Online Car Shopping a Crock
I'm shopping for a car for Mrs. Berkowitz (my mother; my wife, Scarlett Johansson-Berkowitz drives my GTI). I dared to "request a quote" on manufacturers' websites from specific dealers. I was fully expecting them to, as you might say in French, "give me a f'ing quote." To that end, in the online form, I listed the precise cars from their inventory that I wanted, plus the lease terms. Alas, this kind of optimism will get me nothing but an inbox full of nonsense. The approach they take, of course, is to give as little information as possible and tell me to come to the dealership. Regarding a Cadillac CTS: "This vehicle can be leased from $349.00 to $700.00 approximately; depending on packaging and structure of lease. Purchase prices range roughly from $33,330 to $50,000." Uh yeah, I know that, in part because I requested lease estimates for specific cars (which I identified with VIN numbers). Another dealership suggested "We ask that you visit our showroom where you always receive the "BEST PRICE." I encourage you to call me directly so I can set up an appointment with one of our Sales Managers." Your sales managers don't shower and give me the creeps; that's why I'm requesting a quote online. We talk about how product drives the automotive sales industry, and to a large extent it does. But so does the ability to purchase that product. If I was a dealer and someone wanted to buy a car via telegraph, I'd be brushing up on my Morse code.
Hmm... maybe it is certain dealers that will or will not deal online. A buddy of mine suggested I buy my Honda online because he had a lot of success online when he bought his Acura. I came home, emailed 10 dealers, a couple of them wanted me to come into the showroom, but three of them were willing to deal online. Between the three, I was able to get them to send me quotes and i chose the lowest. I ended up getting my 06 Accord Coupe EX-L 6MT Nav for 24k and it stickered for 30k. I thought it was a pretty good deal.
pdub says: "Since most people are not cash buyers and credit cards are not accepted, the transaction ultimately must be consummated in person anyway..." Note that no matter what the stores tell you, they must accept credit cards for any purchase, or not accept credit cards at all. This is part of the standard by-laws Visa and MasterCard mandate, and part of the agreement between the car store and their merchant bank. Violation will mean they lose the ability to take the cards. Regardless, as pdub says I'm sure there is a lot of fluff to sift through in internet queries. As I'm sure there is a lot of fluff to sift through on walk-ins to get sales. But the internet fluff takes minutes to deal with. It is low-cost fluff, compared to the shopper who takes up an hour or two of your time and walks out. Because of the lower overhead, the stores should be embracing the internet. If they don't their competitors will. The cost, of course, is that there is a low tolerance for games on the part of internet shoppers.
In the end, you're still dealing with people and you're still dealing with relationships. The folks I usually deal with in Atlanta, I've more than likely known for at least ten years. The remarketing managers and used car sales managers that are on the block with me during the day are for the most part the final decision makers as to whether a particular vehicle is sold or not. 95+% of car buyers will never get to deal with them directly, and very few buyers will have a prior relationship of any sort. They more or less fly blind into the process and although some dealers are genuinely friendly, most have made more money playing the mind game. I'll give you a quick example of the difference in relationships... My MIL bought a two year old Camry from a large regional used car retailer before I got into the auction business. The company ended up crashing the vehicle and then tried to cover it up by keeping it out of sight from her for the first three weeks of ownership. Well, at the time she was a widow with six kids and although she's sharp as a whip, these folks figured that they could play the 'deny and delay' game until she went away. No dice. We spent nearly three hours dealing with these yahoos and it wasn't until the manager found out that my 'then girlfriend' worked at a notable TV station that they finally took the vehicle back. Fast forward 10 years later and I'm taking my family on vacation to Orlando. I attend an auction hosted by the same dealer network, and talk to at least three folks who already know me to make sure everything goes smoothly. I buy a 2000 Olds Silhouette with Leather, TV/VCR and 103k for $1395. Less than 10% of the price of the Camry way back when. They put a temporary tag in back for me, fill up the fluids, let me use a computer to access my email and bill of sale documents, and I end up selling it for $2395 less than 2 days later. That hour of work and preparation actually paid for our vacation to Disney and Boca this year... and it was all possible because I already have a track record of helping these folks whenever I can. Folks look at the auto auction business as a 'car business, or an 'auction business', and in some cases even a 'paper driven business' (a.k.a. financing business). I disagree with all of them. It's a relationship business. If you're willing to build a bridge, even with someone you can't stand, you will do far better than if you view the experience as a temporary and adversarial one. The later viewpoint has become the predominant one given how most folks use the internet... and the overall transient nature of our society. At least from my experiences, that's where the problem truly lies.
I have so far purchased four new vehicles... First a Honda that the sales manager took advantage of me and I let him. I was dumb, and he knew it. But I learned a lot by it. Next, I bought another Honda through Autobytel. It was very simple and an agreed to price. The sales and finance guys did try and add stuff on during pickup, but I just waved it all off. Then I bought a Jeep Liberty for my wife... Traded in a Honda for it. The salesman played that game of going to his sales manager to "get me a good deal..." LOL! After 30 minutes of arguing and then walking out the door he gave me what I wanted for my trade and a fair price for the Liberty. It also had zero percent financing which was the icing on top that I did not react to at all like it didn't matter... LOL! After all that, the finance guy didn't even attempt any add-on's. I then bought a 2006 Jeep Wrangler with preferred pricing through an employer. That was so far the best experience. They sent me a price list of all the options that showed preferred, employee, MSRP, and invoice pricing, and I did a build to order. I just had to go by and leave them a $200 deposit. It was very easy. But again, during pickup a finance chick tried to sell me add-on's and when I immediately waved them off, she gave me a rude attitude (I brought a credit union check for an exact amount anyway).