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Americans Love Car Dealers. Or They Don’t. Surveys Give Conflicting Answers

But consumers clearly want change in the buying process.

by on Mar.31, 2015

Dealers could be facing a retail revolution.

Americans love their car dealers. Or they want them to go away. Or perhaps just change a little bit. Apparently, you can find a new study to reflect your old sensibilities. But most do want to change the buying process, if nothing else, to make it quicker and easier.

One study, concludes that Americans want dealers to stick around. They’re largely doing their initial research online but still want a test drive and the chance to haggle over pricing. A second study, released earlier in the month, is less upbeat about the current retail system, suggesting that a growing number of buyers would be happy to buy online, or over the phone, and just have their vehicles delivered to home or office – maybe by drone.

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The more upbeat study, conducted by website AutoTrader.com, found that 84% of respondents still want to purchase their vehicle in person. Intriguingly, even Millennials were adamant about coming in to kick the tires – as were women, in general

A third survey of 4,000 American car buyers, prepared by DrivingSales, a web service supporting dealer initiatives, concludes that if the automotive retail experience were more consumer friendly U.S. car sales might increase by as much as 24%. A big complaint: the fact that it can take so long to complete a purchase once a decision has been made. It’s not the one-click process Amazon buyers have come to love.

(Cadillac and Lincoln go head-to-head with NY debut of new flagship sedans. Click Here for more.)

Car shoppers will typically take about 17 hours to do their homework. But once they walk into a showroom, that can add another four to six hours to the process, a credit check alone eating up an hour or more, DrivingSales noted.

“We need to meet the demands of women and Millennials,” said AutoTrader’s Jared Rowe, suggesting that customers will come back “more often” to dealerships that meet their needs.

That’s echoed by the DrivingSales study. Customers are “wary and distrustful” when they set out to buy a car, it said, “99 out of 100 automotive shoppers begin(ning) their purchase jouney expecting it to be  a hassle.”

It warns that “a fundamental change in the consumer experience is required if dealerships expect to remain competitive over the next five to 10 years.”

The traditional retail process is well-entrenched, backed by strict state laws that have effectively banned online buying of new vehicles, as well as the debut of factory owned stores. But Tesla Motors has been pushing to set up its own retail network, winning approval in some states, losing in others. Many observers believe such an assault could be the spearhead of broader changes to come.

“The automotive industry continues to evolve before our eyes, especially when it comes to the types of cars manufacturers are producing,” said Scot Hall, executive vice president of Swapalease.com, which released its own survey of 2,500 drivers and shoppers just last week. But the industry also needs to rethink the way it sells and finances vehicles, Hall added.

(Automakers poised for a good year, says new report. Click Here for more.)

That survey’s data was far less update than the AutoTrader study, indicating 33% of men would like to skip going to a showroom entirely. About a third of the women surveyed said they’d “showtail,” if possible, going to the showroom just to kick the tires and take a test drive before buying online.

Meanwhile, it found 66% of the men and 56% of the women surveyed said they’d prefer to pick a vehicle and then have dealers submit their best bids.  As to taking delivery, more than a third of both sexes wanted the car to quite literally be delivered, either to home or office, and 6% suggested drone delivery would be the best method.

Though some of the results differed between the three surveys, what’s clear is that American motorists are looking for changes – some of them big – in the car-buying process.

(Drone delivery? Car shopper survey looks to the future. Click Here for more.)

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