Too Many Test Drives And Not Enough Sales: Discouraging For Dealers

July 6, 2010

“It’s discouraging for all of us,” said my friend Stephanie. I worked with her in sales when I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer; she continues to sell cars. I had asked her about customers who test drive new cars, but walk away before making a purchase--a let-down, it seems, for everyone in sales.

Part of the Business
Test drives have always been a part of the retail car business. Potential buyers need to directly experience a car they are seriously considering. How is the visibility? Is there enough leg room? Does the dog fit in the back? Is there room for everything carried in the trunk? You’ve done all the research on this vehicle, but what will the family/kids/spouse/significant other think?

Tons of questions arise when considering a new vehicle. The only way to get many of the answers is to get in and drive the car yourself. That’s why car dealers make the process easy.Drive up. Select a vehicle. Give them a copy of your driver’s license--and for some dealers, your telephone number--and off you go with your salesperson.

A Downturn in the Economy
The national economic downturn has drastically affected new car sales, and not in a good way. Although sales have picked up lately, car dealers continue to face the issue of potential buyers who test drive, then walk away before purchasing.

Stephanie told me the reasons can vary: “Some people have a long buying curve. They want to take their time and test-drive a lot of cars before making a decision.” Stephanie went on to say that this category of buyers doesn’t want to make a mistake, especially with such a major purchase. So taking their time is natural.

The Hard Reality
There is another category of new car buyers who objectively need a new vehicle, but get scared away the closer they get to committing to a car loan. This is how Stephanie describes them: “Test driving a new car at a dealership makes everything real. Buyers know that after the test drive they’ll be asked if they want to sit down and work out the figures. That’s just too scary for someone who is fearful of losing their job or unsure of what the future holds.” This buyer tends to leave quickly after the test drive.

No matter how well trained car sales staff are at getting customers back into the dealership after taking a new car onto the roads and highways, they know full well that a certain number of customers will simply leave as fast as they can, never to be heard from again. Many of these potential buyers are reluctant to commit to a loan they may not be able to pay back. As much as they like the model they just took for a spin, a further worsening of the economy could lead to difficulty paying back a car loan. That could result in a damaged credit rating or worse. These days, such fears are real.

Advice from a Pro
Stephanie had one last piece of advice for potential car buyers: “Don’t be afraid to test drive and walk away for any reason. And don’t feel bad for the sales person. It’s all a numbers game to them. If you won’t buy today, someone else will. You need to do what’s in your best interest.”

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