When it comes to car-buying, one could argue that geography is inconsequential. The elements of due diligence and dealership relations that feel unpleasant in one part of the country are just as likely to be present any (and dare we say “every”) where else. So if you’re looking for dealerships in Seattle or dealerships in Atlanta, it’s important to look for more than just the nearest franchise of the automaker you prefer. Because many dealerships have begun making strides to set themselves apart, to create a truly customer-centric car buying experience. With a little bit of effort, it is possible to find a dealership deserving of your business, and willing to be a partner in your car-buying (as well as your “car-owning”) experience. But how can you go about finding the right dealership for you?
To dig deeper, let’s use Atlanta (since we mentioned it above. Sure, we could have chosen Seattle, since both are enjoying temperatures above 30 degrees higher than it is in Massachusetts right now, but Atlanta’s showing chances of sun on this cloudy morning). So, if I’m car-shopping in Atlanta, how do I find the perfect partner? Well, it all begins with research.
Your Time. Your Terms
The expectation of a truly customer-centric buying experience begins with you; specifically, your willingness to make use of technology that can empower a prospective buyer with both knowledge and confidence. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you buying or leasing?
- If buying, are you looking for new, used or Certified Pre-Owned?
- What make(s), model(s) and trim level(s) are you interested in?
- Are you planning to offer a trade-in vehicle (and if so, has it been valued)?
- What is your budget (both in terms of overall cost, and monthly payments)?
- Have you secured financing, or will you be working with the dealers’ finance department?
The simple act of asking yourself the above questions can help to inform your decision in more ways than you realize. Simply by being in touch with your own needs and expectations, you can approach any dealership with confidence. But as part of your research, you can identify the likelihood of whether or not certain dealerships meet your expectations before you ever set foot on their lot or sales floor.
Technology allows us to review dealer inventories online, with reputable dealers offering a wide array of shopping tools (payment calculators, free vehicle history reports) as well as the means of valuing trade-ins, scheduling test drives and applying for financing online. We also have the luxury of seeking candid reviews of certain dealerships, be it on YELP! or a similar site. With that in mind, it’s hard to understand why so many ill-prepared buyers still insist on wandering onto a dealer lot and signing obliviously on the dotted line.
Comparing the Competitors
Atlanta. Atlanta. We haven’t forgotten about you.
Let’s say that I’m interested in a new 2019 Chevy Silverado, so I decide to check our Superior Chevrolet in Decatur. Their website is well-constructed, showing me hundreds of new, used and CPO vehicles to choose from. The website is informative and well constructed, which work in the dealership’s favor. The Info tab includes a link to read customer reviews, but there are none. Hmmm…a red flag. So, I look elsewhere for insights as to the customer experience that Superior Chevrolet offers. A quick visit to YELP! shows a pattern of lackluster customer service, questionable sales tactics and a less-than-communicative service department. While these are only reflective of a few opinions, there is some degree of consistency in the opinions voiced. Plus, the majority of reviews presented in this negative light are well-worded and articulate, which help to add some validation. That said, it’s not an indictment of the dealership, which may have a loyal and satisfied customer-base; it might simply help me to prioritize the dealership against competitors with more enthusiastic supporters.
The same applies to non-franchise dealerships. I might be looking for a reliable pre-owned vehicle, but am looking for a simplified buying process. No dealerships. No heavy-handed sales tactics. Perhaps limitations in budget and/or credit-worthiness mean that I have to be more open to the options available. Thus, I look into Newman’s Used Cars, another Decatur based business which specializes in used motors and transmission services. The website offers limited profiles of each vehicle in its more modest and affordable selection. There’s a little less in the way of information (vehicle specs, features, history etc) making a visit and/or test drive all the more important. This is really no surprise considering that it’s a smaller operation, but what’s more interesting is the absence of online reviews. Normally, people are more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. Thus, the absence of negative reviews found in a quick search might work in the favor of Newman’s Used Cars. While their offerings may not meet everyone’s needs, they might be a worthwhile partner for others.
And it goes without saying that this kind of research is important regardless of what kind of car you’re looking to buy. From an affordable Ford to an affordable pre-owned vehicle to a brand new BMW, the information is out there for you to weed through.
Perhaps I’m interested in pulling the trigger and finally getting that new BMW that I’ve been talking about for years. Of course, it’s a gorgeous website full of shopper-assistive tools. What else would you expect from BMW? Great inventory of new, pre-owned and certified offerings. Fairly thorough profiles with beautiful photography are presented for each and every new and used vehicle, speaking to the enthusiast shoppers among us. Specials and Incentive programs are presented upfront. The Service and Parts departments are presented as trustworthy partners, whether you’re in need of service or are more of a do-it-yourselfer. They seem to have their bases covered.
So, needless to say, the barrage of recent negative reviews found on YELP! are discouraging. With an aspirational vehicle like a BMW, one would expect a high-end service experience, geared around customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, that’s not the picture painted here, which does Nalley BMW a massive disservice. For all we know, they could be one of the best dealerships around, but no-one’s singing their praises. Once again, online reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, but a smart consumer should never turn a blind eye to repeating patterns.
So, what’s the point? Know what you want, know your worth (and any limitations). Once you understand your goals and financial position, search for the right partner but take nothing at face value. Yes, it’s important to find a dealership with the selection that guarantees you’ll find the vehicle you want but hold them accountable for the experience that you deserve. Read reviews. Take word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted friends and family, helping to identify reputable dealerships and trustworthy salespeople. They are out there and you deserve to find them.
For most people, buying a vehicle will always be among the most significant purchases that we make. It’s not unreasonable to have expectations, and it’s even less unreasonable to demand an experience built around your satisfaction. Empower yourself with knowledge, not just of the vehicle, but of the dealerships themselves. Hold them accountable to your expectations, and allow them to prove to you that they are a worthwhile partner in purchase and ownership of your next vehicle.