for the birds. Get ‘em, get ‘em out, make as much gross as you can, and move to the next deal. Face it, they don’t give to shakes about me, what a nice guy I am, or how community oriented my dealer is. How many times have you been the nice guy, broke your tale bone to give “Completely Satisfied” service and they blow you off for $50.00 to your competition across town. Oh, but I had better service and they still didn’t buy from me……..waa waa.

    This doesn’t mean you have to lie to them, cheat, steal, kink, badger, be mean, be insulting, etc…It just means get ‘em, and get ‘em out. I guarantee your CSI will go up 100% if you cut their time in the store in half. No back and forth four square Olympics, no hold them in the box forever squeezing them for every cent.

    Sorry, but it’s car business, not car friends.

  10. Joe,

    You were the one who first drew the comparison to sporting goods stores, I just tried to share the difference between honest advertising and what I feel is dishonest, intentionally deceptive advertising.

    You are absolutely right, “Golf Galaxy” (it was Golfsmith, in case anybody is wondering) does not face those same challenges. But how does a loss-leader ad address any of those issues in our business? If all else is equal, I would rather be forthright and transparent in my advertising/marketing efforts.

    And by the way, speaking of buying experiences, I got a THOROUGH product presentation and demonstration/”test-drive,” by a commissioned salesperson, who asked qualifying questions like “what’s your handicap?” “can you describe your typical ball-flight?” “what is more important to you, distance or accuracy off the tee?” etc. He tailored his presentation in response to my answers. After my test-drive he closed me by asking “do you need new spikes for the season, or just the club today?” I almost fell over. He then explained their financing options, including a no payments/zero-interest til 2009 program. He asked whether I had any old equipment I wanted to trade in, then explained how their trade-in program worked, in case I wanted to take advantage of it next season and get a new driver again (gotta have the latest technology, you know?!?!??!). He showed me their club repair/customization department, just in case. He explained the manufacturer’s warranty, and the store’s return/exchange policies. When he learned I was in business for myself, he made sure to tell me all about their “business solutions” program. All told, he spent well over an hour with me, for what I can only assume was a pretty measly commission on one golf club.

    How many of the customers at your dealership get this kind of service? If it’s a lot of them, great job!!! If yours is more representative of the norm, customers are probably still getting the old “if I could, would ya?” buying experience. It’s time to stop blaming the customers for our woes. The argument that “customers only try to negotiate for cars” is our own fault!!! Until the whole Monroney debacle, autos were the only consumer product that could get away with not carrying a price tag! And we wonder why customers don’t trust us? Customers upside down? Whose fault is that? Our need to sell 17 million new cars a year has driven us to deceptively low price advertising, incentivizing customers to trade more often than they ever have before. Need to sell more cars? Just find a bank that will do 96 month loans, don’t worry, none of your customers will be upside down when they want to trade in 3 years. Shaun had it right, the car buying process is an emotional process, but our advertising and sales processes evoke the wrong emotions.

  11. And, I would not call Joe a liar either. As I said before, I think he is a hugely intelligent person, with some great ideas.

    If it seems I am being a bit combative over the golf store/car dealership comparison, it is only because I have been making the comparisons in my head since my visit last weekend, and this thread gave me the perfect avenue for venting.

    Keep up the good work Joe, Shaun, and everyone else!

  12. What consumers want is:

    1. Their color, options, in stock, forget dealer trade, too long.
    2. Invoice pricing from first quote request
    3. The quickest transaction time possible
    4. 0% interest

    Cars have become commoditized, zero percent has become expected, invoice pricing is available to everyone all the time. If you can’t give this to them, chances are someone else will, it’s only a couple more calls away.

  13. I dunno, I guess I like to think each customer is a little different and what might appeal to one won’t appeal to another. Lucky for the consumer they have about 1 kazillion choices. When I look at my own personal buying habits it seems I like to buy from people that are like me in a way. They might be completely different but they have some way of connecting to me. Most folks are creatures of habit and like to do things in a pattern, I attended Ford training back in the late 90’s and they use to suggest Mirror and Match the folks your speaking with, (meaning adjust to the speed and go at their pace), I thought it made sense? My point would be, I think consumers want somebody compatible with them and its our job to figure out what that might be and keep it flowing within a general buying process that treats them with respect. I know not all customers will go along with our process(or any process for that matter) and after trying to adjust it to their style it still doesn’t work for that one customer, sometimes you have to chalk it up to a learning experience and get back to the other 90%.
    @the marketing ethics group
    tell the manufactures to stop first, I think I know where the Dealers learned it. (and it wasn’t from the G-Pod) Ha ha I made funny <

  14. It’s very interesting to read both sides of the coin here. The best part is that everyone keeps an open mind that has total respect for each others opinion. Do you know how rare that is in the blogosphere?

    Joey Stivic “In any case, the factory calls at the end of the month for your sales numbers, not your CSI.” – True that! (my ghettoness, just for Trev)

    Frank “zero percent has become expected” – You can blame GM, Ford and Chrysler for that crap!

    Frank “invoice pricing is available to everyone all the time” – We can blame the manufactures for that.

    Brian “I think consumers want somebody compatible with them and its our job to figure out what that might be and keep it flowing within a general buying process that treats them with respect.” – That’s salesmen ship. (yes you did make a funny)

    Are you salesman or an order taker? Some people want to place an order and some people want to be sold. No doubt the number of consumers that want to “place an order” are growing (this is where transactional websites come into play in the near future) but consumers that want to purchase from someone is still the dominant percentage. This percentage can fluctuate with the make of interest and demographics.

  15. I’ve neglected to comment because I’ve been really torn on this subject. I’d love to be the foremost spokesman for truth in advertising, I’d love to come in here and say our OEM’s are spear-heading change, I’d love to talk about a few of the retailers in the car industry (retailers – not car people) who try to operate like Golfsmith, and I’d love to say I believe everything on CNN too.

    The truth is reality is a mean bitch. Just as I post this, two of our Hyundai ads are expiring. We advertised a Sonata for $16,777 out the door with all VA taxes and fees included, and had over 30 to choose from at that price – it failed. On the other hand, the Hyundai Santa Fe ad for “up to $6,000 off” worked like a charm. When I see an OEM ad it is always for the base car they produce the least of (the one we can’t order) without freight and some other stipulations. CSI takes a long time to pay the bills, and it starts in your service department. I can go on and on…

    A while back I posted a comment about the changes going on in this industry and said the current economic situation will either speed those changes up or halt them in their tracks. This is what I think will happen over the next 2 years if the economy stays like it is right now: Every manufacturer has acknowledged there are going to be less cars sold in the US this year. Those same manufacturers then said, “yes, there are going to be X million less cars sold in 2008, but we have the new XX model coming out so we’ll still increase our sales this year! Keep those plants pumping those cars out because when the new XX model hits our older cars will start moving again.” They’ll hold onto this notion through April or May, then realize they made a big mistake, fire some people, and the new bosses will then come on board saying “the only way we can move this stuff is to put bigger incentives out than ever before” and this summer we’ll start selling more cars again based on huge incentives. Trades will be worth less down the road, crazy leasing residuals or longer financing options will be introduced, and the cycle will continue. We’ll continue doing what America does best: putting things on the back-burner.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  16. Tim,
    This GolfSmith/Dealership is an excellent model to help us illustrate that the shopper & seller interaction varies in each vertical AND is highly complex. I challenge you, not to get you to dig into your current position; my reply to you is to give you more data to reflect on.

    I am here to tell you that you can’t draw comparisons from the GolfSmith experience and a NEW car dealer, but, USED CAR DEALER??? Now you can draw a million parallels and that my friend is TOTALLY a different story.

    re: NEW CAR DEALERSHIP EXPERIENCES.
    Example: Loss Leaders, Transparency & Our Industry.
    Have you ever been a merchandise buyer? I have. Buyers fill merchandising slots. Merchandising slots are extensions of marketing campaigns. Marketing brings them in, merchandising completes the buying process. Pretty simple stuff, you see an ad for a Driver, visit GolfSmith, find that promo item, find it in depth, you also find it with different lofts and shafts. ALSO, you find a sea of other brands and a zillion golf balls, rows and rows of accessories and lots of high margin clothing too! Yumm!!

    This is a typical “Catagory Killer” experience. These mega stores exist in industries where demand is high but sales outlets are fragmented (aka: mom and pops). The depth of presentation is so overwhelming that why go anywhere else?

    I ask you, did you go anywhere else to shop? Did you grind the commissioned reps for a better price? Probably not. The other outlets are so trivial compared to this goliath AND we’re only talking a few hundred dollars… Why Shop?

    Tim, can you see the entire picture that I am drawing?

    Let’s talk Business Mechanics.
    Try for a moment and duplicate this “category killer’s” inventory selection in the auto industry (on the new car side). The cash required to stock every option, in every color and do it with depth (more than one in stock) is… not possible in most brands.

    Tim, How could you have not factored this in to your analysis? I know why, because you think that dealers are making consumers into victims and this GolfSmith analysis fits your preconceptions. Heed my intellectual challenge, don’t fall prey to seeing victims and preditors.

    And lets talk about that “THOROUGH product presentation and demonstration/”test-drive,” by a commissioned salesperson”.

    Amazing things happen when you’re a commissioned sales person working in a category killer that operates in an industry that is as fragmented as Golf is. GolfSmith knows that they are a destination location and that one “loss leader” sale will result in a dozen more vists IN A FEW WEEKS to buy balls, bags, shoes, umbrellas, rain gear, tees, training aids, grips, gloves, training, clothing and on and on.

    Lastly, How many times a year do you see your car buying customers?

    I rest my case.
    Joe
    p.s. don’t be mad at me, I just enjoy marketing/merchandising so much that I can’t help myself sometimes! ;-)

  17. Maybe a little on my personal background is in order. I grew up in the car business, literally. My family (both sides actually) have been in the car business, quite literally, since there was a car business. My father is still a dealer, though not as an extension of his father’s business (not even in the same market). I began taking an interest in marketing/merchandising as it relates to the auto industry around my sophomore year in High School. I used to sit at my father’s desk (when I wasn’t too busy sweeping up cigarette butts etc. on his lot) and help spec out cars, evaluate advertising opportunities, and study his interactions, as a very “hands-on” dealer, with his staff. I attended Northwood University on golf and academic scholarships, and graduated with a BBA in Automotive Marketing (an odd degree, I know…NU is the only school in the USA that offers it). I have worked in various capacities in the retail auto industry, most outside of my family’s stores. I have worked for one of the largest dealer groups, as well as single points in small towns.

    Point is, I don’t have any “preconceptions” about the car business that just happen to conveniently fit into my side of this discussion. Any of my conceptions regarding the car business come from a lot of years of experience and formal education. The word preconceptions makes it sound as though you believe I form my opinions, then look for an argument to support them. This is simply not the case.

    I feel the need to reiterate that it was you who first compared the car business to a sporting good store (think Golfsmith), by defending the practice of loss leader ads. I simply wanted to highlight what I see as a crucial difference in that comparison. I totally agree with you that they employ a quite different business model, and therefore may not be worth the comparison.

    As far as your “intellectual challenge” goes, I’m in. I don’t see the business as “victims and predators.” Though I believe you do. Here is why: in your first post on this thread, you said “The days of old are gone. Consumers have all of the information tools needed to chart their own course, they can take control of their own fate. What of the personal responsibility to understand what rolling over negative equity means down the road? That falls into the realm of education does it not? We’re here to move iron, not be mini Dr Phils.” In other words, you believe in the theory of survival of the fittest. If the customers are too weak (read: stupid) to take advantage of all the tools available to them, then we should prey upon their weaknesses in order to move the iron, and they get eaten, right? You made the argument for the very definition of the predator/prey relationship.

    I simply see a lot of room for improvement in the business with regard to how we “talk” to our customers. I think that we can do better by setting proper expectations…do you really still wonder why customers “beat us up” for better prices and not salespeople in other verticals?

    My only point on this thread so far has been that there are better ways to market our products and services to the car buying public. We need not resort to pricing tricks, numbers juggling, and hard-sells. As Shaun’s video and his post seem to suggest, our customers are asking us for better than that.

    Tim

    PS. I’m not mad, don’t you be either. I love marketing as much as I love a lively debate!

  18. When I’m car shopping at the retail level, I like to do everything on my own. I like to research cars online, compare pricing (actually value) between dealerships, and when I step onto the lot I want to be left alone. Nothing is more irritating than a salesperson who keeps talking to me when I don’t have any questions. I’m the kind of shopper that most salespeople hate, because I tell them to stay away from me, but also the kind that salespeople love because I typically don’t make them work hard for a sale. When I find a car I like I’m a bit of an impulse buyer. I’ve bought cars before after being on the lot for just 5 minutes. I hate the sales process because as a salesperson myself, albeit not a car salesperson, I know their every move. I never pay attention to advertisements offering cash back incentives, free gas cards, low monthly payments, or any of that garbage, because my #1 priority is getting a car that I like. I could care less whether that car is $10,000 or $10,000 plus a $1000 rebate – if I like it I’m going to buy it. I think a significant portion of the market DOES pay attention to those ads though, which is why they persist.

    Me personally though, I like to be left alone to make my own decision without any “guidance” from a sales rep. I’m not afraid of pushy sales reps like a lot of people are, thinking they’ll end up in a car they don’t want. I just find them to be a nuisance and will head to another lot if they don’t let me come to my own decisions on a purchase.

  19. I highly doubt that any consumer would find a huge difference in buying from me or Joe. I think they could careless as long as they get the price they want. Their loyalty is dollar deep. Regardless of how great our CRM tool or process is.

  20. There is only information and choices most people can absorb, maybe some more than others enjoy searching a data base of information but not many want to. The choices now available to consumers in terms of automobiles, new and pre-owned are overwhelming for some.

    How to market and sell your product depends on your vision as an entrepreneur, the interests of the market, the feasibility of the product in short, it depends on many things. You look at Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, they all have their methods. The successful entrepreneur will be flexible enough to adapt to the changes in the market, strong enough to keep his original goal in mind and wise enough to know what can and can’t be done. The same is true for dealers.

    The Internet is a rich source of information for learning about products, comparing them and finding where they can be purchased.

    Most consumers’ research products to either make themselves comfortable making a choice, make sure they are not being victimized, paying to much or to rationalize their primary choice. They need to defend it to themselves, parents, and people who matter to them.

    If consumers research and choose a product, they are expressing a view about themselves. Once the purchase is made and they find out they overpaid or could have received a better product for the same money elsewhere or their Uncle told them he got the same car for a deal over at this place they will remember this the next time they make a purchase and they will never forget who took advantage of them.

    The US has become a post-industrial nation. An increasingly large amount of US business is in the service sector. Is this not what a vehicle lease is? Are we selling a product or service? They sell what people do rather than deliver product and merchandise. How we service the client needs. We give them loaners when the vehicle will be tied up for 2-3 days or more, we let them have a nice vehicle, one they may want to purchase or lease the next time they are in the buying cycle, we remember their birthdays and send holiday cards, we email them pertinent information, we shuttle them to and from the dealership.

    The consumers are now purchasing on line from a variety of suppliers many who are internationally based.

    The dealers who learn who the new consumer is and how to work and service their needs will be in a happier place.

  21. As a consumer, and someone that works along side dealers to try and understand how to get the consumers in the door. I do believe it is stil considered and “emotional” purchase. Yes, it can be frustrating, but when you’re talking the sub prime, cash car, or even BHPH customer, they are on a VERY tight budget. They are normally not going to get what they want, they get what they can get for the money.

    That’s where the emotion comes into it. They see the options for what they can afford and then think…. “will my family like it?” “will i look cool in this?” “will my friends like it” “is it going to run for as long as i’m paying for it?”…

    That is where the consumer wants the sales person to tell them a “story” about that car. Buy painting a picture in the ad, to just telling.

    The reason I bring up this “sub prime” type buyer is because it is EVERYWHERE and if the economy is bad, the smaller independent lots are going to be the ones reaping the benifits of the down swing in the economy because they CAN and WILL work w/ these types of customers. And most of them are the owner, sales person, marketing guy, gm, and secretary for their dealership… so they do care about the consumer, but at the same time, they do want their friends and family to come back. Something some franchises can teach their sales people, because the training is poor, and the management usually sucks. (that’s another rant)

    Than probably made no sense, so I’ll summarize…

    1. The purchase IS more emtional because of the down swing in the economy. So dealers need to know what their really want from the beginning.

  22. There are quite a few excellent points made in this discussion. I particularly find Lao’s comments very insightful. Having information obtainable in no way means that you’ll be able to find and digest all of it. Information overload is very real. I’ve been involved in the automotive industry as a vendor, consultant and car buyer. My experiences have been all over the place with regards to professionalism, service and support when buying a car.

    It disturbs me when businesses utilize questionable and misleading tactics to draw people into a business – I don’t care what type of business it is. When a local appliance and electronic store advertises a special on a HD TV and I take time out of my day to go there only to find they only had a “few” of those items in stock (and they are no longer available), I make one single determination – this store will not be getting any of my electronic or appliance business! The same goes for a car dealership. And, I’m a new technology guy who will share this experience on my blog and with all my friends in an email. Bad news has already traveled fast, but today, bad news travels faster and farther than ever before.

    I purchased a van for my wife in the past 12 months and the experience still sticks in my mind. Why? Because I couldn’t believe the types of tactics that one dealership salesman tried on me, even after I told him that I was in the business. It was “old” car sales 101. I thought there might be a change when he had to involve his sales manager for some “insight”, but the manager just reinforced and ratcheted up the tactics of the salesman. Needless to say, the event did not work out to their benefit even though we were only $500.00 apart.

    Did the $500.00 mean that much to me? No. Taking time out to find the same van in another dealer’s inventory with the options and color my wife wanted would take some work, and this was after a fairly exhaustive research and dealing with my wife’s feelings. I was ready to end this van search, but I just resolved to not enrich the people who would act this way. And, I shared my experience with my friends. How much did this cost the dealership in question? It cost them one sale and all of the service follow-up (because we have our cars serviced where we buy them as do a number of people I know), and any potential sales to my friends.

    If I had liked and trusted the salesman, the $500.00 difference would have melted away and I would have purchased the van. The price the dealership was willing to sell at was still a good price and I place more value on a relationship where I believe the dealership will support me in service and support issues.

    I used to live in another city where I luckily came across a man who is the most honest car salesman I ever met. He was truthful about service issues with different models, always was easy to deal with when it came to price questions, and was there to support me whenever I had issues with my cars. Over the course of 20 years, I purchased 9 vehicles from this man. It didn’t amaze me when he was alwasy busy. Everyone that dealt with him appreciated his approach and he told me that all of his business came from referrals. I think he had something!

  23. Nice to see how Al’s and BJST’s posts tie together, both talk about how personal relationships with customers bring benefits that can be counted. I agree completely, but in the end the real common denominator to sales sucess is EFFORT (read: hard work & dicipline).

    Joe

  24. Doing SEO research, reading the uber-famous ShoeMoney.com, came across this post:

    http://www.shoemoney.com/2008/01/16/why-i-do-not-like-95-of-seo-experts/

    It reads:

    This is why SEO’s are like used car salesman…
    1) They can always sell you something.
    2) They can never guarantee results.
    3) They can not be held accountable.
    4) They have a answer for everything.
    5) All the magic happens behind the curtains – they cant tell you what they are actual doing because that would be getting to much into the secret sauce.
    6) Anyone can be a SEO.

    This comment is aimed right at the core of this thread. EVERYONE with a position on this thread will use this to defend their stand. We all know that Mr. Car Shopper has one hellofa bad attitude when they finally land on the lot. Does Mr GolfShith shopper have the same defensive posture with their GolfSmith commisioned rep?

    Our industry has “roots and heritage” that are very negative and IMO, that only Consumers can solve. If consumers so hate the back and forth grinding, then they’ll look for one price solutions like Scion and Saturn, or One Price new car dealerships.

    Either way, it is clear that the New Car MSRP has dissapeared and everyone is quoting from invoice (at least the domestics are). There is only one conclusion, Dealerships must die to thin the ranks to return the balance of supply and demand. IMO, the mom & pops are at greatest risk due to lack of inventory depth. I am refering to the mom and pops where the principal is asleep at the wheel and prefers to avoid the day to day biz at all costs.

    Like one of my earlier Blog Posts here, “Change is in the air….”
    Joe

  25. I work in the auto industry, and I’ve purchased two vehicles in two years. I can safely say that while I will be in the market for a vehicle in another two years, I would rather have a root canal than go through those shopping experiences again.

    We were shopping for the “perfect” family vehicle, and ended up test driving every single make/model of every single SUV/Crossover ever made. It took 4 months to make a purchase, which we finally made at Carmax, because their sales staff were the only ones to didn’t make every minute of our visit completely miserable.

    WHY do salesmen make you wait for HOURS at their desk while they go “check on something?” Why didn’t we leave that dealership, you ask? Because the jerk took our keys to do a “trade assessment” and then disappeared. We were held hostage like this time and time again. We got hip to this practice after Dealership #4. What is with that? Does this practice actually help you sell cars? Are people just so exhausted and tired by the time you get back to them that they’re hypnotised into buying any car you put in front of them?

    And WHY do dealers insist on the Bait & Switch? If I get to your lot, and you don’t have the vehicle that I just saw on the internet – cause what? I think you’re unprofessional, and I don’t want you to “show me something else.” Come on…. I’m hip to that game.

    AND WHY do some dealers insist on listing a fake price, or a price after billions of imaginary rebates? Again…. Don’t think that just because you lured me into the showroom that I’m going to fall for anything else you try to sell me. If I get all the way there, with my husband and kid in tow, I better be pleasantly surprised, or I’m leaving and you won’t see me again.

    I’d love to buy a new car. But I know that when that time comes, it will be the most miserable, stress inducing, painful period since the last time we bought a vehicle.

    Can’t Dealers just STOP all the shady practice? Be the better man/woman?

  26. WOW! This issue has a lot of passionate responses from a wide audience and judging by the length of the comments some folks seem to have too much time on their hands.

    There are as many consumer types as their are car salesman types and that will probably never change. Some will always haggle and others won’t mind paying retail for good service and a great experience. Consumers are starting to find out (if they haven’t already) that any dealer can meet or beat any legitimate price. And if that is the case you will see more and more consumers do their price shopping and then look for a dealer who will “treat them right.”

    There is no accountability today and currently CSI scores are kept private by the OEM so they do not help the consumers. All that will be changing.

    You gotta love this business. Here more in New Orleans at the Synergy Sessions Event. http://www.synergysessions.com

  27. Please don’t confuse a “Get Me Done” (GMD) with a “Regular” customer. All the GMD wants is to get into a decent car that they can drive for an extended time and a payment they can handle. They don’t care about the rate. Because of their bad credit they are at the mercy of who they are getting the car from. There is no real buying experience for them except sweating the approval process. Unfortunately, this is were a lot of GMD’s get abused. Inherently, secondary finance in a franchise store should be there to reestablish peoples credit. Very rarely does this happen. Independents typically hammer their GMD’s and rip their heads off. I know I have seen too many coming back to us after they have been beheaded.

    So, subprime is a whole different animal and doesn’t count in the realm of the regular customer buying experience. That doesn’t mean they should be abused or treated in a harsh manner.
    However, its a one way conversation in most cases with the dealer telling them what they qualify for.

    Ideally, in a fantasy world, they should be treated like everybody else. In reality they are looked at as “mutt financing”. I don’t necessarily agree with that mentality, but it is a reality in our industry. However, they are the ones who put themselves in a bad credit situation and they have to sleep in the bed that they made. Sorry.

  28. Shaun,
    Just when you think you’ve got me pegged, check out this DR blog entry that addresses your topic, written by me:

    http://www.dealerrefresh.com/my_weblog/2007/10/the-winds-of-ch.html

    >>>… Let’s talk about auto retailers that are busting the mold and trying to offer the shopper a fresh new “shopping game”. The game is still alive and well, consumers still need and want to smell, feel and touch but they are hungry for a “new way” to buy.

    Who dares to be different?
    Who among us is hard at work breaking the (perception) of the auto sales business model?… <<<

  29. Hi Joe.

    I’m not trying to peg you. While your electronic communication often comes across angry and sometimes combative, I honestly respect your view of our industry and hope you don’t think I harbor any hard feelings or ill will toward you.

    It should be clear to anyone that reads or contributes here at DR that you’re an experienced, intelligent guy. I did read your “Winds of Change” article previously and agree that the businesses you highlighted are indeed “game changers.” I consider myself a member of the “game changer” fan club and try to genuinely encourage more change.

    It will not come as a surprise to anyone reading these comments that I believe in treating people the way you like to be treated yourself. Yes, it may seem simple and to some maybe even naive, but in the end all the arguments about the industry differences can be tied together based on very basic human interaction.

    If someone treats me in a way I find offensive, condescending or manipulative, there’s a good chance I will have trouble liking them. If I don’t like them, I won’t believe them, I won’t care about their knowledge/confidence and I absolutely won’t trust them. For me… no trust, no sale! Perhaps I’m the minority, but I doubt it.

    Do you really think that we see things all that differently?

    Respectfully,

    Shaun

  30. I’ve been shopping for an upscale European car (I won’t say brand) and the experience has been the most unpleasant one of my 30 years of car buying (as a consumer). I don’t want to be sold, I already know what I want, all I want is the best price–give me the price and be done with the games please. Some won’t even deal with invoice pricing (“we don’t understand invoice price” “we start from sticker, not invoice”). Others have been offended and won’t even negotiate when I make an offer that gives a reasonable profit, but is aggressive, rather than using it as an opportunity to negotiate. One I had a deal with over the Internet which I accepted for the bottom-line price, and which I was told was approved. Next I asked about lease rates–immediately got shunted to another sales person. Quote was acceptable, I put in my credit app (I know no problem there, checked my credit and Fico is 770+), and then I got “waiting for sales manager to approve deal”. OK…four days later still nothing, so I emailed and got told that he hasn’t had a chance to review it yet because it’s monthend and they’re busy with “current customers”. I walked.

    I don’t get it!!

  31. The Customer isn’t always right, they are always the Customer. And customers want to feel they are being “HEARD”… and sometimes they have a funny way of telling us what they REALLY want, but I can sum it up in a few short phrases what I think is important to the online buyer/shopper:

    Personalized emails, pictures, video.
    Lowest prices on new cars – buy wholesale.
    Good finance rates.
    Options for down payment (200, 500, 1500, 0 down)
    Highest Trade value – trade for retail.
    Quick Sales process.
    Clean car on delivery.
    Great walk around on delivery.

    One of the things I ask all my prospects is powerful and differentiates me from most others in my market:

    “Mr. Customer, what is going to be the most important thing about the next vehicle you buy?”

    Armed with his answer, he will tell me exactly what I need to know to sell him a vehicle.

    Have a great day!

    Chris
    Nissan i-sales

  32. Chris, if you asked me that question, I’d run like h*ll from you! Try a fair, honest, transparent deal with all incentives and trunk money on the table, loan rates/lease MF, residuals & fees clearly stated, calculations shown so they can be checked, and NO TRICKS. You aren’t giving anything away–even a marginally savvy Internet shopper has access to all that information, and you’ll save a lot of negotiating time and gain a lot of credibility besides by providing it!

    Don’t offer a deal unless you are prepared to honor it. Good communication at all times. The personalized emails, etc are utter BS and a waste of time, if not insulting–but pointing a customer to a legitimate INFORMATION source is a good thing.

    Treat me with respect, offer me a GOOD deal that I can verify for myself (emailing me an Excel spreadsheet containing all numbers is a nice touch), follow through with promises (even a quick “I can’t have those #’s till tomorrow” is fine and totally acceptable) and NO BS and I’ll buy from you and send you my friends as well. BS me and instead of squeezing me for $100 more, you’ll lose the sale entirely.

  33. @ICS
    excel spreadsheet ….really, I would think that might confuse some folks. I had some folks complain about it in the past, i liked how easy the info was to format but I thought it was kind of “form”

  34. Offer the spreadsheet to those who want it. I have one I’m using to evaluate the various offers and leasing options, and I use excel formulas to do the calculations. I’m at the point where when I get an offer, within a minute I can compare it to the other offers and plug the numbers into my lease calc section to know whether or not this is a good deal. Sure, the dealership can do the calcs, but I like the reassurance of knowing what the number “should” be (and I have validated it by comparing to online calculators). If a dealer has a different figure, that’s fine, I just ask where they got it, and plug the numbers into my handy-dandy (you guessed it!) excel spreadsheet and calculate it their way to see whether I missed something or whether the dealership is adding. I picked up an error in sales tax calculations, and another debatable item (whether or not to charge sales tax on acquisition fees if paid up front & not capitalized) that way, neither of which was disclosed on the quotes.

    For those who don’t use or like excel, don’t offer. It should be evident from discussions how financially and/or computer savvy a buyer is–and if you aren’t sure, just ask!

  35. Dead on and dead wrong here.

    People are not always really looking for the lowest price but the last place that they can feel empowered.

    The auto industry has not risen to the same social-economic status with other retailing industries because some one has to be or made out to be the bad guy or diversion for other industries.

    Let me tell you I have told friends and family time and time again that if they would focus, research and spend the same amount of time on many other purchases, the savings would be ten times greater.

    Buying a home, jewelry, clothing, INVESTMENTS, IRA’s and MUTUAL FUNDS, even carpeting to name a few.

    The margins and especially commissions on some far exceed the total profit made on an avg car deal.

    It is ridiculous because a home sells for 1M in comparison to 350k that it makes any sense that the commission should be higher?
    Bull to any realtors that it’s more work and for certain of the fact that they spent more money out of their own pocket to sell the higher priced one.

    I bought a house for 500k and the realtor showed me 5 homes in one day. I bought the one I found by researching. They made and got half of a 30k commission and they sucked and had no clue of or even sincerely asked what my needs and what is important to me.

    When a stock goes down or loses money it’s the markets fault but when a vehicle depreciates as it is supposed to do, “that no good salesperson or store that sold it to me” is at fault.

    The fact is the auto industry as a whole have spent so much time competing with each other that of the 10B+ ad dollars spent yearly on loss leaders and gimmicks that by know that they would have finally come together to positively promote and betterment of the industry.

    I had mentioned in this blog briefly about why there isn’t a retail automotive union and the same current mindset by dealer principles and manufacturer’s applies.

    Enough ramble and all the best from the Windy City.
    Pete