Like e-mail spam or crabgrass in your lawn, negative stereotypes are notoriously difficult to kill. Take the notion that shopping for a new car is akin to going in for a root canal: If I could collect a dollar for every time I have heard that, I could put my four children through dental school.
While it's not surprising to see stereotypes about new-vehicle dealers perpetuated in the general media, it is ironic to see an industry-savvy publication such as Automotive News focus on the negative in reporting on the latest survey released by industry group Automotive Retailing Today ("Poll: Buyers are unhappy with dealers," Jan. 31).
It is correct that the survey showed that some new-vehicle buyers in the United States reported a bad experience.
But it is also true that an overwhelming majority reported a positive experience - a result that resonates even more when you consider how knowledgeable and sophisticated today's automotive customers are.
My company, Harris Interactive, conducted the research for Automotive Retailing Today. The aim was to go beyond the stereotypes by surveying not just the U.S. public but consumers who had shopped recently and those who had purchased new vehicles.
Positive, not negative
Contrary to the headline and the tone of the Automotive News story, the study showed that auto dealers are winning the confidence and trust of most shoppers and buyers the old-fashioned way: one at a time. The greater the exposure to new-car dealerships, the more positive are consumer perceptions; i.e., buyers are more positive than shoppers, and shoppers are more positive than nonshoppers.
The study shows that adults may not trust dealerships as a general class, but they do trust - even like - their own dealership. Ninety-one percent of customers (new-vehicle buyers) said that overall they were satisfied with their dealership. Eighty-one percent of those who purchased a vehicle reported that their experience was positive, and 91 percent reported that they were treated with respect.
Asked directly, 73 percent of customers told us the dealership was "forthright in telling me the whole story." That means about one-fourth of respondents did not agree with that statement - the statistic that leads the Automotive News story. Does this mean that the glass is three-quarters full or one-quarter empty?
|What's at issue|
|Data from a survey commissioned by Automotive Retailing Today show how new-vehicle buyers perceived the way they were treated at the dealership.|
Of all buyers:
91% were satisfied with dealership.
81% thought purchase experience was positive.
73% thought dealership was forthright.
Of minority buyers:
66% thought dealership was forthright.
70% thought salesman was forthright.
76% thought F&I personnel were forthright.
Stereotype No. 1: You can't trust car dealerships.
Customers seem to feel that way, as they give dealerships in general a low 46.5 trust rating out of a possible 100 (in comparison, the industry that received the highest trust score in our research was law enforcement, at 69.5). It is even worse, at 40.7, among consumers who have not been in a dealership recently.
However, customers have a high trust of their own dealership (68.4), nearly the same as law enforcement and higher than they rate the health care (52.8), insurance (48.9) and legal (48) industries and the media (43.8). Clearly, those who had experience with a dealership in buying a car felt better than those who did not buy or shop for a car.
Stereotype No. 2: You won't have a positive experience at a dealership.
Consumers who have not been to a dealership are more likely to feel that way. On the other hand, 63 percent of those who shopped but did not buy indicated that their experience was positive compared with 81 percent of those who purchased a vehicle.
Stereotype No. 3: Women do not have as positive an experience buying a new car as men do.
Eighty-three percent of women indicate that their overall purchase experience was positive (compared with 80 percent for men). And 81 percent indicate that they would purchase from the same dealership again in the future.
Perception vs. reality
These results show that perception and reality are out of alignment when it comes to rating dealerships and the car-buying process.
Unfortunately, negative perceptions often have real-world effects. For example, in other research we've conducted for Automotive Retailing Today, we have seen that the current technician shortage is exacerbated by negative perceptions about dirty, low-paying jobs at dealerships, even though the reality is that today's technical jobs are sophisticated, lucrative and state of the art.
Nearly all American adults buying new cars today tell us the experience is positive - and "positive" is an important word that was missing from the coverage of the research study sponsored by Automotive Retailing Today.