The car buying process makes me nervous and I know it shouldn't. I've interacted with dealers and salespeople for over half of my professional life. I write about dealerships and selling cars, and yet, I still find myself unnerved entering a dealership to purchase a vehicle.
I don't like walking into the showroom not knowing what vehicle I'm going to buy. Knowing me, I'd probably buy something I didn't really want. And I really don't care for the negotiation process.
I think the reason is because the car buying process is adversarial. Peter Brandow, a Philadelphia area dealer, is right when he says the first person who gives up a significant piece of information in the negotiating process loses. I dislike losing.
I prefer a more forthright approach. I like knowing what I'm going to buy and how much I'm going to pay for it before heading to the dealership.
Because of my distaste for the conventional car-buying process, one might think that I automatically would use the Internet when buying a vehicle — especially because Internet selling is the area I cover for the magazine.
But I'm a traditional guy. So I initially opted for the traditional method of car buying when I started looking for a used car.
Well, my dealership experience was a disaster. I found a deal I liked in the paper and scheduled a meeting with a salesman. The problem was the lot had nothing resembling the advertisement and the salesman acted as if he had never heard about it.
I spent 20 minutes walking around the lot with him trying to put me in vehicles I had no desire to buy. All the while, he attempted to negotiate prices. I left after he became frustrated with me for not knowing what I wanted.
Not wanting to spend more time showroom hopping, I decided to try the Internet.
After finding nothing intriguing on some of the web sites of dealerships close to my home, I gave Autobytel.com a shot.
I found a couple of interesting deals. I picked one and within a couple of hours I received an e-mail from Autobytel informing me the car was at Bob Sellers Pontiac in Farmington Hills, MI.
Debbie Lewandowski, the salesperson, called me at work the next morning (normally, Ms. Lewandowski would have e-mailed me, but the dealership was installing a Reynolds & Reynolds system that week). We scheduled an appointment for a test drive.
When I got to Bob Sellers Pontiac/GMC that night, the car was there at the price advertised. Ms. Lewandowski exerted no pressure on me while answering questions about the vehicle.
Even though I had obtained financing already from my credit union, I was unhappy with them because of poor service. (They messed up the paperwork, then expected me to drive over to their office to pick up the corrected version.) Brett Laslie, the dealership's finance manager, offered to run some numbers for me. They looked as good as the credit union's, so I readily accepted.
The whole process was straightforward. No pressure, no discomfort, and I left the dealership with a car at a fair price and a good financing deal.
My experience confirmed some things for me. First, the third-party sites do offer some value to the dealer. Bob Sellers made a sale to a customer who never would have considered that store had it not been for an Internet referral service.
The third-party sites also have value for the customer. Instead of traveling from showroom to showroom looking for a vehicle, within minutes in the comfort of my home, I had 20 vehicles from which to choose. Even better, I knew the price of the vehicle before I set foot in the dealership.
It takes a dealership putting its inventory on a third-party's site to make the system work though. That is a service the dealership provides — making my search easier. Is that important? You bet it is!
Talk to any dealer who is committed to making the Internet a profit center for the dealership, and you'll hear the word “process.” The technology is great, but how a dealership uses the technology to enhance the car buying experience is what is most important.
These dealers understand the importance of providing a different process to those customers, like me, who want to avoid hassles, negotiations and pressures.
No doubt the Internet is what got me to the dealership, but the people — Ms. Lewandowski and Mr. Laslie — clinched the sale. It was, as Bob Sellers' web site says, “a positive Internet experience.”