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The car industry has a bad reputation for good reason. When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I could identify individual sales people—and in some cases, almost entire dealerships—as those that used an “old school” approach to sales in general, and working with people in particular. It was this “old school” approach that inevitably led to problems, which in turn helped create the bad reputation.
If I had to identify one characteristic of an “old school” attitude that has led to the stories we’ve all heard—stories from friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers who have had less than a stellar experience buying a new or used vehicle from a dealer—it would be the inherent lack of respect shown to customers.
Showing your customers a lack of respect isn’t limited to the car industry. And I still have many friends selling cars who are honest, credible individuals who are wonderful to work with when purchasing a vehicle. But there are lingering attitudes in the retail car business that continue to act as self-inflicted wounds. It results in car sales professionals having a reputation below that of politicians and card-sharks.
A serious issue
It’s my experience that the “old school” approach to car sales hits women harder than men. As an Internet Manager, I heard many depressing stories about how women had been treated by sales staff at major dealerships. One of the worst examples was told to me by a middle-aged, single woman shopping for a new car. She arrived at the dealership I was working at after having abruptly left one a few miles away.
It seems that the salesperson at the other dealership had been having a difficult time keeping up with her during price negotiations. She had done her homework and after haggling back and forth, had just said that she would either get the low price she wanted or she was leaving to find a dealer that would be willing to work with her.
Her salesperson—in a seemingly last-ditch effort to both save face and the deal—said, “The price I’m offering is already as low as you’ll find anywhere. Before you walk away are you sure you shouldn’t first check with your husband? I’m sure he’ll tell you it’s in your best interest to take the deal I’m offering.” Needless to say, she didn’t have a husband, and she immediately got up and walked out.
Do women feel more disadvantaged buying cars than men? It seems so. According to a survey last year by AutoTrader.com, women are less comfortable buying cars than men. The survey says that almost one in four women (24 percent) find shopping for a vehicle stressful. This compares to just 15 percent of men. The study also reveals that almost twice as many men feel “certain and confident” when they visit a car dealer compared to women (44 percent for men; 25 percent for women).
It seems that women do feel at a disadvantage when shopping for cars. What can be done? Tomorrow we look at what some car dealers are doing to help with “old school” attitudes as they relate to their women customers.