I bought a new (used) car this week and was struck by how complicated this process remains. I’m not a shopper by nature, so the car-buying process can feel excruciating. I don’t negotiate for the book I buy at Target. Why does the expectation still exist that I should do so for a car? The same issue exists for home buying. While I can understand the subjectivity of home prices (i.e., few homes are exactly the same), I fail to understand why prices vary so greatly between dealers, particularly since one can easily compare similar vehicles between lots.
This issue leads me to the car salesmen. And yes, it’s still salesmen for the most part because in my 15+ years of driving, I’ve only worked with one saleswoman on a car purchase. Such individuals sadly fit the stereotype of their profession more frequently than one would like to believe. Characteristics can include aggressiveness (working on commission), condescension (what does a woman know about cars), and over-the-top friendliness (stay out of my personal space, please).
Such qualities are not limited to this group alone, but it does make for interesting language. For example, while patiently waiting for my paperwork (why does it take so long?), I noticed a sales call script pinned to the wall. In this instance, the script assumed the caller was inquiring about a specific vehicle and encouraged the salesman to insinuate that the vehicle may no longer be available but that he would check on it. Since it might take some time, give me your name and number and I’ll get back to you. In today’s information society do you really expect me to believe that it takes more than a couple of minutes to access a dealer’s inventory and see if the vehicle is still available?
The script continued on in a similar vein for the follow-up call, but it totally matched my experience except mine happened online. The dealer I worked with has an online site and is set up to let one request an internet quote. I did so, specifically asking for the price of the vehicle and the vehicle’s history (e.g., trade-in, auction, etc.). Here was the response I got back:
My name is X, I am the Internet Sales Manager for Y. Thank you for the recent inquire. We are committed to making your purchase an easy and enjoyable experience. Here’s how it works.
* We will find the right vehicle for you.
* Provide you with great value and all the information you need to make an informed decision.
* Schedule a convenient time for you to come in, test drive and take delivery of your new vehicle.
In order for this to happen I need the opportunity to talk to you. I can be reached at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or by responding to this email. Or just come in and visit me in . I would love to get you all the information that you need to help you find exactly what you want.
Internet Sales Manager
As you can see, this email didn’t answer any of my questions. I sent another email, again requesting the details I had asked for earlier. I received a response, with the actual information, the morning after I’d already purchased the vehicle.
So why did I continue to work with this dealer? They had the car I wanted. The closest similar car was over 200 miles away. So I compromised. I did things the old-fashioned way and went into the dealership and met with the antithesis of most car salesman—polite, relatively non-pushy and clearly more interested in working than the other salesman sitting around the office telling jokes.
Change the Experience
All told, this experience took a significant portion of my day and left me wondering how this process hasn’t streamlined itself over the years. We’ve made it easier to buy just about everything. From online stores like Amazon to self-checkout stands at the grocery store, we’ve found ways to may the buying experience more simple. And yet, things like buying a car, and the language surrounding it, remain unclear and complicated.
Perhaps I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the art of negotiation, so I fail to get any pleasure out of the process. Usually, my negotiating goes like this: I research the vehicle, determine a fair market price, then counter with that number if the dealer offer is higher. If he doesn’t match, I walk away. For you negotiating experts who are shaking your heads in dismay, ask yourself how much money you’re losing (I’m self-employed) by spending hours bargaining. Do you always save more than you lost in time spent?
I’d posit that car dealers as individuals are missing an opportunity to set the standard in their industry. Saturn does it to an extent with it’s no-haggle approach (you pay what’s on the sticker), and I know of other non-Saturn dealers who do the same. As a whole, however, the bulk of the industry remains focused on posting a price that few customers ever pay and then engaging in the back and forth with the customer.
I may be in the minority, but if you combined consistent customer service with straight-forward pricing, I’d go back to the same dealer again and again. In such environments, language becomes easier, more clear. One doesn’t need call scripts or crappy sales tactics to “lure” in customers. The experience speaks for itself. And let’s be honest, how many of you really enjoyed your last car buying experience?