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Customer Experience Study Identifies Expectation Gap Between Dealers and Consumers

We at DrivingSales recently concluded a very thorough customer experience research study revealing clear indicators that trust and transparency are paramount for sales growth and future success in automotive retail. The DrivingSales Consumer Experience Study is based on a 16 month-long ethnographic and quantitative research initiative with over 1,300 shopper and buyers. 

This unique type of research study looks at the rational and emotional factors that cause modern automotive shoppers to connect, or disconnect, with automotive dealers in the buying process. The ethnographic element of this research provides substatial validity to the study as it has not been done in the automotive retail research space while studying customer experience. 

Driven by experiences customers have become acustomed to in other retail sectors, the study uncovers large consumer expectations changes that are eye-opening for automotive retailers. It's clear from the research findings that a fundamental change in the consumer experience is required if dealerships expect to remain competitive over the next 5-10 years. 

Here's a few key findings from the hundreds of insights collected include:

  • 99 of 100 automotive shoppers begin their purchase journey expecting it to be a “hassle” driven in large part by their experience, and that of friends/family, with retailers seeking to control the buying process to the retailer’s objectives
  • Shoppers are exposed to dozens of conflicting influences making them wary and distrustful, driving them to seek what they perceive as objective information from trusted sources – primarily trusted friends and family and independent third party sites
  • Shoppers are keeping dealers and sales people at a proverbial arms length until late in the purchase process. When they’re ready to interact, 61% initiate contact by walking into the dealership without prior contact
  • This distrust puts the consumer on a hair trigger as they engage with the dealer, 50% will walk out of a dealership if the dealer requires a test drive before providing a price, 43% if personal information is required
  • 56% of shoppers said they would buy more often if the dealership process was not so difficult - the impact of this retail aversion was quantified at a potential increase in sales volume of 24%

“Yesterday’s formula for automotive retail success is deterring consumers and suppressing sales volume. Our research shows the key to sales success today is building trust through an open and transparent customer experience at every stage of their buying process,” said Jared Hamilton, Founder & CEO of DrivingSales. “Our findings are a clarion call for change in how cars are retailed and provide practical guidance to retailers and manufacturers on how to bridge this customer expectation gap and advance the industry.”

We will be releasing more of the DrivingSales Consumer Experience Study in the coming months. 

Adam Thrasher
Great article Mike. Can't wait to see what else comes out of the study. It's all about the experience in my opinion. That starts with the website and the amount of information on the VDP (price, real photos, real video, features, options, damage, description, etc). If the shopper doesn't find the information they are looking for on your website, they aren't going to submit a lead and they definitely aren't going to step foot in the showroom. It's up to dealers to provide as much information about the vehicles and to educate the shopper on what kind of experience they can expect if and when they do show up at the store. By providing this info, dealers can hope to build some sense of trust with the shopper before they get to the store. Once at the store, the experience better live up to their expectations or they will walk. It still shocks me how many commercials and ads I see from local dealerships in my area that focus on price and payments. Then I see ads from the likes of Carmax and Carvana who focus on the experience. Guess which ads get my attention?
Paul Schnell
Good stuff Mike. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure this will get the "transparency" word flying around again with all of its different definitions. Only one version really matters though, right? The buyer's. In all, it should be pretty intuitive. Give them all the information they want and GET OUT OF THE WAY while they make a decision. Everything you hide works against you. Relate add-ons (tangible and intangible) to their needs and you should still have a nice income from this business.
Peter Stratton
This is what I feel is the exact opposite of how the consumers are buying. There's a reason our BDC does 70% of the business and has done so for the last two years. You sound like my Autotrader rep. Yea they are just walking in while we pay you $15000 a month. The bottom line is people, all people go online first. They narrow down their choices then contact the dealership. I have been doing this 25 years and have held every position in the dealership. It was 8 years ago I decided to focus on Internet only. So you know I am not smoke, in 91-92 I sold over 500 cars each year. Find me one person that would walk out because they require a test drive first. I've never seen one ever leave because they were offered a test drive on one of the largest purchase they will ever make. By the way this is the way we do it and we are the #2 Jaguar - Land Rover dealer in the country.
Paul Tew
"56% of shoppers said they would buy more often if the dealership process was not so difficult - the impact of this retail aversion was quantified at a potential increase in sales volume of 24%re your thoughts here" What EXACTLY does the customer mean by this??? What part is so difficult??? I'm guessing they are referring to the "back and forth" (negotiating). We have tried the one price thing and it didn't work for us. We have found that customers have such a hard time trusting our "one price" that they won't purchase until they have gone through the process of negotiating and get the FEELING of a good deal. Anyway Mike I would love to hear a little more explanation on what customers perceive to be so "difficult".
Kacey Gorringe
Thanks for sharing, @Mike! P.S. I love how heated these forums can get. But, thank god people are thinking differently otherwise no one would be thinking. Cheers!

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