Created on Friday, 20 August 2010
What's the most influential brand decision for consumers who are planning to purchase a new vehicle?
According to a national automotive survey of new-vehicle buyers in the U.S. by Foresight Research, a marketing research firm, brand experience ranks as Number 1.
Number 2 is the dealership experience.
This study is interesting because of the influence of the U.S. automotive retail market and similar methods of marketing here.
The Foresight report said that the dealership experience was extremely influential for consumers who are in the market to purchase a vehicle from a new-car dealer. The dealership experience ranked higher than the Internet in influencing the buying decision.
Other factors that influence purchasers are: local and mass media marketing campaigns, brochure availability, financing options, accessorized vehicles, signage, and point of sale materials.
The results of the Foresight study are further confirmed by a recent survey by Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org). The survey examined what factors most influenced car buyers.
Perceived quality (75 per cent) and fuel economy (73 per cent) were the front-runners in terms of direct influences. Better value (67 per cent) and better safety record (67 per cent) also ranked high on the list. The dealership reputation influenced 47 per cent of respondent
The importance of relationships in the buying process was reinforced recently, when thousands of new-car stores across North America were closed, as part of restructuring efforts by GM and Chrysler. Coupled with the loss of brands such as Saturn, Saab, Pontiac, Hummer, Mercury and Plymouth in recent years, the consumer impact was devastating.
It resulted in hundreds of thousands of customers having to find an alternate dealership to service their vehicles (and address warranty items). In many cases, this is a major inconvenience. Traditional brand loyalty is being challenged by convenience to dealer service locations.
So, what part of the dealership experience influences purchase decisions? Several factors seem obvious, based on my experience in the business.
First impressions are critically important. How a customer is greeted is often a reflection of the level of service and the values shared by all personnel. Initial contact can include phone conversations, email correspondence or visiting a dealership in person.
Cleanliness and organization play a role, too. Customers can easily be turned off by inattentive or overbearing staff members, disorganized showrooms, messy waiting areas and dirty floors.
Comfort and convenience can also influence brand selection. Dealerships today offer a range of conveniences, such as drive-in service reception, shuttle service, extended service hours, comfortable lounge/waiting areas, and more.
The product adviser/sales associate also plays an integral role in influencing what (or if) a potential customer purchases a vehicle. He/she is literally in the forefront, representing not only the entire dealership but the manufacturer as well.
The adviser's personality, product knowledge and selling skills are hugely significant in the buying process. That's why good salespeople are in such high demand in the retail car industry.
I know automotive sales reps that have been in the business for up to 30 years. Many have sold multiple vehicles to the same customer, and to their customers' extended families, friends and neighbours.
It also holds true for the service department, where service advisers have established strong relationships with many customers. This kind of loyalty speaks volumes for the dealership's customer relations.
Consumers shouldn't underestimate the overall dealership experience when purchasing a new (or pre-owned) vehicle. Simply put, if some aspect of a dealership doesn't live up to your expectations, I'd recommend contacting management, and if not resolved to your satisfaction, take your business elsewhere.