Millennials Internet-Savvy Car Buyers? Well, Who Isn’t?

Millennials Internet-Savvy Car Buyers? Well, Who Isn’t?

“I recently had an 80-year-old man come in with a printout of something he got on the Internet,” says Jose Alonso, Internet director for Jenkins Auto Group.

The old joke is there are three signs of growing old: One, you lose your memory, and…I can’t remember the other two.

But I vividly recall the way it was. I’m not overly nostalgic and aching to return to simpler times. Some things weren’t so hot back then. Like the Cold War.

In the 1950s, our elementary school staged air-raid drills to prepare us for the possibility of a Soviet attack. As instructed, we sat in the hallway, leaned forward and covered our heads with our hands. That was supposed to protect us from a nuclear strike.

I also remember when telephone booths festooned the landscape. People entered them and closed the door, because a phone conversation back then was considered private.

Contrast that to today’s open use of cell phones. Actually, I do long for the days when enclosed booths prevented phone calls from going public.

But I love my smartphone. Yes, I could live without it…I think. On the other hand, can anyone, no matter how old, imagine life without computers in general and the Internet in particular?

Modern marketers talk much about the buying habits of Generation Y, the Internet-savvy set ranging from late teens to early 30s. Numbering about 80 million, they are a consumer force that soon will make up 40% of car buyers.

“Some people ask, ‘Aren’t they just the new young generation?’ says General Motors marketing executive John McFarland. “No, they’re not the same.”

He observes the traits of this seemingly exotic species, especially when it comes to buying cars. They use the Internet to research, view inventory and check prices. They go on social-media websites to see how others rate various vehicles and dealerships.

They don’t want to spend endless hours at a dealership. They like buying, but dislike blatant sales pitches. They want to do business with a dealership and a salesperson they trust.

They don’t want someone forcing them out of their comfort zone. They don’t want dealerships obscuring any part of the transaction. They have high consumer expectations.

OK, I got it. But my question is: What car buyer doesn’t want all that? Across generations, most people now expect it from car dealerships, in large part because the Internet has empowered everyone trying to decide what to buy and where to buy it.

Maybe older people have had to do a behavioral retrofit. Millennials grew up with the Internet. Baby Boomers didn’t, but most of them wouldn’t think of buying a car without online shopping and researching. Nor would most people, regardless of age.

“I recently had an 80-year-old man come in with a printout of something he got on the Internet,” Jose Alonso, Internet director for the Florida-based Jenkins Auto Group, tells me.

“And we had a 76-year-old guy slam us on a ratings website because a desk manager disputed a price he got online,” he says. “When it comes to the Internet and car buying, there’s no age discrimination.”

“It is across all age groups,” training director Jack Simmons says of consumers using modern technology to car-shop and buy. “It is wrong to assume it is just kids.”

We should recognize inherent generational differences, but note the fundamental similarities humans share. Honesty, straightforwardness, transparency and respect appeal to all consumers, especially when it comes to the major transaction of a car deal.

General Motors hopes to sell a lot of all-new, entry-level compact Chevrolet Sonics to Millennials. The auto maker is urging Chevy dealers to help young people, many of them first-time car buyers, navigate their way through the purchase, “not feed into their fears,” says McFarland.

Dealerships that do that, online and off-line, sell cars to people of all ages.

[email protected]