This just in — for many consumers the car-buying experience, in the vernacular, sucks. Okay, it’s not just in, but that feeling that so many of us have about buying a car has just been reinforced by a new, just-announced study. That study, commissioned by San Francisco-based automotive e-commerce provider Roadster, didn’t just find that car-buying is sub-optimal. It found that car retailing lags other retail experiences, like buying clothing, consumer electronics, and even groceries by a wide margin. In fact, the only consumer-facing industry that scored as poorly as automotive retail was the cable industry, and you know how much people love their cable providers.
“Like you said, you hear analogies all the time that going to the car dealer is so bad I’d rather go to the dentist,” Michelle Denogean, CMO of Roadster, told forbes.com. “Well, in this case, the only thing worse than the car-buying experience at a dealership is dealing with my cable company, which I think we all have stories about and can relate to.”
Of course, the purpose of the study was not to confirm that buying a car is often a bad experience. The world at large would benefit more from studies that seek to determine if the sky is blue or if politicians frequently lie. Instead, the study sought to discover not just how bad it is but also the process’s specific shortfalls, so they could be rectified, something Roadster has sought to do since its founding.
“We help provide software for car-buying so we help dealers basically modernize their car-buying experience and let you either buy a car from home or, if you still want to go to the dealership, our software is often used by the salespeople in the dealership to actually work with the customer to expedite the buying process,” said Andy Moss, Roadster CEO.
One of the big takeaways from the study of 1,000 adult consumers conducted in partnership with Survata was that a majority of consumers seek a seamless online-to-dealership process. Many are frustrated by starting a transaction online and then finding themselves forced to go back to square one when they enter the dealership to complete the purchase.
“We make it pretty easy if you start online you can go into the store and pick up where you left off and not have to start over and then likewise if you test drive in the store and you’re not ready to buy it, we make it very easy for the salesperson to share exactly where you were,” Moss said. “From home, you can then finish the transaction if you want to. So it’s all about modernizing the car-buying experience.”
While Roadster works with some 700 or so dealers right now, it is also gaining traction with auto manufacturers who are eager to bring the car buying experience up to 21st Century norms. The company has programs with Audi, Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, and Toyota right now and Denogean said “a bunch of other ones sort of in the hopper.”
“Just to add color to that I think that the manufacturers really understand that they need to modernize, and they’re trying to figure out in their own way how to launch that across their their dealer body from the Tier 1 level down,” she said.
So in addition to an easy online-to-dealership transit, what other things are consumers looking for?
The study found both men and women sought to deal with one person from start to finish, something that is rare in auto retail. They’d also like transparent pricing and “having the inventory they are looking for.” A dealership that combines those traits can go a long way to making a better shopping experience.
“Through the study, we found things like dealing with one person from start to finish. I believe that this is very connected…to wanting to have an efficient experience in store,” Denogean said. “So the fact that dealing with one person start to finish ranks up there with things like transparent pricing and having the inventory they’re looking for speaks volumes because when you can deal with just one person you’re really saving a lot of time in the process.”
Roadster initially began as a company that wanted to deliver an end-to-end online solution, but then there came an aha moment when the company realized that what it was creating for online shoppers could be equally powerful in the hands of dealership salespeople.
“We built all of this so a consumer could do this 100% from home and we realized that we had put things into this that the salespeople didn’t even have access to,” Denogean said. “There was a moment where we went ‘Oh, my gosh’ this could be incredibly powerful to help people in the showroom as well.”
The traditional and still typical car transaction process that involves a pass-off of the customer from the salesperson to the F&I manager before the competition of the transaction is anachronistic and is damaging to building trust, a key component is a successful, satisfying transaction. (See Tesla Motors Tumbles in Key Trust Measure) Dealerships have long been wary of giving salespeople the power to complete a transaction, but new tech like Roadster’s could change that.
“With technology solutions like ours they can put the power into the salesperson’s hands without losing the control that they’re concerned about,” Moss said. “There are reasons why the handoff happened at a car dealership but they don’t need to be as worried about those when you have technology that is being able to give them the same guidelines without handing them off to somebody else.”
While it is not likely the typical car-purchase process will be a simple as a “buy-with-one-click” on Amazon, there is little doubt that smart minds in the auto industry recognize the issues and seeking to find solutions. Consumers told the survey they’d be willing to pay up to 10% more just to enjoy a good experience rather than the figurative dentist’s drill. So there is little doubt the struggle is real.
“Detroit, Tokyo, Stuttgart, we have a problem.” And it is a problem whose solutions seem near at hand.