Dealers Who Tune Into Customer Preferences Can Score Major Payoffs

Price isn’t everything. Buyers want selection, modest incentives and a friendly and consultative dealer staff.

September 20, 2023

5 Min Read
Urban Science data shows incentives as low as $35 could entice customers to visit dealerships.Getty Images

This is the fifth in a series of articles analyzing the results from this year’s Urban Science/Harris Poll/Dealership Transformation Index™ survey on consumer perceptions about the relevance of the traditional automobile dealership model.

Now that microchip-fueled production problems have eased, prices for new vehicles have begun to stabilize and manufacturers are replenishing dealers’ lots, consumers want even more from the dealerships they shop.

Or at least it appears that way to many dealers, who grew accustomed to record-high transaction prices and seemingly unprecedented demand coming out of the pandemic years. And now that automakers have had to resort to incentives to move inventory, some dealers wonder if the need for additional staff training, new technology, omnipresent channels and higher staff salaries, especially for technicians, will further eat away at their bottom lines.

It’s a fair question. As noted in a previous report, an increasing number of consumers want to shop online or at least have the option of a hybrid purchasing experience in which they can conduct part of their transactions virtually and part in-person at the dealership. Add onto that still-low dealer inventories for some more popular models and slowing consumer demand for others, and it is easy to understand why dealers are concerned.  

Of course, there’s no one answer to countering the market dynamics, but the 2023 Dealership Transformation Index (DTI) survey conducted by Urban Science and The Harris Poll reveals some effective low-cost and no-cost ways for dealers to entice customers to visit their stores.

Consider this: Consumers surveyed say it would take as little as a $35 incentive to bring their cars to dealerships to resolve recalls (84%), take test drives (82%), bring vehicles to the dealership for maintenance (78%), test drive electric vehicles (67%) and even expand their consideration for different vehicle types (56%). More than one-third of car buyers (44%) report that a $35 incentive even would persuade them to order vehicles and wait for deliveries.

It’s likely no surprise that as proposed incentives increase – from $50, $100 or $250 – so do the number of respondents willing to take advantage of them. One interesting exception involves bringing vehicles in for maintenance: While 87% say a $50 incentive would prompt them to do so, a lower percentage – 84% – report a $100 incentive would draw them in.



Price and vehicle selection remain key once the shoppers arrive at the dealership. Sixty-four percent of buyers surveyed say they could reconsider a dealer that they didn’t buy from if they offered a better to win their business. As one respondent wrote, “Better pricing and better trade-in on my old vehicle” are the main purchase-decision factors.

Price transparency also is important, as one respondent noted in discussing their purchase experience: “They could have offered a better final price and been more upfront about associated costs.”

Forty percent of respondents say the dealership that stocks the vehicle configuration they want is the one from which they’d likely purchase. That preference is followed by dealerships giving a higher value for vehicle traded-ins (38%), dealerships offering a better monthly payment (33%) and dealerships providing an incentive (30%).

A friendly staff (27%) and consultative approach (24%) is favored by about a quarter of those surveyed.




The Balance Between “Pushy and Neglectful”

Most everyone in automotive sales realizes that follow-up with potential buyers is critical. But more than a quarter of respondents (26%) say they prefer a dealership that does not excessively contact them during the purchasing process.

So how does a dealer balance the need to be consultative and available with not being deemed “pushy”?

The answer is generational.

The good news for dealers is that most respondents among all age groups do not believe dealers have contacted them too often during or after the sale. Just 13% overall believe the dealership contacted them too much during the shopping and negotiation process. And only 10% were turned off by too much post-sale contact.

While only 5% of boomers (ages 59-77) report dealerships made excessive contact during the shopping and negotiation process and just 4% bristle at too much post-sale contact, those numbers rise to 15% and 9%, respectively, for Generation X (ages 43-58). Generation Z (ages 11-26) respondents also report much higher dissatisfaction than boomers, with 12% and 10% citing too much contact during and after the sale, respectively.

Millennial (ages 27-42) buyers are the generation needing the most TLC during and after the sale. As pointed out in a previous report, millennials will remain the most significant buyer group for automakers and dealers. They are also the age group most open to using non-traditional auto buying channels, such as purchasing directly from vehicle manufacturers or through alternative sources such as CarMax and Carvana.

Dealers would be smart to get ahead of consumers looking for other places to buy.

Although three in four automobile buyers consider manufacturer (or franchise) dealerships, one-third (33%) of survey respondents would shop independent used dealers, 25% would consider national used dealerships and 16% would be open to purchasing directly from the factory.

So while price may be the most important consideration, there are additional factors that drive buyers toward their purchasing paths. The Urban Science study reveals several tactics dealers can use to keep customers returning to their showrooms:

  • Boost inventory. This is not always possible, but dealers that acquire an array of trim packages and models likely will see more floor traffic. That’s where careful acquisition of used vehicles is key. 

  • Remind staff to treat consumers as guests. Employ generation-appropriate sales tactics and communication methods during the sales process and once the purchase is completed. 

  • Use incentives to lure customers to service departments and showrooms. Incentives don’t need to be major to work. As little as $35 can bring a potential buyer through the door. But it’s critical dealers deploy targeted incentives to set their campaigns up for success. Simply put, get the right incentive to the right customers at the right time through segmentation and automation.

Urban Science: Our unrivaled near-real-time industry sales data, and consulting and technology offerings, have driven innovation, efficiency and profitability into every corner of the automotive industry. Our capabilities and industry expertise help OEMs and dealers, and the advertising technology firms that support them, stay ahead of industry trends and achieve business certainty in even the most chaotic market conditions.


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