Buying a car should be easier

Over the past couple of months I’ve been shopping for a new car.  I’m doing a lot of miles these days as work is 50 miles or so from home, and my old Peugeot just isn’t great doing a hundred miles a day.  Unfortunately my own indecision has seen me bounce between different cars on almost a daily basis!  I just can’t decide.

Whilst I’m sure my girlfriend is probably very bored of me announcing different cars I intend to buy, talking to the various dealerships and seeing how they work has been quite interesting. It’s actually surprised me how there seems to be a curious separation between car companies web presences and their dealerships on the ground.

These days pretty much any information you could want to find out about a car is on the web somewhere.  If you want to read reviews there are sites like Drivers Republic, Evo, 4Car or Autocar that offer one off reviews and long term reports.  Lots of marques have owner run forums where you can read about day to day life with the car you’re interested in.  And of course the company’s own websites have all the spec’s and configuration tools to pick out what options you’d want and the retail costs.  I say retail costs because you can use places like Drive the Deal or Broker4cars to work out what a good price might be and how much discount you should be able to get elsewhere.

With all this info available on the internet by the time you actually speak to someone at your local dealership, the chances are you probably know what you’re after and just want to see it in the flesh and take a test drive.  It seems to me that at the moment car dealerships aren’t setup to deal with customers in this situation.

Often I’ve found that they’re closed after work and run a skeleton crew of sales people at weekends, just the sort of times people are able to drop in.  Last Sunday I tagged along with a friend who is looking to get a new car.  We went to four dealerships, one was closed, and the other three had a single salesman trying to deal with more people than they could cope with.

Most manufacturer websites will let you configure yourself a car –model, colour, options etc – and then save it for future reference.  Despite having this information about exactly what the customer wants, so far I’ve none of the dealers I’ve spoken to have had the ability to recall that saved spec into their own systems.  Each time I’ve had to run though the whole process again, using a different system, with some poor sales guy – wasting both our time.  In fact to be honest the sales guys add very little value to the process, other than being someone to negotiate with.  Having an IT background its a business process crying out for some integration.

From my perspective as a customer, it would seem like the car companies should try to reinvent the way they sell their cars.  I don’t think it would even take that much effort.  Just by shifting opening hours and making better use of the IT systems they already have they could massively improve the customer experience.

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