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Salesmen's roles have changed

Internet can’t remove the human touch

Staff writer

With a seemingly infinite amount of product information available online today, it should come as no surprise that consumers have become more informed buyers than they were before the Internet changed the way cars were sold.

The salesman’s role

“A lot more people know what they want,” said Lyle Ediger, general manager of Midway Motors in Hillsboro. “They come in the door looking for specifics — things like price range and fuel economy.”

Ediger said customer service hasn’t necessarily changed, but the sales approach has.

Where his salespeople used to relay the majority of car statistics and product knowledge in person when customers came in the door, now Midway Motors makes all that information available on their website.

“Our website includes payment information and trade-in value on vehicles,” Ediger said. “People can also check their credit confidentially.”

Essentially customers can take care of many of the preliminary steps to buying a car online before they set foot into the store.

“Of course the shoe still needs to fit,” Ediger said. “Many times buying a car is the second biggest purchase a person will make in their life.”

With buyers more informed, salespeople have to pay closer attention to what customers want rather than trying to sell them something they might not necessarily make sense for them to drive, he said.

Salesmen help customers weigh the choices among a specific type of vehicle like fuel efficient cars for commuters or more roomy SUVs and minivans for buyers with bigger families.

Apples to apples

Doug Wright of Wrights Auto Sales and Service estimated he does about 75 percent of his car sales online.

When he moved to Hillsboro from California 20 years ago, he was already hip to the sales advantages of the Internet.

“When I bought the dealership, the previous owners had an unopened computer still sitting on the floor because they didn’t want to learn the new system,” Wright said. “I post 100 percent of my inventory online.”

He primarily sells to out-of-town buyers. He said when people buy online they necessarily buy apples to apples because online most mediocre cars look similar to better cars.

“It’s easier to buy now,” he said. “Most online auctions give you 24 hours to inspect the car and make sure it meets what we call arbitration.”

Arbitration means the car’s actual condition matches its online description. For example, if a car has undisclosed damage, it does not meet arbitration.

Since his salesperson passed away about 9 years ago, Wright has become a “one-man-band” of car sales. Even if customers don’t buy a car from him, he likes giving them inspection tips.

“If the oil on the oil stick is burnt, it generally means the oil has not been changed, and if the VIN plate on a door panel is missing, it usually means the door has been replaced because the vehicle was in a wreck,” he said. “It helps show them what I have to offer compared to a competitor.”

The human factor

Terry Hagen, sales manager of Hillsboro Ford, said online car search engines changed the dynamics of how customers shop for cars. Because most do their homework they can pinpoint their desires.

“We don’t mind informed consumers,” Hagen said. “But you can find anything online to justify what you’re looking for.”

The plethora of online information can cause some customers to overvalue their trade-ins and mistrust a dealer’s opinion.

“A typical consumer mind set is that dealers are always asking too much and never giving enough on trade,” he said. “When consumers use trade-in guides to justify their trade-in value it gives them a way to grade their car. But people usually won’t grade their car average or below average.”

Hagen tries to educate consumers as to why he often grades car condition differently than they do.

“A lot of people’s eyes get big and they only see the retail value a car could be worth if it is in the best condition,” he said. “Some take meticulously good care of their cars but some are in pretty rough condition.”

When it comes to trade-in price, dealers also have to factor in investment needed to get a used car ready to sell. Basic maintenance items like oil, tires, and brakes typically incur cost to the dealer.

Hagen thinks the Internet can be a valuable but deceitful tool because it “levels and unlevels the playing field at the same time.”

Where it affords Hillsboro Ford more customer visibility it also gives competition the same advantage. He said that’s where the salesman fits in. He believes the Internet can never take away the human touch.

“In the last 20 years, the trust factor has been removed from everything and it changes the whole tone of life,” he said. “But you can’t remove the human factor. It doesn’t work. You have to really know the people to be able to trust who you’re doing business with.”

Last modified Oct. 15, 2014

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