Used car buying – The Internet has changed everything

As a fully paid up member of the motor trade I have been, for many years a virtual slave to the business. This is what happens when you enjoy the camaraderie of likeminded people and can share many experiences, good and bad, which may have befallen a car sales professional over the years.
In years gone by the main topics on a Friday night down at the pub nearest the dealership was how many cars we would sell that weekend, which one of us was likely to cop off with the weekend receptionist and whether or not we could we trick the sales manager into getting breakfast in the cafe in the morning.
You see Saturday was THE day in the business years ago; in fact it was so potentially profitable to a salesperson that managers would punish them by NOT letting them work on a Saturday and giving up their company demonstrator if they didn’t have at least 5 quality appointments for the weekend. Can you imagine? We were gutted to not be working on a weekend that’s how great it was in ‘the good old days’

In those days we had it all our own way, we had all the information and knowledge, if a customer wanted to know something about a car, its spec, its history or ownership, they had to ask us! I have witnessed salesmen arranging to meet a customer to try and sell a car and being a little worried that the customer may be sharp enough to want to haggle quite heavily and therefore would just go outside put £500 on the price hanger over the original price. He’d then wait until the customer came in and pretend to let them negotiate down to the original price making them think they gained a victory over the crafty salesman!

You really could do virtually what you wanted and as long as nobody got hurt then let’s get on with selling cars making money and tricking people. As long as you had a personality you could get a job, no qualifications needed just the “gift of the gab”, a desire to earn money and preferably a family to support and a mortgage to pay. Information was given out only if it helped move the sale along, advertising was mainly done in the motoring section of the local paper and pictures were not available or prohibitively expensive. We would rely on customers having to visit the showroom to find out about a car, if you were caught giving out too much information and not making an appointment you would be banished to the back desk and given the ‘Red Rover’ to drive home in, only you didn’t because it was actually the bus!

It was easy and fun and then the internet came along, with the promise of massive savings on advertising budgets beautiful, detailed pictures of cars and the ability to update stock listings immediately rather than waiting till next week’s advertisement schedule. It should have been the best thing, but it wasn’t, not for us because suddenly customers had what we had always dreaded them having, knowledge and with knowledge came power and with power customers could gain their revenge by sitting at their computers and comparing, making dealers fight each other for the business.

They could dispute claims of spec and engine capability because they now had that info at their fingertips, they would know if someone lied to them and slowly but surely they started to get their own back and years of mistrust and dread was turned on its head by the click of a mouse.

Today of course it is the norm. In fact if a car doesn’t have at least 3 images customers will not even look at it, and there will shortly be showreels and a closer look at the inside, the engine and the wheels, so dealers have had to educate staff into being the best at customer service and product knowledge and finding out what breed a customer’s cat is and what it might like for dinner. This is the new world of the franchised car dealer where enquiring about having a brochure sent could seem like being interrogated by the FBI and so many products being offered that the car becomes incidental to the unrelenting process of extracting information so the all powerful databases can be updated and analysed in order to inform you of this week’s sale!

For all this though it has to be better, the choice is unmatched, the colours more imaginative and the coffee of 8 different varieties but perhaps most importantly the deals are easier to come by and if you want to find out what car to search for (or more importantly what the rest of the country is looking for) its there for you to contrast and compare.

The biggest motoring website in the country Autotrader which has more than 75 million searches for cars per month, offers the following insight into what Britain chooses to look for most.

We’ve only listed the top 3 in each section and the List is split into sections graded by the trade to describe each group of cars, and covers 1 year up to October 2008.

Probably no real surprises but make up your own mind!

  Make & Model  
No. of searches
% of total
City Car
1 Ford Ka ford ka


2 Citroen C2 c2
3 VW Lupo lupo


1 Vauxhall Corsa corsa
2 Ford Fiesta fiesta
3 Renault Clio clio

Lower Medium

1 VW Golf golf
2 Ford Focus focus
3 Vauxhall Astra astra

Upper Medium

1 BMW 3 Series 3series
2 Audi A4 a4
3 Ford Mondeo mondeo
Small Sports
1 Audi TT tt
2 Toyota Celica celica


3 Mazda MX5 mx5


1 BMW 7 Series 7series
2 Mercedes S class sclass
3 Audi A8 a8


1 BMW X5 x5
2 Land Rover Range Rover rangerover
3 Land Rover Freelander freelander


1 Vauxhall Zafira zafira


2 Ford Galaxy galaxy
3 VW Sharan sharan

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