Internet vs. Traditional Car Buying

Destiny Viator

Call, email or text the dealership of your choice, ask for the internet sales manager and describe what you’re looking for. If the car is in stock, you’ll have a quote within a few minutes at a price that is more competitive than you’d get by walking into the dealership. […]

  1. Call, email or text the dealership of your choice, ask for the internet sales manager and describe what you’re looking for. If the car is in stock, you’ll have a quote within a few minutes at a price that is more competitive than you’d get by walking into the dealership. At worst, you’ll have a reply email in an hour, but at least you can go about your business.
  2. Find the car you want on Edmunds and enter in your contact information where it’s indicated. You’ll receive discounted prices upfront, followed by a call from a salesperson.
  3. Find the car you want on a dealership website and enter your contact information. An internet salesperson will be in touch shortly after to send you the price quote.

A side note about the frequency of salesperson calls and emails you may receive if you shop via the internet: We know the calls and emails can get excessive at times. The salespeople are eager to make a sale and they want to follow up to gauge your interest. We don’t recommend giving them fake contact information, however. They may need to get a hold of you for valid reasons. Instead, consider creating a dedicated email address and a temporary phone number (something like Google Voice) for the duration of your car shopping. A temporary number can be easier to monitor and turn off once you’re done with the sale. Once you’ve bought the car and decide to get rid of the temporary number, make sure you give the dealer your actual contact information, in case it needs to reach you for things such as recall information or if there’s a problem with the paperwork.

How Much Can the Internet Save?

A few years ago, we were shopping for a subcompact car with an MSRP of $20,809. Here’s how our experiences differed when we tried both the traditional and internet sales processes to buy it:

After walking onto a car lot and test-driving a new car, we requested a written price quote. The salesman escorted us into a sales office, where he wrote our name, phone number and address on a “four-square” worksheet, which dealerships sometimes use to negotiate a car deal.

There’s no question that using the internet department to buy a car saves time and stress.

We repeated our request for a written price quote but didn’t get one. Soon the assistant sales manager appeared. After an opening sales pitch that extolled the virtues of the car, he said, “What if we could discount it by $500?”

After more discussion and a trip to see his manager, the assistant sales manager said he might be able to get a $999 discount if we bought the car that day. We decided to leave, even though he was increasingly insistent that we stay and work out a deal. Had we hung around to complete the purchase, it appeared that we might have been able to buy the car for $19,810.

The next morning, we phoned the internet manager at the same dealership and asked for a price on the car that we had test-driven the day before. “Let me look that up for you,” he said. A minute later, he was back. “Our price is $19,310.”

When we asked if there were additional fees, he said, “I can email you all the fees and your out-the-door cost if you like.” This pleasant three-minute phone call yielded a price that was $500 below the vague price quoted by the traditional sales department. In short, we saved about $1,500 off the original price with much less effort than our walk-in experience.

Traditional Shopping Advantages

While the internet approach clearly offers advantages to many consumers, some buyers are still more comfortable buying the traditional way: physically going to the car lot. Maybe you want the salesperson’s recommendations on selection of the right model and features, a face-to-face sales pitch and some hand-holding during the buying process. If the salesperson truly is an expert in the car’s features, this approach can be helpful. You just need to have done your homework to ensure the deal is a fair one. Just know that the route to a fair price might be a longer one.

One alternative to try is to ask for the internet sales manager when you arrive at the dealership.

The Bottom Line

It’s difficult to accurately quantify the savings you can get by using a car dealership’s internet department. But it’s safe to say the price will nearly always be lower than the price you’ll be quoted if you walk onto the car lot — assuming you can even get a definite price.

There’s no question that using the internet department saves time and stress. When you shop in person at a dealership, you run the risk of making costly, spur-of-the-moment decisions on financing or additional products. Working via the internet department minimizes that. It also is good if you don’t have an appetite for negotiating.

By using the internet as the front door to a car purchase, you make more informed decisions. There is time to consider all the possibilities in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the distracting lure of new-car smell.

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