The power and influence of the female consumer continues to grow. However, car buying, traditionally a male-dominated process, remains intimidating, coercive and out of sync with their buying styles.
"Why car dealers are still approaching women like second-class citizens is a mystery to me," says Michelle Kofman, a marketing consultant and disillusioned car shopper. "Canadian women are the main drivers of our consumer economy and are influencing more than 85 per cent of the buying decisions in the household, yet are still feeling vulnerable and helpless when buying a car. I would bet most women are leaving the traditional buying process in droves and searching for better alternatives because of how they are being treated."
Women today are spending more time online reading Consumer Reports, making price comparisons, and doing their homework well before making a final decision on what to buy. When it's time to open the purse strings, women look for assistance from a professional who understands their needs, speaks their language and respects their research process.
A 2009 independent car-buying study, commissioned by Automall Network, showed that 53 per cent felt they'd been treated unfairly as a female and 82 per cent said they would prefer to use a professional service to save time and energy.
Denise Kosmidis is a case in point. She has been in and out of the car-buying process for more than 25 years and recently purchased a 2014 RAV4 through Automall Network. Denise is meticulous and analytical and does all of the buying prep work in the household. She dreads the thought of walking into a dealership and vows to never buy the traditional way again.
"I didn't know what I didn't know," says Kosmidis, of her experience buying a car. "A car is a complex transaction and I expected a lot more support from the dealership. When I did do my homework and produced a spreadsheet and questions, the sales people dismissed my findings in a condescending way and talked to me in circles. I felt like an idiot for doing all of the legwork before I came into the dealership. With a better attitude and understanding, I would not have felt remorse for doing the deal."
Kosmidis is just one example of the trend to seek out alternative ways to buy a car. The reasons are varied, but the underlying theme to all of their experiences may be the lack of will to change by the auto industry. Women are demanding respect and dealerships need to recognize this.
"I'm a serious buyer, I've done my research and I want to be heard now," says Carrie Sampson, in the market for a Subaru Forester. "I've had many bad experiences buying a car and I will no longer deal with the lack of transparency."
If the industry doesn't become more pro-active in the way it deals with women, it may be opening the doors to more services to take their place. Only time will tell.
Viraf Baliwalla is the founder of Automall Network, an auto buying consultancy that conducts market price research on vehicles for car buyers. He also teaches courses on car buying at Humber and Conestoga colleges.
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