When you're shopping for a car, the experience you have at a dealership can make all the difference. Edmunds.com Senior Editor Matt Jones worked for 12 years as a car salesman, Internet sales manager and finance and insurance manager. He now highlights dealerships and car-selling best practices that make car shopping easy and enjoyable. Got an innovative dealership story to share? Contact him: matthewj (at) edmunds.com
Here's a little-known car-business secret: A car dealership may be willing to bring a vehicle for a shopper to test-drive at home or work if the shopper simply can't make it to the dealership. An even better-kept secret is that some car dealerships are taking this service even further, and are doing entire car deals remotely. This means they're bringing both the vehicle and the purchase documents to the shoppers. In some cases, this may be the first time the customer ever actually sees the car he's buying.
What's behind this shift? Like so many other things, it's the Internet.
Traditionally, a car shopper looking to buy a car would visit a few dealerships, test-drive the cars on his short list and then start negotiations. Things have changed. Car shoppers are, on average, visiting just 1.6 dealerships prior to buying a car, down from an average of five dealerships less than 10 years ago, according to a study from business advisory firm McKinsey & Co.
The abundance of online shopping tools makes this possible. More and more shoppers are making their buying decisions from home. But they typically go to dealerships to make the actual purchase, and according to J.D. Power and Associates, the average new-car deal takes nearly 4.5 hours to complete. That's an amount of time some shoppers just can't (or won't) spend in a dealership.
Knowing this, some dealerships are shifting how they sell, bringing the car and the car deal to the shopper's living room or office. But there are some dealerships that just won't do this, and they list good reasons for their decisions. More about those later.
Here are some examples of dealerships that have cars, will travel:
- The Phil Long Group in Colorado has a program it calls the Carcierge Door-to-Door Delivery service. As the name implies, a Phil Long Group salesperson brings a vehicle to the car shopper, and they can do the test-drive from home or work. After the test-drive is complete, the salesperson takes the car back to the dealership. If the shopper decides she wants to make a deal on the car, that can be worked out online or over the phone.
The dealerships will clean up and re-deliver the car to the shopper, along with all the legal documents that need to be signed. Mike Cimino, vice president of the Phil Long Group, says it provides services like this to its customers because, "We want to wow them."
- Montana dealership American Ford also delivers vehicles to customers. However, some of its shoppers are hundreds of miles away. Offering to save a customer the time of driving hundreds of miles is a great value proposition, especially if the customer would have to miss a day of work to make a deal. Buying a car over the weekend isn't always an option, as many car dealerships have shortened hours on Saturdays and can be closed on Sundays.
- Finally, at Honda of Thousand Oaks in Southern California, Internet Sales Manager Geno Demyon regularly delivers cars and paperwork to customers who have never set foot in his showroom, estimating that it's about 30 percent of his business. One reason is urgency to make a sale.
"More than ever, I have to stand out for my customers. If I have a customer who wants a car that I sell, why wouldn't I go out of my way to make a deal? If that means bringing them the car and paperwork, I'm all for it," he says. "The sooner I can get the car to them, the smaller the chance of losing the customer to another dealer."
And then there's infamous L.A. traffic. Demyon says that shoppers have been known to decide where to buy a car based on how much traffic they would have to face on notoriously slow Southern California highways. A dealership that's just 30 miles away can take two hours to reach in bad traffic, which is something not all shoppers are willing to do — even for a good deal.
"If I can bring a shopper the car and paperwork, it doesn't matter how far away they live from my office," he says. "I will always be the closest if I bring everything to them."
It's Not Universal
So why don't all dealerships offer these services? Doing the deal outside the store may cost a dealership money in the long run, some car sellers say. Because car dealerships rarely make profits on the car sale alone, they want opportunities to extend the business relationship.
Turning a new-car shopper into a long-term service department customer is a very common goal for new-car dealers, and many believe that if they don't introduce the customer to the service department at some point in the new-car purchase process, the prospect of that customer coming to the service department drops. Some dealers also believe that by not bringing the shopper into the brick-and-mortar showroom, they lose the chance to make some money in the finance and insurance office.
Perhaps the most important reason that not all dealerships bring the car to shoppers is this: Off-site deliveries may not bring the repeat and referral business in the same way that a fantastic dealership visit might.
Dealerships are creating processes to improve the in-person purchase experience. They are pouring money into new showrooms, and are revamping in-store sales methods to gain buyer trust and loyalty. Some dealers believe that when an entire car deal is done in a car shopper's living room, the customer will simply become loyal to the convenience of the off-site sale and not necessarily to the salesperson or car dealership that provided the service.
Finding Dealerships That Deliver
Some dealerships, such as Bulldog Kia in Athens, Georgia, promote the service on their Web sites. But most dealerships don't.
So how do you know if a dealership will offer this service? Just ask. There is a good chance that a dealership will bring you a car and the paperwork. Although most dealerships don't advertise that they will bring a car to you, many say it's a service they would provide.
Here are some tips to help you get a car delivered:
Be flexible: Don't expect a dealership to deliver a vehicle to you during peak business hours. It takes more than one person at a dealership to complete a deal. The salesperson, sales manager and finance manager all will be involved. It will also require an additional store employee to drive the salesperson back to the dealership after he has dropped off the new car. Getting a personal delivery on a busy weekend, for example, is less likely than getting one during a slow time at the dealership (think Mondays). If you can be flexible with your delivery timing, chances are much greater that the dealer can come to you.
Tell the dealership what's in it for them: Before you close the deal, explain to the salesperson or manager with whom you're working that an at-home delivery would increase the chances of you doing business with them. If bringing you the car and paperwork would make you happy enough to refer the salesperson (and dealership) to your friends and family, be sure to tell the dealer that. If providing you with an off-site delivery would assure the salesperson a perfect customer satisfaction survey score, tell her so. Do something to encourage the salesperson to come to you, in other words. Would you use the service department at the dealership? If so, be sure to mention that, too.
Be nice: An off-site delivery requires a fair amount of extra work for the salesperson. It's likely that a salesperson will be more inclined to do such work for a polite, friendly customer than for one who barks orders or makes threats. The salesperson will need management's help (and permission) to do an off-site deal if such deals aren't standard procedure. The salesperson will also need to convince somebody to shuttle him back to the dealership, and both employees will spend hours off of the sales floor. He won't go through all that for a customer who has been a jerk. He's more likely to say "Sorry, we don't do that here."
Off-Site Is On
Today's dealerships understand that giving a customer a great price simply isn't enough to assure a deal anymore. Customers expect good service, too. As dealers look for new ways to please customers, expect to see more cars coming to customers, instead of the other way around.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.