Inside the Consumer Buying Process: Choosing an Auto Dealership

There are many auto dealership options available to consumers, how does one narrow in on one dealership. After polling individuals ranging in gender, age, and background from the greater Sacramento area,  comprehensive and diverse responses led to several consistent desired traits in a dealership. Let’s go through the process and point out where consumer decisions are being made.

The Initial Due Diligence:

It should come as no surprise that the initial due diligence for an automobile purchase begins online. Online auto research is a fast, expansive, and convenient way to find more tailored results for what a consumer will need out of an auto dealership. Quite often the internet research will result in a dealership visit. This is largely because of three factors; the accessibility and price of the dealership inventory and the ability to screen auto dealerships based on customer reviews.

Consumers who are looking to purchase a new car and subsequently choose an auto dealership often begin their research online at big name websites such as, or Online resources like are an all-in-one stop for consumers who wish to check vehicle listings, pricing, and dealer reviews. Local dealerships utilize these big name websites to market their inventory. 

Working in competition against local dealers, companies like Carmax or provide inventory viewership as well as online pre qualifying financial services when directly marketing their own inventory. 

A dealership should consider that their influence over a buyer is diminished by the fact that the consumer has done their research online and come to the dealership prepared with a general desired price range and vehicle model type in mind.

What Generates a visit to an auto dealership?:

A consumer will consult multiple online resources and eventually single in on one dealership.  If a consumer seeks a specific car from their research they go directly to that dealer. If they have a generalized idea, auto malls become a desirable option for inventory variety. Expansive inventories and online accessibility may influencea consumer’s decision to visit a particular auto dealership, but ultimately a consumer values the reliability and expected success of their buying process more. The external reputation and conveyed online success of the dealership is one stable way to bring in potential buyers.

A dealership will have a longer lasting impact on this buying process by devoting time to a positive buying experience that can lead to referrals, returning customers and positive online customer reviews. According to one polled individual, “reliability is important to me, when I’m looking into a dealership, I pay attention to how high and how many reviews a dealership has.”

At the Dealership

Inventory and reviews alone won’t seal the deal for a consumer committing to the purchase of a vehicle. The quality of service and presentation of the dealership is a crucial aspect of the buying process. One survey respondent claimed, “the selling process should mirror the quality of the product.” In choosing a dealership the service provided helps customers feel secure in their purchase. Part of good service is the maintenance and transparency of the buyer’s guide sticker on the vehicle. These stickers should accurately and clearly mark the price and pertinent auto details. Once at the dealership consumers may consult resources like Kelly Blue Book in order to validate fair market pricing of vehicles, so it is important for pricing to be in line with the market. 

The dealership itself should also be presentable and clean so that it allows the customers to fully assess the vehicles. One respondent having worked in the auto dealership industry for 10 years emphasized the need for consumers to feel good about the dealership itself agreeing that “presentation and maintenance of the auto lot is an important means of assessing the quality of the cars.”  

Notably, the comprehensiveness of the test drive experience can greatly influence a consumers decisions to move forward with the purchase of a vehicle. Allotting enough time for the test drive and to answer vehicle questions helps the potential buyer feel more comfortable and assured in the vehicle's performance. This process can eliminate potential concerns on the consumer’s end during the close of the purchase. 

Closing the Deal

The customer has picked out their new vehicle, but closing a purchase can not take place without the discussion of finances. To close a deal with a consumer, the dealer must be able to both communicate and adhere to the potential financial needs of the customer and to complete the deal, financial options must be clearly presented and fit within the customer's budget. One polled individual described the buying process as “quite the financial liability, similar to the financial responsibility of purchasing a home.”  Potential buyers know that purchasing a vehicle requires financial accountability and they want to be secure in their decision to purchase a vehicle. Most polled individuals disclosed the desire for dealerships to offer poor credit buying options and to have flexible financing options available.

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