Car Shoppers’ Decisions Most Influenced by … Person Trying to Sell Them Cars?

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When figuring out which car to buy, consumers consult the advice of family and friends, as well as shopping guides from Consumer Reports and the like. But the info that’s most influential in the buying decision tends to come from an individual who has obvious self-interest in how that decision plays out.

According to a new vehicle customer survey from Maritz Research, the top source of information for car buyers is a car salesperson at the dealership. Yep, the person trying to sell you a car is also the person providing—and perhaps shaping or spinning—the info that most heavily influences one’s buying decision.

The top three influences named by survey participants were:

1. Salesperson at the dealership (21.9%)
2. Family/ friend/ word of mouth (18.7%)
3. Consumer guides (18.4%)

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Much smaller percentages of those in the survey named other factors as the most influential in their buying decision. Just 6.1%, for instance, named reviews in automotive magazines as the main reason for the purchase, while 8.6% said that the dealership or automaker’s website provide the most influential info.

In a statement about the survey results, Chris Travell, vice president and strategic consultant for Maritz Research, said that it’s the human touch explaining why so many consumers are influenced by dealership sales staffers. “People buy from people,” he said. Travell also said, “We look to those we trust for their recommendation, especially when the buying decision is perceived as having a potentially high risk, like in buying a new car.”

That explains why we might look to family, friends, and even Consumer Reports. They’re all sources we’ve come to trust, with no axes to grind. But trusting a salesperson? Somebody who earns money based on if we decide to buy and how much we pay?

That doesn’t seem wise. There’s a reason why salespeople are often renamed something along the lines of “associate” or “consultant.” Apple Stores use the term “Genius.” Lululemon’s staffers are called by the laughable, “Brave New World”-like name of “educators,” though it’s understandable why a reeducation might be required for someone to learn of the necessity of paying $98 for yoga pants. Retailers use these euphemisms for salespeople because they’d like customers to overlook the fact that this person is motivated entirely to get you to buy something, and to pay top dollar for it.

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Many sales staffers are good at what they do. They’re knowledgeable, with plenty of info and data at their fingertips. They may also be good, trustworthy people. Then again, they might be morons, or total scoundrels. In any case, should they be the most influential sources of info in the buying decision? I’m reminded of a line I’ve quoted before from a New Yorker story about the lunacy of the car-buying experience. It goes:

“Customers are liars, salesmen are bigger liars, and sales managers are the biggest liars of all.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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