Are 1-hour car deals do-able? That’s a discussion topic in an age when vehicle shoppers, especially young ones, are keenly sensitive to time spent at a dealership.
Hypotheticals aside, the current reality is this: In rare cases, car buyers can get in and out in an hour. That’s if everything is aligned just right, including quick price agreeing, pre-approved financing and no trade-in valuation squabbling.
An express deal like that requires customers doing a lot of front-end work online and is premised on a dealership’s website offering advanced-technology features such as online financing and trade-in appraisals.
In most cases, car buying takes longer than the time it takes to watch a couple of sit coms. That’s not necessarily bad because most people aren’t looking for auto retailing’s Holy Grail of a 60-minute purchase.
So says Gary Tucker, CEO of DealerRater.com. He points to his firm’s user survey indicating buyers show more interest in how a dealership treats them opposed to how fast they can bolt from the place.
“We asked them which was more important, speed or relationship,” he tells WardsAuto. “Three-fourths said relationship.”
An important distinction: Nobody wants to needlessly camp out at a dealership, whether the time involves protracted price haggling or foot-tapping while waiting to see a busy finance and insurance manager.
“There’s a threshold of pain,” Tucker says. “No one wants to spend a day at the dealership. But the quest for a compressed experience might be the representation of a vocal minority.”
DealerRater is the world’s largest website of its kind. About 35,000 dealer reviews a month are posted. The website has tallied 1.6 million consumer reviews that many shoppers use as third-party sources.
Tucker, a 30-year veteran of the auto industry, this year filled DealerRater’s newly created CEO post. He was a J.D. Power marketing vice president before that.
DealerRater taps into a form of human expression that’s as old as auto retailing itself: people talking about their car-buying experience, whether it was good, bad or ugly.
“It is a digital version of the conversation your mom or dad had with the neighbor in the driveway or across the fence,” Tucker says.
DealerRater encourages consumers to do more than just give star ratings. It’s interested in old-fashioned storytelling. That makes for rich content.
“Our comment section has a 25-word minimum,” Tucker says. “So we get a story. We don’t just get ‘Jim was great.’ Instead we get ‘Jim helped me get a loan, did a good job giving me product information, assisted me in selecting a vehicle and was fair on the trade-in.’”
Ironically, even though many dealers bridle at the idea of publicly posted customer critiques, most dealer reviews are positive.
For those that aren’t, DealerRater offers a remediation process to its dealer clients. They are notified of a bad review and get a chance, either publicly or privately, to resolve the problem behind it.
“If someone posts a follow-up review saying, ‘They screwed up, but they fixed it,’ people who read it respect the dealer for that,” Tucker says.
So a bad review can end up as a good thing, if it’s handled well.
Yet, a fear factor remains for some dealers who aren’t thrilled with social-media ratings.
“There’s definitely a distribution curve,” Tucker says. “Leading-edge dealers are more progressive when it comes to acceptance of customer reviews. A new best practice is to embrace full transparency.”
That's why many dealers urge customers to post reviews, although presumably those retailers are expecting positive write-ups. It’s hard to imagine a dealership staffer giving a DealerRater “rate-us” card to a bad-news customer.
DealerRater uses screening technology to flag bogus review submissions from people posing as customers. Those types can range from disgruntled former workers rapping a store to current employees praising themselves.
But there’s nothing really to stop a customer on a rant for whatever reason. A fear among dealers is that a cantankerous customer with a major attitude levels a bunch of questionable accusations for any and all to see.
Tucker says review readers usually are savvy enough to separate genuine criticism from unbridled attacks. “Reviews that come across as irrational are seen for what they’re worth. Rational reviews carry the most weight.”
A computer programmer founded DealerRater in 2002. He did so less from inspiration and more from exasperation. He had a bad dealership experience.