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Kevin  Root

Kevin Root Founder

Exclusive Blog Posts

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The Most Frustrating Step in Car Buying – It’s Not What You Think.

New Research Measures Emotions During Purchase

Eight steps of the sale evaluated with the emotions most frequently used to describe each step. Used with Permission of Cox Automotive ©2016

The complexities of automotive retailing are well-known to those of us in the business. Starting with merchandizing all the way to delivery, getting a car into the hands of a customer and watching them drive off the lot happy and satisfied is a tremendous amount of work. There are many opportunities to win or lose a customer at any point in the process. Their decision to finalize the deal is fueled in part by the vehicle but more and more, the experiences they have in the dealership are becoming a more important aspect of the sale.

From the customer’s perspective, different emotions are in play depending on where they are in the process. In fact, emotions can swing substantially while buying a car. In most cases, you won’t see many visual ques yet more and more we’re finding that these emotions are what drive purchase decisions or cause shoppers to leave your dealership before the sale. Understanding what events or points in the process potentially trigger positive or negative emotions can help dealerships adjust their strategies and processes and make the experience less “painful” and even more enjoyable for them and profitable for you.

Cox Automotive hired Root & Associates to gain new insights into new and used car buyers and the emotions associated with steps in the sales process. We examined the experiences the dealer has control over so we focused on the car buying process that typically happens while they’re at the dealership starting with engaging with a sales person through to delivery of the vehicle. This insight can be used to develop products that improve the overall consumer experience while shopping for a vehicle.

Using an advanced question strategy called competitive topography, we asked participants to rate positive feelings or attributes like “excited” and “hopeful” and negative attributes like “fearful” and “anxious” to specific steps of the car buying process. These steps included “comparing multiple vehicles and payment options before making a final selection” and “finalizing vehicle financing after negotiating the deal.” Competitive topography gives us rich

2D visual mapping of the points and all of the emotional attributes both in absolute relation and comparing the emotions across all of the steps.

Our participants had bought a new or used car at a franchise car dealership within the last 6 months so their recall and memory of the process was pretty fresh. The good news is for most steps in the buying process, consumers are generally satisfied, hopeful and excited. That’s good because it shows they look on the process of getting a new car with mostly positive emotions, making it an exciting and enjoyable experience.

The steps that are associated with the highest positive emotions such as excitement and satisfaction had to do with the interacting with the vehicle. This includes the test drive and, not surprising, taking delivery of the vehicle. Delivery had the highest empowerment, excitement and satisfaction ratings, and the lowest disappointment and fear.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, we expected the negotiation to have relatively high ratings for anxiety, fear, confusion and disappointment. But what is surprising is that it wasn’t the most negative part of the process for most people. The step that elicited the strongest negative emotions was evaluating F&I and other add-on products.


Evaluating F&I products emerged as the most frustrating step and ranks very high in confusion, disappointment, fear and boredom. Used with Permission of Cox Automotive ©2016

And it makes sense. They’ve just arrived at what should be the end of a long process. They’ve test driven the car, negotiated the deal and terms and they’re now told they’re going to work with the F&I Manager to finalize the bank paperwork. They’re relaxed and coming down from some anxiety around finalizing the negotiation. And then they’re hit with a sales pitch for add-on products they don’t understand and haven’t had time to research. Frequently these are sold by pointing out all that can go wrong with the vehicle they just agreed to buy before they have even taken ownership of it.

For many, it’s a mental sucker punch at the end of a long experience. And it comes right before the most enjoyable part taking ownership – this creates an emotional roller coaster. So what should dealers do? Here are three suggestions you can employ that will take the sting out of F&I while still giving your dealership opportunities for additional gross.

  1. It’s more important than ever that dealers provide consumers with information about pricing/payment early in the process and be as transparent as possible. Consumers do much of their pricing research online across multiple devices at home, so dealers should allow customers to complete their F&I education (definitions and cost) in advance, on your website, prior to arriving at the dealership.
  2. Don’t save it all till the very end. Utilize some of the in-dealership waiting and idle time that is inevitable throughout the process to give your customers information about add-on products that are designed to protect their investment they can read at their leisure. This can be on paper, on a tablet or on your website.
  3. Have your sales staff trained and ready to discuss the F&I add-ons at any time not just in the F&I office.




Dealership Executives. Interested in participating in research like this and get paid for it?

Learn more about the joining the dealership research panel here.



Ron Settlemire

This can go a long way to a better prepared, happy buyer. Having all the info about the benefits of products available in "the box" can only result in higher grosses, and better surveys! 

Kevin  Root

Thanks for the comment Ron. I believe customers feel the same way. They just want some time to review the information in advance. If they feel the value is there, they will buy it. 

As a salesperson I have found the most effective thing is to use the time before F&I to educate and prepare my customers for the benefits that will be presented to them by the F&I Manager I have already introduced them to by this point. I personally have purchased these "back end" products and I love taking as much time as needed to really "plant the seed" in my customers mind.

Now, some back end products won't make sense for every deal, so I work with my finance manager before hand to work out a plan of action. Based on the customers purchase type (lease or buy), driving habits, etc. we will decide which products we feel are most important for them to take advantage of and those are the one's I will typically empathize the importance of in my office.

Now when my customer is in finance and hears the same things from my finance manager that they heard from me, it validates it and makes back end products easier to sell and more profitable. Personally, I would love to be able to handle the entire process start to finish. I'd love to sell the vehicle and then the back end product, then just give a nice little bundle of goodies to the F&I manager to put into the computer and make sure the legal stuff is signed right.

Great post, thanks so much!  

Kevin  Root

Thanks for the note and the positive feedback Scott. I think your on the right path. Its all about information, education and transparency.  

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