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Smart Shopping

Car buyers checking web before visiting dealerships

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Customer Millicent Benson (left), of Riverdale, listens to salesman Demetrius Bates at FIAT of South Atlanta in Morrow. Salesmen have had to change their sales tactics to keep up with the knowledgeable shopper.

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz Customer Millicent Benson (left), of Riverdale, listens to salesman Demetrius Bates at FIAT of South Atlanta in Morrow. Salesmen have had to change their sales tactics to keep up with the knowledgeable shopper.

Rather than buying on impulse, or hearing a pitch from a salesman first, some car buyers are more cautious and knowledgeable, before setting foot in a dealership, according to a AAA spokeswoman.

Angie LaPlant said results from a AAA Consumer Pulse survey shows that one in three consumers, or 35 percent, use online resources to equip themselves with information before heading to a car dealership.

She said the survey was held online among 644 residents living in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.

“We understand car buying can be a frustrating experience for many shoppers,” added Jill Perry, AAA’s director of financial services for The Auto Club Group.

Darnell Magruder, a salesman at FIAT of South Atlanta in Morrow, said he has been a car salesman for 38 years, and has seen the gradual progression to a more-knowledgeable customer, due to the Internet.

He said today’s customer arrives knowing what vehicles a dealership offers, their prices, as well as the prices offered at other dealerships. Most local dealerships have their own web sites, where their inventories are made available to shoppers, said Magruder.

“If you’re a store, these days, your web site will make or break you,” added the veteran salesman.

He said the newer generation of buyers are more likely to do a lot of research, and are more prone to seek “sales” first, while the baby-boomer generation is likely to show loyalty to the salesmen they already know.

Thomas Elliott, the general manager at the local FIAT dealership, said the Internet also opens doors for a dealership, because it allows people to locate a dealership easily. “I’ve seen customers outside our range area,” he said.

Millicent Benson, of Riverdale, was looking at a 2010 Dodge Avenger at FIAT of South Atlanta, recently. She said she still has reservations about the Internet, and would much rather see the vehicle first-hand, as well as, test drive it. “I don’t trust web sites,” she said.

According to Magruder, customers like Benson are smart, because they take their time to purchase a vehicle. He said buying a car is a large investment, and buyers should proceed with caution.

“Most young people want it [ the vehicle] yesterday, because of this fast-paced society,” he explained. “Nobody wants to slow down. Everyone wants to go from point A, to signing a contract.”

AAA’s survey, said LaPlant, shows that most consumers questioned plan to buy a vehicle in a couple of years. Two in five, or 42 percent, she said, have felt pressured to purchase a vehicle in the past. The survey also concluded that 27 percent of consumers left a dealership because of an unpleasant experience.

Salesman Magruder said he steers himself away from pushing a sale on a customer.

“I think in my 38 years, I have gotten away from pressuring customers,” he said. “I just don’t have to do that anymore.”

He said informed shoppers, usually, already know what they want coming in.

Now, he said, he greets customers, presents his business card and makes himself available –– if they have questions.

General Manager Elliott said salesmen and women have had to adapt to the on-the-go, and know-it-all shopper, and sales tactics have had to change.

“It is a completely different game, because you don’t know what other prices a consumer has seen elsewhere [on the Internet],” he said.