Car Buying Articles

Internet Prices on the Showroom Floor

This In-Person Internet Strategy Saves Time and Money


  • Internet Sales Manager Picture

    Internet Sales Manager Picture

    By asking for a sales representative from a dealership's Internet department, you bypass the usual high-pressure tactics. | January 12, 2011

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I once conducted a car-buying experiment that proves the value of working with a car dealership's Internet department. I walked onto a car lot, asked for a salesperson from the Internet department and in less than an hour, bought a minivan for at least $1,000 less than if I had been shopping the conventional way.

It can't be that easy, you might say. I assure you that it is. Instead of following the usual car shopping method of walking onto a car lot and being approached by a salesperson, I went into a Toyota dealership in Santa Monica, California, sidestepped several conventional car salesmen and asked the receptionist for a salesperson from the dealership's Internet department. Her expression told me that this might be a first: Why wasn't I actually using the Internet? But she went along.

And so I met courtly, no-pressure Mark. I told him I wanted to buy a 2011 Toyota Sienna SE. He escorted me outside and offered to let me test-drive the minivan. I declined (I'd already driven a Sienna) and asked him to give me a price.

Mark led me to his office, which was across a busy street from the dealership, as though to remove it from the usual selling atmosphere. He turned his computer screen toward me, pointing at the Sienna's MSRP, the invoice price and all the options. He then said he could sell it to me for $500 over invoice.

I pulled up the vehicle on my iPhone on the Edmunds.com mobile phone car-buying app. It listed the True Market Value® price as $1,037 over invoice. This meant that Mark's offer of $500 over invoice was well below the average price that other people were paying for the car. So I made the deal.

I gave him a check as a deposit and arranged to have the minivan delivered to my office the following week. I left the dealership an hour after I had arrived.

The next week, Mark arrived with the Sienna and the paperwork. I asked what the price would have been if I had gone to the regular salespeople instead of the Internet department. He said it would have been $1,000 more, "at least." The "at least" was probably because he was thinking that a conventional sale would have been completed in the finance and insurance office, where the dealership would have tried to sell me additional products and services.

When you're buying a car, you should try to handle as much of the deal online as possible. (Edmunds.com continues to make this easier, such as by offering Price PromiseSM, which provides you with a locked-in, up-front price for a new car in the comfort of your home.) But if you like some of the hands-on aspects of car buying, you might try out this Internet-in-the-showroom approach. Here are a few tips:

  • Schedule a test-drive by calling the dealership and asking for the Internet manager. Say up front that you won't be buying the car the same day as you test-drive it.
  • Check TMV® before visiting the car lot so you can spot a good deal when you see one. Additionally, look for a Price Promise offer. Compare the Price Promise quote to the TMV price to confirm that it's good deal. You also can get Edmunds' mobile new-car buying app and refer to it during the deal-making process.
  • If you started the buying process with an e-mail or phone call, get the contact's name and continue dealing with him or her when you are on the car lot. If you're coming onto the lot cold, ask the receptionist to get you a salesperson from the Internet department.
  • Before agreeing to any deal, ask for a list of all the fees you'll have to pay. You should only be charged for the purchase price of the car, local sales tax, a documentation fee and registry fees.
  • Request that the document preparation be handled by the Internet person, rather than the finance and insurance manager. The Internet salesperson might not go along, but it is worth asking.

If you follow these steps, you might be able to cut through the complicated knot of the dealership buying process and get the same quick action and good price enjoyed by Internet shoppers.

Most Recommended Comments

By thelastbill
on 01/22/11
2:46 PM PST

Just one comment/questoin about the wording of this article... "When you're buying a car, your first plan of attack should always be to handle it online as completely as possible." Plan of attack?? I didnt know it was a war. I dont go into negotiating with a customer thinking I'm going into battle. I dont get out the war paint and scheme on how to sell this new vehicle for a price that is thousands more than I can. With all the information online with the cost of the car (which edmunds followers dont believe is true anyway.....they think we are STILL hiding thousands somewhere....) Why does it have to be battle from the customer??? Let me be a professional, show you the vehicle, probably educate you about an option package or trim level that may be more beneficial and cost-saving. Then let me present you an offer and expect me to ask for some profit. Not alot on one customer, but a little on many. If you choose to counter and we dont accept, no big deal....we can either shake hands and part or work it out. I fail to see how any definition of battle is necessary in a friendly business transaction. If a customer expects to do battle and has a "plan of attack", the experience will be cold, stressfull, and I promise, will not get any professional perks of service from me. -Silver Level Honda Salesperson

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By sjvhondas
on 01/22/11
3:26 PM PST

Thank You thelastbill. I agree completely. Now I will admit the article has merit. I believe all consumers should research the product and look to reputable 3rd party sources for tips and information, and Edmunds.com has been an invaluable resource for so many of my clients. But my beef with the article lies in the idea that it is necessary to have some secret plan or code words to save money. The fact of the matter is, if you come equipped with all the knowledge available here, you could have still gotten that same discounted deal from a proper salesman who would personally tour your new vehicle with you (An invaluable service that no internet website could ever match) and when you service that vehicle and need a ride to work but can't wait for the shuttle, that very 'thrilled-to-see-you' salesperson will gladly take a CPO vehicle to drop you off! You got the car, the deal, the personal service, AND you helped feed another american family by using the internet to educate yourself as a consumer and conduct business like an adult. Show me a dealership that wouldn't take an offer of 500 above invoice and I'll show you somewhere they never sells any cars! Good luck everyone, be smart and be prepared and the world is your oyster!

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By hondagoldsales
on 01/26/11
8:07 AM PST

thelastbill is 100% correct. Not all salesmen are out to swindle you out of every last dollar. In today's market, a salesman needs to be professional, respectful and, most importantly, FAIR. With all the the information out there it is almost impossible to rip a customer off. I also think that the language used in this article is a bit extreme. "Plan of attack?" I have never treated my customers at though we were battling. Let me demonstrate my product, help you choose the right trim line for you and things will go very smooth. In fact, get an internet price before hand and let me write that deal for you. The ironic part about this article is that will all the incentives out there, the buyer of the car in the article most likely should have paid LESS than the deal they got. But if you don't want to negotiate the best deal with a salesman, that is the risk you take. -Honda Gold Level Council of Sales Leadership (413 Cars Delivered; 99.2% Customer Satisfaction rating)

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