Perceptions of the car sales experience for women uncovered

I asked my online community 11 questions about their car sales experience and here’s what they said.

I have owned eight cars (as far as I can remember) over my 20 years of driving. I can’t believe I’ve been driving for 20 years, that shows how old I am *shakes head in realisation*.
Most of my cars have been bought through dealerships, although one has been bought at auction and one through a personal lease online.

women car buying experience

According to GenAnalytics, women now influence 65% of the car buying decision. However, does this reflect in the brand customer experience women receive when buying cars?
Lexus became savvy to the flip in influence in 2015 when it launched ‘Lexus Difference’, a programme for women which was developed in order to recognise the influence women had as a consumer. The programme later went on to include the young and ethnic minorities due its impact.

Lexus identified that these three audiences were more detail-focused than the traditional consumer. The VP of Customer Service at Lexus was a woman, Peggy Turner.
How often do we find women in the automotive business, apart from at reception and the service desk? Not often.

My research of the female car buying experience came out of an interest into how a male-orientated industry is adapting to a change in the consumer. Cars are a luxury for some and a necessity for others and broadly speaking there are two options to buying a car – in a dealership or online.

To give perspective, the women who responded to my questions vary in age, geographic location and experience buying cars. Most however have recently bought a car or are currently in the first phase of buying a car.

Below are the questions and I’ve summarised the responses:

#1 What has been your biggest fear about buying a car?

  • Don’t want to be ripped off
  • Not taken seriously as a woman
  • Put off by previous bad experiences
  • Having to go into a dealership and buying a car I didn’t want due to the salesman being too pushy

How bad is that, that the respondent didn’t even want to go into a dealership for the fear of being pushed into buying a car?

#2 Where or how would you buy a car e.g. dealership, online, via a lease company etc

Everyone answered they would buy a car from a dealership, and one respondent said she’d had experience of buying from all the methods mentioned.

#3 How would you describe any dealerships you’ve been too – specifically the atmosphere and environment

  • Sterile
  • Male orientated
  • Stale, cold and unfriendly
  • Intimidating
  • Feels like you’re the prey in a glass box
  • Audi was sleek and professional
  • Audi and Landrover have been the best. I love the comfort of their showrooms and respectful customer service

women influence buying decision

#4 How would you describe the sales people you’ve dealt with?

  • Patronising
  • Varied
  • Fulfilled promises
  • Professional
  • Forgot to place the order for my new car – bad attitude
  • Stereotypical car salesman
  • Everything from “dire” and couldn’t get out of the place quick enough, through to an enjoyable, unrushed and pleasant experience

So there are varying results here and one can only assume that the ‘professional’ and ‘pleasant’ experiences have resulted in sales!

I am really interested in how car dealerships use technology to help with customer service or to streamline processes. Surely with automated software and up-to-date CRMs (customer relationship management software) there is a huge opportunity to offer better customer service and personalisation?

#5 Do you think tech could assist dealerships in better customer service?

Generally people agreed with this, however, two people responded to say that they still prefer face-to-face service.
So how could tech assist? If you look at the sales process, all the way through to after-sales, you’ve got research, test drive, buying, receiving the car, a follow-up and then maintenance. I’d love to know what car dealerships do to build up profiles of their customers through CRMs?

Tech could include number plate recognition and alerts in-dealership, through to building a 3D model of your car with your spec in a sales pod and as someone responded, you could simplify language through the use of video and virtual reality (VR).

VR and augmented reality could play a huge part in the brand experience, from test drives to building your custom car all the way through to using it for kid’s entertainment in the showroom.

Have you experienced anything like this when buying a car or maybe read about it somewhere? Please leave some information in the comments below…

virtual reality car buying

#6 What after-care have you received – e.g. a follow up call, email, text, letter etc

The sale isn’t the end of the customer buying experience. The way a brand follows up shows they really care about your purchase. You’re not just a transaction.

I know my Mum appreciates when she buys a car, that she is given a lesson on how all the tech in the car works. She often goes in a couple of weeks after buying the car for a refresher, too.

The ladies who responded to my questions weren’t wholly impressed with their after-sales experience. One had no communication from the dealership until four years later to tell her that her agreement was up and did she want to buy a new car.

One received a really derogatory email after she made a complaint. She will now never buy from that deal group again.

What strikes me is that once the transaction takes place and you’ve received your car, there is little by way of follow up, unless it’s to complete a questionnaire about the sale, at which point there’s an opportunity to say the follow up was poor. But then is that ever followed up?

#7 How personalised has any service you’ve received been?

Simple answer here is none, according to all the respondents, bar one. She responded “more personalised the more premium our cars have become”. Surely personalised service isn’t for those who can afford it?

Personalised experience should be for all. Everyone should feel valued. In this world of over-kill of content, all content you receive should be tailored to you and your interests.

Personalising the service could be anything from a welcome message when you drop your car off at the registration recognition drop-off point for a service, a personalised email which content is tailored to you. You can no longer assume everyone wants the same content and everyone wants to be treated as an individual.

I’d like to explore this subject further in a future post.

#8 What do you think would improve your car buying experience, as a woman?

Women don’t have unreasonable expectations of their experience. A gender balance would be good, having women on the floor, not just behind desks (see receptionist comment earlier), but the most important aspect is that everyone should receive the same level of service whether they are male or female.

Good sales people are about understanding people. Good sales people aren’t pushy or derogatory.

Respect and understanding will build relationships. Building relationships means there will be an element of trust built. Building trust means you’re more likely to get a sale and a repeat sale and good word of mouth.

Remember, women have 65% influence in buying cars now!

diversity in automotive car sales experience

#9/10 How well do you understand car finance options and have they been explained to you properly?

Buying cars has never been easier, whether you buy with a debit/credit card on eBay, a lease online or in a dealership with a package you’ve been recommend. However, there are many financial options now. How well are they explained and understood?

We rely on two things – our own research and what the sales person explains to you.

Only one lady said she understood the finance options ‘very well’, everyone else said they either didn’t understand them, they hadn’t been explained properly (too quickly, not all options explained or it was in the small print).

Doing your own research online before you go to a dealership will allow you to see the options available, any offers and it will explain the small print. Most now also have a finance calculator, so you can see what the monthly payments and deposit will be including the interest.

Everyone wants to understand where their cold hard cash is going and to make sure they are getting a good deal. It’s important that we understand the finance options and what will suit individuals best.

How can we improve this? Well, we can do our own research and we can ask questions. Coming back to the earlier comment about tech assisting the sales process, perhaps this is something which could be developed and piloted?

#11 Anything else you’d like to add?

Here are two direct quotes from the responses which outline the job ahead for dealerships to get it right for women buying cars.

“Car sales people still have too much of a reputation for hard sell and sleazy sell. Men who patronise women (thinking they know nothing about cars) are very short sighted as I believe (especially for families) that it’s often women who make the final decision. I would walk out of any showroom or dealership if patronised or treated with disrespect.”

“I’ve found it interesting that most people working on the service desk of my dealership are women yet the sales people are men. I wonder if that’s to do with ‘traits’ of stereotypes i.e. caring/nurturing women vs pushing/bolshie men. Personally, I think I’d respond better to a less forceful sale and perhaps that has something to do with a better gender balance on the showroom floor?”

You might find my last post useful – a review of the VW Tiguan

Dealerships are like department stores

Car dealerships are a place to show products and for consumers to buy them. Put simply, it’s like going into a department store, looking for a dress, then making a decision on which one to buy.

Although the value of the product is obviously much higher in a car showroom, consumers are still influenced by the environment – the more comfortable they feel, the more likely they are to buy.

If your ‘store’ is cold, smelly and your staff are rude, the consumer will walk away. If your ‘store’ is warm, with a nice scent and relevant music or sounds, with well-trained staff who actually care about your experience and choosing the right product, the consumer will most likely buy from you.

Lexus Difference has made a difference to Lexus. This article on Cheatsheet.com talks a little more about the programme, what it implemented and the take up across the dealerships because of the realisation of how it can change service.

The article finishes by saying “it’s refreshing to see a major car company use its influence to institute widespread changes across its entire dealership network instead of trying to get by with a few events and more targeted ads.”

Nail. On. The. Head.

Wearing many hats of interest writing this post, from a blogger to car enthusiast, a women through to really understanding the importance of audience profiling and engagement through my PR consultancy, this post is the start of many automotive posts about women and cars. The next one will be about customer loyalty.

Stay tuned for future posts about cars and everything to do with them.

Big thanks to Karen Degg, Tracey McCallum, Briony Cullin @glasgow_food, Anne-Marie Lacey, Libby Hardie @triffidtraining and Sandra Burke for their time and responses.
Hazarding a guess, as it’s rude to ask a woman’s age, these ladies are ages 30 – 55 and are located between Glasgow and Newcastle.

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