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Online auto shopping makes the processes easier for car buyers

Car salespersons no longer hover around the car lot waiting for customers. They now huddle around a computer to interact with car buyers. Photos by Jason Lewis


The days of heading down to the dealership and haggling with a salesperson are nearly over.  

Airport Marina Honda general sales manager John Harmond says that customers communicate with the dealership through email several times before they come down to the car lot.

By Blake Carter

Historically, a person’s first step in purchasing a vehicle was typically heading down to the local car dealership.  That step was necessary to obtain information about inventory, pricing, and the specs for a vehicle that the person was interested in buying.  But a lot of people prefer to do their car shopping in peace, which has always been difficult because of the nature of aggressive car salespersons.

“Customers don’t want to come to the dealer,” said John Harmond, the general sales manager at Airport Marina Honda.  “They rank it up there with going to the dentist.  But they have to get a car sooner or later.  They’d rather not go to a dealer, so they just get their information online.  It’s the wave of the future.  I started in this business over 30 years ago.  I started selling cars out on the lot.  People were coming in continuously.  Back then buyers used to shop at six or seven dealerships.  Now it’s 1.6 on average.  It’s come down.  The Internet has made that happen.”

Over the last decade or so, the first step in purchasing a car has become an Internet search.  People can find out a dealership’s pricing and inventory on the dealership’s website.  There are also websites such as Autotrader, CarGurus, and TrueCar where people can find the cars that they are looking for in their area.  Because people can now obtain information without going down to the local car lot, the dealerships have been forced to change their sales departments.

“The Internet departments are getting bigger and bigger,” Harmond said.  “Customers with the new iPhones, their laptops and their mobile devices, have instant information on what’s available at the dealerships.  They make a lot of the buying decisions based on what they see online versus coming into the dealership like they did many years ago.”

This new model of car buying has forced the dealerships to take their top salespersons off of the lot and put them behind a computer.

“Many years ago we’d take our worst salesman and put him in the Internet department,” Harmond said.  “You wouldn’t take one of your superstars off the floor and put him in an office.”

Most interaction between a salesperson and a customer now happens through several emails before a person decides to step foot on a car lot.  This is really convenient for the car buyer, and it kind of turns the tables on the salesperson, who is now at the consumers’ mercy.  

“People have questions (through email) about the cars, about the trades, about the financing, about leasing verse purchasing,” Harmond said.  “Sometimes the salesmen get frustrated.   They’re like, ‘My gosh, why doesn’t the guy come down here and buy a car?’  And I keep telling them, ‘They don’t want to come down here.  If they wanted to be here, they’d be here.  So until you give them all of the information they want, and until you can show them that you’re the person that will serve their needs, they’re not coming.’”

Customer service and patience are now more important than pressure sales for the dealerships.

“We’re pretty transparent and we give great information,” Harmond said.  “We don’t just say, ‘Come on down and we’ll figure it out when you get here.’  If you say that, they’re not coming.  And he who gives them the information and makes it comfortable and effortless for the customer in a timely manner is most likely going to get the car deal.”

There is so much information out there on the Internet that people are now looking at multiple dealerships at the same time, which can lead to great prices for the car buyer.

“We’re very aggressive with our pricing on the Internet in efforts of getting our customers to engage us online,” Harmond said.

Airport Marina Honda is located at 5850 Centinela Ave.  Contact them at (855) 473-3095, and visit their website at www.airportmarinahonda.com.