Buying a car – the customer’s perspective (part 1)

The time has come to change my car, which is always interesting for me given that my job is to advise car dealers how they can make the most of their on-line presence and sell more cars, more efficiently. I spend a lot of time assessing the effectiveness of dealer websites and their digital marketing strategies, so I always view a car purchase as a great opportunity to put myself in the consumers shoes.

The background.

A bit about me. I’ve worked in and around the motor trade since 1995. I sold cars on the dealership floor in the days when people had to visit showrooms and speak to salesmen. I was “internet champion” at the two prestige franchised dealerships I worked at, which didn’t mean much at the first. At the second, we had a dedicated PC in a forgotten corner of the showroom that I had to check periodically for email enquiries. In those days (c.2002), the general view in the trade was that an email “wasn’t a proper enquiry”. This was great for me, as I believed that they were, and this proved to be the case. Rather like being a Motability specialist, if you do the job right you can sell quite a few cars. In those days, the salesman really was crucial to the whole sales process. Customers weren’t really comfortable buying from dealers hundreds of miles away, and searching for suitable cars was generally done by flicking through the pages of Auto Trader or the Sunday Times. I can barely remember the Auto Trader website back then – given that I have always been an early adopter of technology (I got my first Hotmail account in 1996) I can only imagine that very few people ever used Trader Group’s website in those days….

Auto Trader website advanced search facility circa January 1998
Auto Trader website advanced search facility circa January 1998

When you work in the motor trade it’s actually pretty hard to empathise with the people you are selling to. Dealer staff can buy great cars for trade money and get them fixed quickly and relatively cheaply by people they know and trust. This all changed for me in 2005 when I went to run a business where two of my main tasks were buying cars and running a fleet of high performance vehicles. To say I was shocked by how customers were dealt with was an understatement – even with my trade contacts. To be fair to my ex-colleagues, they looked after me pretty well but as soon as there was no previous connection the buying process deteriorated rapidly and I received some treatment that left me slack-jawed with amazement from several Porsche sales teams. And let me make this quite clear, I’m easy to sell to and very tolerant – not one of those people who longs to have a chance to whinge about how they were treated badly. When I sold Land Rovers some customers used to love to imagine that they were ignored because they came in wearing muddy boots and filthy overalls – even if you pounced on them as they came through the door. I just want someone to look after me, call me back and give me a decent deal.

Why am I changing my car? To be honest, I’d be happy to keep it. Until recently it’s been extremely reliable but after a host of electrical problems it always seems to come out of my local franchised dealer with more problems than it went in with. Having spent north of £3000 on it in the last 12 months, I’d like to get some return on that investment, especially as it’s by no means my pride and joy and spends most of it’s time grinding up and down motorways. So my motivation is to stop the repair bills and reduce the time I spend trying to get it fixed. Additionally, my wife hates the car and is constantly telling me to change it.

What am I looking for? Well, there’s the rub. Like many customers, I don’t really know. I originally bought my existing car by accident. I dropped a colleague off to pick his car up after a service. The car had just arrived on the forecourt, looked great and fulfilled my need to get a car that had better fuel economy than my trusty Nissan Navara. I’d driven them before and liked them, so I went in and had a deal done in less than 30 minutes. It ticked all the boxes at that particular moment, but I guess the key influencing factors were that the car was a sensible price and a good spec. At the present time I believe I’m looking for something similar – quick, fun to drive, ability to carry a family + bike + surfboards, good looking and something a little out of the ordinary. I’m not a badge snob, so I’d consider any marque (just about….). I want a decent finance package and a warranty for the duration of ownership. Budget is variable for a variety of reasons, but realistically I’d like to spend as little as possible. I’m lucky enough to have had many great company cars over the years so I’m over the whole “smart car” thing, but I’d like to have something I’ll enjoy owning. All this, however, could change……

What kind of buyer am I? Well, obviously I know a fair bit how these transactions work, but I’ve been off the sales floor for long enough to be an “outsider”. I’m open to suggestion and advice. I want to feel that I’m getting a good deal, but my motivation for buying is never about the “best deal” – if I really want to buy something, I’ll buy it. I’ve seen so many people lose out on their perfect car because they felt the need to haggle over a couple of hundred pounds that I always swore I wouldn’t do the same. I understand that certain influences can quickly and decisively change my opinion, and often my buying decisions will be influenced by timing, luck, or a good sales person – I’m firmly in the “people buy from people” camp. I also rarely get Buyer’s Remorse as I generally do enough background research to prevent it. So, to round up I’m a sales person’s nightmare. I don’t really know what I want, when I want it or what I’m willing to pay. I just know that I need to start building up to it now and the pieces will fall into place over time. Just like so many other car buyers, then.

About the author

Ed Yorkshire-bred, 20 years in Scotland and now in Essex. Father, salesman, marketer, surfer, snowboarder, hill lover.

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