Driven to Work

I had to buy a new car yesterday. Interesting that I said “had to”, isn’t it? Pretty much sums up the state of the car buying experience these days. Despite all the potential for fun — lots of new shiny toys, all the options in the world to choose from, flashy ads from the car companies, the ecstasy of driving home in that new car smell — car retailers work furiously to take all the joy out of the process.

I used to have a nasty new car addiction, about half of the reason I kicked the habit was the pain of dealing with the dealers. I’m just over it, and I’m now driving a seven year old car with 100,000 miles on it. The car I bought yesterday was for someone else, or I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a dealership.

Why is this the only retail experience like this?

You see, when it comes to bargains, I’m not much of a hunter, I’m more of a gatherer. I’ll do all kinds of research so I know what a good price is, but if I have to fight for the price, it’s just not worth it. This makes me a lamb to slaughter in a car dealership. And they seem to sense it.

The whole experience is just rancid, and set up to make it absolutely horrible for the customer. It begs a lot of questions:

  • Why is it considered OK that ten different people would pay ten different prices for the exact same item, based solely on their skill at this silly game?
  • What happens to people who either don’t understand the game or can’t play it at all?
  • Why is it that you don’t even negotiate with the person directly, but send your representative (the salesperson, who is on the other team) into a mysterious back room to negotiate on your behalf?
  • Why is it that you have to threaten to leave before you have a deal?
  • Why is this the only retail experience like this? You don’t buy groceries, or appliances, or even a house this way.
  • How did the process get this way? Who came up with this process that is exactly the same in every dealership?
  • Why can’t anyone really change this terrible experience? Companies have tried (Saturn, Lexus) but it never sticks, and just rots into this same fetid mess.

But even these aren’t the questions that got me to thinking yesterday. I wonder about the people who have to live in this festering boil of a work environment, and what it does to them.

I wonder about the people who have to work in this festering boil.

As I was pacing waiting for yet another deal volley over the net to be returned, I was asked by another salesman if I was “having fun, yet”. I replied: “I’d rather be at the proctologist’s. I don’t know how you can do this for a living.” He said: “It’s my third day.”

What struck me was the way he said it. It was a combination of shame, humiliation, and resignation. Although I can’t say from experience, I would imagine you’d get the same answer from a new prostitute. I immediately thought, how sad.

Now that I think about it, I’ve never met a car salesperson who didn’t aspire to something else. Well, there are those who take a perverse glee in this sick game. But they aren’t common. Most just seem to be there until they get something better, or just something else that doesn’t involve french fry oil.

The whole car buying experience is so wrong.

The whole car buying experience, and the people in it, is so wrong. Even the latest innovation of getting multiple bids on-line is just a mask for the problem, as soon as you enter the dealer’s lair, you’re meat. How come some creative company can’t fix the whole thing?