Buying a Car…An Experience Time Has Passed By.


Share on LinkedIn

Have you tried to buy a car lately? Let’s forget for a moment that there’s a chip shortage causing car dealership lots to be nearly empty with skyrocketing prices for both new and used cars. Forget about discounts or rebates they are few and far between. If you can locate your vehicle of choice, it may come with an additional dealer mark-up of $1000, $2,000, or even $10,000 above the MSRP. Despite these challenges, we still love our cars in the US.

But we apparently don’t like the car buying experience. A survey conducted in 2016 found that 87% of consumers disliked something about the dealership experience when buying a car. I trust not much has changed today. A recent article in Forbes Wheels by Alex Kwanten states, “Consulting firm Deloitte’s 2021 Global Automotive Consumer Study found that 71% of American consumers still want to buy in person. But how long are most people interested in spending at a physical dealership? One hour, max.” “Most of the pain points in the customer journey come down to time,” says Jeff Dyke, president, and director of North Carolina-based Sonic Automotive. “The main reasons consumers want more of a virtual process are convenience and speed,” Ryan Robinson, automotive research leader told Forbes Wheels. “A virtual experience tends to alleviate a lot of the consumer pain points that we’ve been hearing about for, frankly, decades.”

My recent experience in buying a vehicle affirmed this research. With the ongoing pandemic, I did most of my research online and once I narrowed my vehicle choices, I began using a combination of internet car-buying sites and online direct contact with dealers across the country. The experiences I had were amazingly similar and mostly less then desirable. Using the car-buying sites proved to be an effort in futility -with many vehicles of interest already sold but still listed online for weeks after my initial query on its status. Any inquiry I did submit was met with a standard pat response, like, when can I take a test drive? Well, I’m hundreds of miles from your dealership so that’s not possible. I finally determined that cars were being listed, regardless of inventory status, to drive leads to the dealership. Dealerships were using these leads to sell a different vehicle available within their inventory. Chatting with a dealer often proved equally as frustrating. In many instances, the person I spoke with couldn’t answer even the most basic questions. I trust they weren’t even associated with the dealership.

After much effort, I did encounter a few dealerships that clearly were customer focused. One of them eventually secured my business, not because they had the best price, but because they listened to my needs and responded appropriately. These dealers didn’t have internet sales associates evaluating my buying status but rather immediately connected me with responsive salespeople who often provided a video introducing themselves and showing the vehicle. They asked pertinent questions that helped establish trust and credibility first before ever asking for the sale. They created packets of information including vehicle features, warranties, and available inventory. Signing the deal and taking delivery took much less time than expected and the follow up was impressive.

The Deloitte study also found that “The pandemic forced dealers to adopt and engage on digital channels, states Jody Stidham, managing partner, “and getting positive responses from consumers will only further spread the adoption of the tools that make the process easier. Now dealers are open to communicating through new channels and offering new tools; they’ve progressed much further in this space recently than they have in years past,” Stidham says.

I don’t profess to know the car industry well-enough to understand the reasoning behind how dealers decide their approach to selling cars. However, I do know about customer experience and how listening to your customers and acting on what they tell you makes a difference. Despite all the challenges facing car dealers, creating a better experience should remain their number one priority. Organizations in different industries have encountered similar challenges. Those that responded quickly and effectively to changing consumer demand will survive them because customer’s will grant them their loyalty. Those that decided the customer experience had to be sacrificed in the name of navigating the pandemic will suffer the consequences of their decisions.
Perhaps some dealers are making progress towards better customer experiences. Once the supply chain crisis has subsided and dealer lots are filling up with cars again, I hope consumers will remember the dealers that made a short-term decision to take advantage of their customers in the name of profits versus those that remained focused on their customers for the long-term relationship and loyalty well beyond today’s environment.

As consumers we possess a great deal of power in our decision to buy an organizations products or services. We value those organizations that know us as customers, not account numbers, and who appreciate our loyalty and recognize the value we bring to them.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here