Because car shopping is rarely fun, everyone wants to find the best dealership when shopping for a new or used vehicle. Nowadays, a growing number of companies are trying to make the vehicle purchasing experience ‘better’ by consolidating all brands into a one-stop-shop–like Carmax–or by simply eliminating the dealership model altogether through online shopping–like Carvana. While these sound like great solutions to a very real problem, models like these can actually prey upon the modern consumer.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
I shop online constantly. $6 for an iPhone cord, check; $23 for a shower curtain with Jeff Goldblum hugging a sloth, done! $230 for a nice TV, all day! But while online shopping for a new car may work great, purchasing a used vehicle is infinitely more complex. And in that complexity is both where dealerships have earned such a negative image, and why companies are now exploiting that image to ‘disrupt’ the current business model, which should be a good thing.
The One-Stop Shop
There are roughly eleventy-zillion variables when it comes to purchasing a used vehicle, and most of us don’t have the time to drive all over town to test all the ones we are interested in. This is where one-stop-shops can take advantage people’s desire for convenience. While a single car lot with one or two of every car seems like a great idea, in application this model has one unavoidable flaw: adequate servicing means.
Modern cars are complex. And the ability to service them requires specific (and expensive) software subscriptions, certified technicians, and experience with each vehicle. By focusing on only a limited number of specific cars, a certified technician can not only properly service the vehicle, but can also predict potential issues, and make repairs in the most efficient manner. And in an industry where the merchandise loses value daily, time literally is money, and technicians can often be pressured to make the car presentable and move on to the next. Why pay for an experienced BMW master technician when you only sell two three BMWs a month?
The Online Experience
I’ve only been in this industry for six years now, which I think gives me an advantage. I can still see things from a consumer’s perspective, and I haven’t adopted the “buyers-are-liars” mentality–yes, that’s a real term in this industry– but I am aware of how dealers can cut corners and take advantage of consumers. Knowing this does make shopping online sound appealing.
For many, buying a car is the second largest purchase they will ever make. But for the same reasons you look at multiple homes before signing paperwork, why would you look at a car differently? Big tech companies know how little time you have and how terrible the buying experience often is, and so the new trend of online car shopping uses convenience as their appeal. But they too still suffer from the same issues as any other dealership, only now there is even less accountability if there are any problems. A good dealership should both work hard to properly service their inventory and, if a mistake is made, work to rectify it.
This may be a bold title, but rather than ‘breaking the wheel,’ I think the answer lies in transparency. In nearly every other industry, the push towards small and accountable, locally owned and community driven businesses are what people want. And with services like Google Reviews and Yelp consumers can learn who they might be dealing with, the traditional dealership model is actually the way to go… sort of.
Independent dealers have the ability to be the best or worst place to purchase a preowned vehicle. At their best an independent dealer can focus on the cars they know and can prep and service those cars much more efficiently, passing the savings on to the consumer; they can employ passionate, knowledgeable staff, rather than fly-by-night salespeople; and they can hold themselves–and be held–accountable for a mistake which might slip through the cracks.
And (shameless self-promotion alert), like us, a dealer can design their store around a consumer’s needs and spend their efforts on making the dealership a place you actually want to visit, rather than just tolerate. I think this is what gets to the crux of things. There’s no danger in being transparent with your customers. Heck, customers want that, and are more likely to refer their friends and family, write positive reviews, and even buy more cars from you. This is how we’ve designed our business model, and a quick browsing of our online reviews will show that we might be on to something.