Car Dealers vs. Car Shoppers: A Great Spectator Sport

August 25th, 2008 (18,420 views) by Pinny Cohen

Angry Car Shopper

The BrandingWire blog had an excellent discussion about auto dealers, and how to improve the customer experience. Few topics conjure up instant feelings like thinking about car dealerships, and I am often fascinated by what occurs in that retail location. One response by a commenter named Janet, was particularly interesting, since it was written from a car dealer’s point of view.

If I might, I’d like to explore Janet’s comments.

It’s easy for either side to complain – dealers about customers, and customers about dealers.

The problem is, dealers are in business, and they NEED customers, whereas customers don’t NEED dealers. There are many different avenues for car shoppers to get cars, such as a friend, eBay, classifieds, junkyards, hand-me downs, and more.

So, in essence, there will always be an asymmetrical division of power in the relationship. Call it unfair, but I don’t believe any dealer goes into business unaware of this reality. And so, once you accept that reality, you need to look from the dealer’s point of view how to prevent the behavior that Janet listed:

Unrealistic Expectations

1. Unrealistic expectations. As in, “I want to buy a car for my daughter to go off to college. It has to look good – she prefers red – and it can never leave her stranded on the side of the road. And I only want to spend about $600.”

Let’s first tackle the first issue: Unrealistic expectations. I think we all have unrealistic expectations. Dealers expect buyers to buy each and every time. Customers expect to get a great deal (partially because of misleading advertising by dealers, and partially because of the car buying culture in America).

If you set yourself aside as a dealer who provides as accurate and real pricing as possible, you may very well diminish this crowd of shoppers. In fact, the more time they spend at OTHER dealerships, the more YOU can focus on legitimate sales, and the other dealers will be wasting their time.

Big Cajones

2. Big cajones. We’ve had customers take cars on a test-drive for HOURS at a time and have to go looking for them based on where they said they were going. We’ve had them come back and have to transfer their garage sale purchases from OUR car to their car. We’ve spent countless hours waiting for customers who said “I’m just going to get the money, I live right up the street” and then never return.

On to the second issue – “Big cajones”. Plenty of car dealers let you “test” a car for anywhere from 1 day to 30 days, so this doesn’t necessarily strike me as a bad thing. Let’s face it – very often you try something out, and then realize you don’t like it. Giving your customers that flexibility is a great marketing move. If you want to keep it to short test drives, then used the accepted practice – have a salesman sit in the passenger seat. That should solve this problem right away.


3. Procrastination. We’ve had them take their car and paperwork, and NEVER transfer the title into their own name, then come back to us as long as TWO YEARS later and demand that we get them a duplicate title. Or, as in one case this year, simply demand their money back and say they ‘don’t have time to mess with’ getting it transferred.

On the third issue – “procrastination”. Hate to say it, but welcome to America. Americans procrastinate. We are likely the only country in the world that has tons of psychologists studying this “phenomenon”.

And, if I might ask, wouldn’t YOU take your time with a big-ticket purchase? For example, think of the 6 months or so you are going to work (9-5 each day) just to pay for the car.

Additionally, what fraction of Americans know how to fill out, or have the time or patience to fill out, the paperwork for titles? If you provide that service (as I believe many dealers do), you can avoid their procrastination – AND your frustration later on.

Liars, Cheats, and Thieves, Oh My!

4. Liars, cheats and thieves. We’ve taken our share of rubber checks, and we’ve had people take cars for test-drives only to have them come back claiming problems that did not exist on the car before they left, or actually take parts off the cars.

On your last issue – just like there are liars who sell you cars, there will be liars who try to buy the cars. I personally find it humorous when the two collide on one transaction.

I’ve repeatedly found the best way to avoid bad shoppers is to make use of the “Broken Windows” theory, which holds that people take signals about “acceptable behavior” from their surroundings (e.g.- if a window is broken on the side of the house, people assume there is lawlessness, and are more likely to say, graffiti all over your wall).

The application of this theory in our case would be, conduct your dealership business in the least scammy way, and be courteous to customer’s true needs, and you will find that problem largely disappears on it’s own.

Did you know that in an annual Gallup poll Americans rated car salesmen as the least trustworthy professionals? Just 5% were viewed as honest. You’ve got a strong stereotype to fight against. So while car dealers may complain about a shoppers and long test drives, it’s actually the shopper who is already coming in expecting to be taken for a ride!

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2 Responses to “Car Dealers vs. Car Shoppers: A Great Spectator Sport”

  1. Online Home Schooling Says:

    Very Interesting article. I was not much aware about the dealings and car buying stuff. It has cleared loads of things.

  2. I think some of you are HIDING behind advertising! « Daniel Herndon Says:

    [...] I would like to plead to you, Mr Brand Ambassador that you show that confidence in your brand by audaciously including your clients lifestyle, habits, loves and personal emotional aspects into your marketing. Why Mr Car Dealer do you yell on TV and talk about deals and spend millions on Ads… Why not consider giving a car to the local mission to meet a need or offering a free loaner car to people that come in for an oil change. Wouldn’t that be a better image and AT LEAST equally effective per dollar spent? You are then handing the mic over to them to tell about you – and that speaks louder and is a more appealing sound. Actually, Mr Car Dealer, a November ‘08 Gallup poll ranks car dealers/salesman pretty low in trustworthyness, and those customer experience + advertising methods can’t be helping. (Credit to Pinny Cohen for some good customer experience comments about car dealers) [...]

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