By Joshua Levinstone
Nowadays, a growing number of companies are trying to make the vehicle purchasing experience ‘better’ by consolidating all brands into a one-stop-shop, like Carmax, or by simply eliminating the dealership model altogether through online shopping, like Carvana. While these sound like great solutions to a very real problem, models like these can actually prey upon the modern consumer.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
I shop online constantly. $6 for an iPhone cord, check; $23 for a shower curtain with Jeff Goldblum hugging a sloth, done! $230 for a nice TV, all day! But, while online shopping for a New Car may work great (if you actually could), purchasing a used vehicle is infinitely more complex. And that complexity is both where dealerships have earned such a bad image and why companies are exploiting that image to ‘disrupt’ the current business model.
The One-Stop Shop
There are roughly a zillion variables when it comes to purchasing a used vehicle, and most of us don’t have the time to drive all over town to test all the ones we are interested in. This is where one-stop-shops take advantage people’s desire for convenience. While a single car lot with one of every car seems like a great idea, in practice this model has one unavoidable flaw.
Modern cars are complex. And the ability to service them requires specific (and expensive) software subscriptions, certified technicians, and experience with each vehicle. By focusing on only a limited number of specific cars, a certified technician can not only properly service the vehicle, but can also predict potential issues, and make repairs in the most efficient manner. And in an industry where your merchandise loses value daily, time literally is money.
The Online Experience
I’ve only been in this industry for six years now, which I think gives me an advantage. I can still see things from a consumer’s perspective, and I haven’t adopted the “buyers-are-liars” mentality–yes, that’s a real term in this industry– but I am aware of how dealers can cut corners and take advantage of consumers. Knowing this does make shopping online sound appealing.
For many, buying a car is the second largest purchase they will ever make. But for the same reasons you look at multiple homes before signing paperwork, why would you look at a car differently? Big tech companies know how little time you have and how terrible the buying experience often is, and so this new trend of online car shopping uses convenience as their appeal. But they too still suffer from the same issues as any other dealership, only now there is even less accountability if there are any problems.
This may be a bold title, but rather than ‘breaking the wheel,’ I think the answer lies in transparency. In nearly every other industry, the push towards small and accountable, locally owned and community driven businesses are what people want. And with services like Google Reviews and Yelp to help you learn who you might be dealing with, the traditional dealership model is actually the way to go… sort of.
Independent dealers have the ability to be the best or worst place to purchase a preowned vehicle. At their best, an independent dealer who focuses solely on the cars they know can prep and service their cars much more efficiently and pass the savings on to the consumer; they can employ passionate, knowledgeable staff, rather than fly-by-night salespeople; and they can hold themselves, and be held, accountable for a mistake which might slip through the cracks.
And–self-promotion alert–like us, can design their dealership around a consumer’s needs and spend their efforts on making the dealership a place you actually want to visit, rather than just tolerate.