At the end of Dec 2016 I purchased my first new SUV – that’s me over to the right! This was not my first new car purchase, I had bought a Ford Fusion in 2011. Prior to that I have a respectable list of used cars including: 2- Oldsmobile Alero, 2- Ford Taurus, another Ford Fusion, and a Pontiac Grand AM. So this being the 8th automobile I’ve bought in my lifetime I think it is safe to say that this was not my first rodeo.
In the past I’ve had a general idea of what I was looking based on a combination of needs, wants, my personal experiences, and feedback from friends and family on their automobile of choice. Other than the fact that I needed something with an engine and 4 wheels I was flexible to make, model, and even budget to some extent. This is the part where the car salesman comes in. Through lifestyle questions, financing expectations, and assessment of my general car knowledge the sales person would “steer” me in the direction of the automobile that fit both my needs and his/her agenda (usually his because for some reason there are very few woman in the car sales profession but this is a topic for another time). After the salesman’s recommendation of car comes the test drive and the much dreaded haggling. As a consumer, and not someone who really knows much about cars, the fear of making a wrong choice had me relying on the expertise of the salesman. Having a good relationship with a brand, dealership, and/or salesperson was added comfort and reduced the fear of making a wrong decision. The apprehensions I had in the past changed with my last quest for a new vehicle and much of that is due to changes in the digital landscape of car buying.
My Digital Car Buying Experience
After the apocalyptic type winter of 2015 I pretty much decided I needed an SUV. The Ford Explorer was first to mind, since I am kind of Ford girl, but I wasn’t in love with the look. As I began to look around me with the lens of an active car shopper I kept being drawn to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I have used the internet before for some portion of the car buying process but this was the first time I researched all aspects of the buying journey. I researched the different Jeep Brands, which is a little insane with 8 models of Jeep. I was interested in the Grand Cherokee which has another 9 makes never mind all the different combination of options available.
The Empowered Buyer
It’s easy to see how in the past this complexity would compel consumers to seek out a saleman’s advice. In today’s digital world instead of being limited by a salesman’s knowledge or agenda I researched not only all the different options of Jeeps and possible upgrades but reviews from experts and owners. Starting with company owned media like the official Jeep Website I began my education. From there it was very easy to shop inventory and prices across the several dealerships in my area. What truly empowers today’s buyers is the independent media. Using sites like Kelley Blue Book helped me to determine a fair trade in value. I surmised my old car was in good condition, those few scratches could easily be buffed out right? After narrowing down my choices and knowing my trade in value my next step was to determine how much should I pay? The company owned media is a little challenging to navigate with all the different options for customization, plus they push you to contact a dealer. The dealer sites list inventory, options, and prices but everyone says you don’t pay sticker so what’s a girl to do? There are several sites out there like TRUECar that will give you comparisons of what other’s are paying for the same vehicle in your area. There is something satisfying about knowing you got screwed over less than your neighbor. There was a significant difference between the over $43,000 invoice price the dealer gave me and what TRUECar showed.
The fun doesn’t stop there the next place to make sure you do your homework is financing. Know your credit score and what your bank is offering for a loan. During my transaction I knew I was eligible 1.99% from my credit union and supplied the website to the Jeep finance department. They seemed a little incredulous about the rate but didn’t want to take the chance of me walking out the door and offered me 1.94%.
Demise of the Car Salesman
Buying a car for most people is a major investment and worth time to research. With all the tools and resources available from third-party and customer reviews, company owned sites, and buying guides the consumer is armed with a wealth of information to turn the tables on the car dealers. According to Automotive News the number of car dealerships remain flat while sales are increasing, evidence that the role of the dealership in the car buying process may be diminishing. The industry will be further disrupted by other trends and technologies and could look vastly different in 10 years. The popularity of ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber will put pressure on car sales and the need for salesmen. Self driving cars are sure to impact sales volumes and the need for both dealerships and sales people. I envision dealerships reducing inventories and transitioning into a showroom type business model. Utilizing dealerships to trial the product before going on-line to purchase.
Thinking back to my recent experience the car salesman was obsolete in the equation. I came in knowing what I wanted, knowing what I was willing to pay, what rate I should receive for financing, and how much I would be willing to take for my trade in. All I needed was to test drive the car. It was the heated steering wheel not the salesman who sealed the deal for me.