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Keith Shetterly

Keith Shetterly Owner of

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The “Geek” Mythology of the “Suit Rack” Car Sale

To some vendors and industry critics, dealerships are so “in the way” of the consumer with our Road to the Sale, right? We hear that, loud and clear.

It all gets explained like this: The modern consumer sees advertising, reviews inventory, and comes in to buy a pre-selected vehicle. And we don’t need to interfere with that from our sales process, or from any Road to the Sale of any number of sales steps—we just need to serve information and get out of the way. With a smile. No test drives, or fact-finding interviews, or selling the customer in any way are required. 

It would be just like purchasing a jacket, or a dress, on a retail rack. Or, far worse, like a drive-thru at McDonald’s.

Now, yes, of course, the modern consumer has changed, but every time I read some other geek (and I am one, myself) writing about “changing the car buying process” like this they forget the Okee-Carvana Swamp:  Providing what a geek imagines the consumer wants isn’t what the consumer wants, because they make the Classic Geek Mistake of deciding they know better.

This is the “Old Microsoft” Way:  Geeks Know Better. You know this is true and the best way for everything, because, say, Excel features have never confused you. Your cell phone has never failed to make a call. Your CRM software has never left you high and dry on a Friday before a weekend. And your website is clean and easy for you to maintain and for the customer to use. Because success is “Geeks-Know-Better Nirvana”. Right?

Well, NO—of course that isn’t true.

Absolutely, we all know the real truth is that consumers don’t like many parts of the current process at the stores and so like to shop online as much as they can before a visit—but, over and over again, the shoppers will come in to buy a new car or truck  . . . and still change their mind in the store on the vehicle they want.

We lift them to other vehicles with sales efforts, sure, but they also lift themselves. They decide that leather just is too expensive to have. Or too nice to pass up. Or the 3rd row seat isn’t big enough. Or it is just what they need.

The Internet has brought clear consumer pressure to make the purchase at the store that much quicker and better. And much is already afoot in our industry to move the process online into selection, financing, and aftermarkets. However, for most dealerships today, that is not the reality. YET.

And the consumer still needs help in selection, comparison, and purchase at the store—and maybe they always will need that in person, even if it’s “all worked out ahead.” Several experiments by dealer groups and manufacturers have shown that isn’t clear exactly how to do it “all online” with the consumer. At all. To date, NOBODY “knows better”.

So, geeks, it’s not a jacket or a dress: It’s a $25k – to $40k – to $80k, or more, purchase. Convenience in America, which is highly valued by consumers more nowadays than ever, just isn’t ready to deliver a car purchase without some help. In person.

It still ain’t a suit rack purchase, my fellow geeks. Not to the consumer. Not yet.

And maybe not ever.

Keith Shetterly
Independent Consultant
281-229-5887 cell/text

Julie Jamison

Good read, Keith!  I agree that consumers are not yet ready to move to a 100% online car purchase.  However, I think that the majority of consumers have in mind at least PART of the in-store process that they would change, eliminate or move to an online process if they had the choice.  For example, they want to test drive and explore other vehicle options in person, but don't want to discuss F&I products in the dealership.  Or they want/need to have a trade evaluated at the dealership, but would rather have their credit and payment options evaluated from the comfort of their own home.   I think offering the consumer the OPTION to complete some (or most, or all) of the process online is going to be necessary for dealers sooner rather than later.  

Keith Shetterly

I agree, Julie. :) Consumers want convenience. Whenever we trust Geeks to determine what "convenience" means, however, they all too often smile and put the toilet paper just out of reach. haha

Pierre Legault

Interesting article Keith. I think Julie has a point. I am so curious on how dealers will adapt to this inevitability. Wether we like it or not, the consumer is shifting the buying process, not just the Geeks. I believe that the future dealer will be more of a road test location with Product Presenters, but everything else will be done online. I would probably see an Auto Mall where one just go and test drive multitudes of vehicles, to finalize the transaction online when they get back home, with home delivery as well...

Keith Shetterly

Thanks Pierre, but not only does she have a point, her point is one I made a bit in the article I authored here, "The Internet has brought clear consumer pressure to make the purchase at the store that much quicker and better. And much is already afoot in our industry to move the process online into selection, financing, and aftermarkets. However, for most dealerships today, that is not the reality. YET" is one point I brought up. As far as the future, at least for the next five years it won't be that way you particularly describe, and there is much, much more to do ahead of that happening. Thanks again.

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