ANDERSON — Navigating the car buying experience can seem daunting, especially with the wealth of information available to match potential owners with the perfect vehicle.
But local dealers say more knowledgeable customers don’t necessarily change their approach when it comes to closing a deal.
“I think it actually makes our jobs easier, because our customers really know what they want,” says Charles Venable, general sales manager at Myers Autoworld. “They’re verifying that they’re dealing with the right person, that they’re purchasing from the right dealership, and that the decision that they’ve already made really is just to be confirmed by us through giving them the best experiences.”
Industry analysts say the growth of websites like Carfax, Autotrader, Edmunds and others have given mainstream attention to several misconceptions about the car buying process. Though consumers are spending more time online researching potential vehicle purchases, they aren’t necessarily begging to complete the transaction entirely through e-commerce, they say.
According to Cox Automotive, shoppers spent an average of 14.5 hours researching vehicles. Sixty-one percent of that time was spent online, but, significantly, 34% was spent at dealerships. And last year, a Harris Poll study found that a person looking to buy a vehicle visits an average of 2.5 dealerships in person, and 68% visit more than one dealership.
“It’s great to have an educated consumer coming in the door,” says Mike Bullard, general manager at Ed Martin Nissan of Anderson. “But there are still things about the (sales) process that a salesperson can provide in terms of sharing more of the vehicle’s features – the amenities, the extended test drives and those types of things.”
Other research points to the theory that consumers – especially younger ones – still want an active, multi-venue shopping experience. The Harris Poll study also found that millennials, in addition to making an average of 3.5 dealer visits when considering an auto purchase, overwhelmingly want to see and test drive a vehicle before buying – 83% of them said they would not buy a vehicle without test driving it first.
Additionally, more informed customers who step onto the lot with a better grasp of exactly what they want and can afford can reduce the kind of protracted negotiating over a final purchase price that used to be much more common, local dealers say.
“I think we do a better job of researching the desire of the customer,” says Mary Jamerson, owner of Myers Autoworld. “We have customers who come in and say, ‘I do not want to haggle. This is what I want to buy my vehicle for, and this is what I want to trade my vehicle for.’”
Adds Venable: “We’re working to make sure that they’re happy with their purchase. We also work very hard to make sure that our vehicles are priced based off of the right price to begin with. When you look at the internet and everything, it has to be there for them to even come. I would say I don’t see us negotiating that much anymore.”