Car Buying, Reenvisioned: More Like Shopping for Apple Gadgets, Ice Cream, or a Date

Imagine if buying a car was more like online matchmaking and less like, well, the miserable, stressful modern-day experience of buying a car.

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Buying a new car is an awful experience. The sentiment has been expressed by many people, in many colorful ways. A few examples:

In 2009, John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, addressed a crowd of auto insiders with refreshing honesty when he admitted that the entire industry was “viewed with contempt,” and that “we have reached the point where, frankly, Americans would rather go to the dentist than visit a car dealer.”

The traditional back-and-forth games at car dealerships is “a process designed for the village idiot,” according to the CEO of the nation’s largest car dealership chain, quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal piece.

“Buying a car sucks,” Scott Painter flatly told NPR. Painter is the founder and CEO of TrueCar, a service that’s supposed to help consumers buy cars at a decent price—and theoretically makes the experience less sucky.

(MORE: How Car Buying Is Becoming Less Awful — Or At Least Less Time-Consuming)

Does it have to be this way? The NPR story, titled “Why Buying a Car Never Changes,” basically says that, yeah, it does, thanks to legal restrictions regarding car dealership franchises, as well as the shocking stubbornness of the auto industry as a whole.

But the folks who attended a recent two-day brainstorming session, which was dubbed the “Hackomotive” and sponsored by Edmunds.com, think differently. The event, held in Santa Monica, Calif., a few weeks ago, was a “challenge that focuses on re-imagining the car shopping experience by bringing together consumers, dealers, manufacturers, designers and technologists to shatter the status quo.” Groups were asked to submit suggestions for changing the way cars are bought and sold, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one or more of the plans would be less awful than the current car-shopping experience.

What did the teams come up with? While the utility of online dating services has been questioned, many of the submissions for a re-imagined car-buying experience borrowed tools featured on popular matchmaking sites, according to an Edmunds report:

About a half-dozen of the 19 teams suggested solutions consisted of some element of online dating and matchmaking. “Most of the ideas conveyed the theme that car shopping is not just about making a purchase, but about creating a trust-based relationship,” said Edmunds.com CEO Avi Steinlauf.

In the end, two teams instead of one took home first prize of $10,000 each. Both winning teams recommended a process that, using social media and other input, matches a car salesperson to an individual car shopper by interest and expertise much as online dating services match couples.

(MORE: Whodathunkit? Auto Dealerships Realize Responding to Customer E-mails Helps to Sell Cars)

Some of the team names were obviously plays on romantic e-matchmaking brands: eCarmony, Car Cupid, Kar Match. Other Hackomotive attendees focused on the need to make car-buying more fun and experiential. One of the speakers encouraged the teams to be so creative with their ideas that shoppers would one day say, without a huge heap of sarcasm, “I wish the Apple store was more like an auto dealership.” Or even something like: “My check engine light comes on and I smile.”

When asked what car shopping should be like, Michael Accavitti, vice president of marketing at American Honda, and one of the judges at the challenge, offered the following description:

It should be like when you go to an ice cream store. Everybody is happy at the ice cream store. They are laughing, smiling and joking. When you buy a car, it should be the same.

(MORE: How to Make the Worst Part of Buying a Car a Little Less Miserable)

That sounds nice. But how does that translate into real life? Well, it doesn’t. Ice cream shops don’t make customers haggle for hours in order to get a fair price. Whereas customers don’t have much reason to distrust the teenager scooping the ice cream, it’s beyond naïve to believe everything a car salesman tells you. There’s obviously a large difference in the amount of money at stake in an ice cream shop versus a car dealership too. At the ice cream store, you might get upsold on some sprinkles—presumably, the car dealership equivalent of thousands of dollars spent unnecessarily on extended warranties, “doc fees,” rust protection, paint sealer, and such.

And car people wonder why consumers aren’t laughing and joking at the auto dealership.

14 comments
hthays89
hthays89

Sounds exactly like the company my husband created that no one was interested enough in to back financially. This isn't a new idea, many people are attempting to create this product. Oh, and my husband called it "online dating for car buyers" years ago. Not impressed.

critic101001
critic101001

This is a well written editorial -- emphasis on editorial.

newsmyrnacjd
newsmyrnacjd

We have to remember that purchasing a new vehicle is a huge decision and centers around a topic that most people are not comfortable with, MONEY. Be comfortable talking about what you do and do not want to pay and saying no.

nate_the_car_guy
nate_the_car_guy

Everyone wants this to be a rosey experience but car dealerships, we are a busines, we are here to make money.  We treat customers as fair as any other industry.  Without profits, we don't exist.  If you have a problem with car dealership profits go talk to the service department.  That is where you are getting bent over.

GaryWolak
GaryWolak

Last I bought a car was back in 2009.  I'd suggest the following as it was efficient and the least stressful.

1.  Do your research on the vehicle you want including estimated price for your region.  Edmunds.com is good for this.

2.  Test drive the cars your interested in.  Do no negotiating at that time.  You're simply there to see if you like the look and feel of the vehicle.

3.  Once you decide on a make and model decide on three dealerships you're looking to purchase from and EMAIL the car salesman. Tell them exactly what you are looking for.  Make, model, and features.

4.  As you get your initial quotes find the lowest, and then go back to the other two dealers with that quote.  Omit who it came from.  All they need to see is the quote.

5.  You then rinse and repeat step #4 until they go no lower.  

This is how you take much of the in person hagling out of the car buying process.  When I walked away with my vehicle he took me aside and whispered to me "you played it perfectly".  I do not believe this was a line of BS.  If you let the dealers compete with one another you can get the best deal you can get.

nate_the_car_guy
nate_the_car_guy

I love guys like you that hide behind your computer to get "the best" deal.  You make our job easy.  Truth is if you are dealing on a used car though you will get the same deal whether you are shopping around or not.  We want to sell you a car really bad, but if we own the car for too much and its not profitable for us to do a deep discount we are not going to do that to sell a car to you....we will wait for the next person to come and pay what we want.  I have never seen a used car that didnt eventually sell. 

GaryWolak
GaryWolak

@nate_the_car_guy 

I should have clarified this was for the purchase for a new vehicle.  

In the end am I getting the same deal as "the other guy", well maybe.  

In the interim though I save myself lots of time and stress haggling with the sales people.  I simply let the three dealerships compete amongst one another for my business.  

I recall I went through about three rounds of offer / counter offer before the other two said they couldn't go lower.

Easiest/best car buying experience I've ever had.

nate_the_car_guy
nate_the_car_guy

i would agree that is the best way to deal on a new car...its less annoying for the sale person and gives them an honest shot at earning your business.  for used car buying it is an utter waste of time

Toodle68
Toodle68

Somewhat insulting to Carmax.. who has completely changed the whole process of buying a car. I purchased one a year ago. Researched online, walking in, test drive, purchased it and was out within the hour. Can't beat a 5 day money back guarantee on a car.

mrmikebailey
mrmikebailey

@Toodle68 CarMax has a great experience, but their prices are always higher than a dealership. It makes much more sense to go to a conventional dealer.

jdyer2
jdyer2

The car dealership industry is the most inefficient business I can think of.  All those cars sitting around having to be washed every day.  Inventory dollars tied up.  With mass customization perfected nowadays, each dealer should have one of each model- you take a test drive, find a car you like, and order your perfect combination of options.  Get your car in a few weeks.  Unfortunately there are dealership rules and regulations that prevent this common sense from occurring. 

nate_the_car_guy
nate_the_car_guy

have one of each model for your convenience to test drive?  sounds sort of a socialistic point of view...i will stock what i want on MY lot.  its called capitalism.  i stock what i can make money on.  if you understood how floorplanning worked you would realize our money is not tied up in inventory.  we turn desirable inventory and buy or trade more cars.