A dealer lot as seen in 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
The car salesman once had to be a smooth-talking figure, persuading customers to buy bigger and better. But as more customers research cars online beforehand, the job has had to adapt along the way, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
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During the last 15 years, the Internet has revolutionized the car sales industry, forcing those working the showroom to become more "concierges than hand-shaking sales maestros," WSJ said.
Today's buyers come into the dealership armed with information found on sites like TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com, and dealers simply don't have the upper hand anymore.
"The whole process of buying a car has been flipped flop from what it used to be," said Alison Spitzer, vice president of Spitzer Auto Group in Elyria, Ohio. "Today, customers find the car first, then the dealership."
Saleswoman Mia Morris, who works at Nissan of Manhattan, calls her job more of a tutorial than a hard sell.
"Everything is visible. It is transparent for the customers," she said. "It is more like trying to help them find the right car and make a smart choice."
The average car buyer spends half as much time looking at cars offline compared with just two years ago. Shoppers research cars for more than 11 hours online and only three and a half hours offline, including trips to the dealership, according to research and marketing firm AutoTrader Group. Two years ago, the average buyer spent more than six hours looking at cars offline.
To cope with the shift, dealerships have eliminated commissioned pay, chosen to price new vehicles closer to their own costs and put more staff in front of computers. Those working in sales are rewarded not for talking customers into more expensive models, but for generating sales more quickly and at higher volumes.
The Spitzer Auto chain in Ohio implemented a no-haggle policy, instead sticking to the advertised price.
"The customers like it because they don't feel pressured," said Jeff Deisz, a 30-year-old salesman at Al Spitzer Ford in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "It doesn't make me seem as pushy, and I know what I'm going to make upfront."