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Car Buyer Types

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On: Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 4:31PM | By: Peter C Sessler

Car Buyer Types

No one really likes to be classified, but the reality is that we all fit some sort of profile in one way or another. Just recently, the J.D. Power and Associates firm—the company that’s responsible for all those surveys of quality and other automotive issues—completed their Vehicle Shopping Process Study which analyzed how different retail programs have affected new car buyers. It's their first survey which tries to analyze how car buyers shop for their cars. The bottom line message for car makers is that what works in California may not work in New York.

The survey asked 8,300 new car buyers what, if anything, influenced their decision to visit a particular dealership. The results are listed as follows:

A comfortable, home-like environment 17.3%

One-price policy 14.8%

Quick-lube service 7.1%

Touch-screen computer info service 3.6%

Internet access to showroom 3.3%

None of these influenced visits 37.2%

So, if anything, it seems that car buyers prefer one-price policies in a homey sort of dealership (although, strangely enough, 7.1% are influenced by Quick-Lube Service—give me a break!). Still, it seems that even these programs don't really influence car buyers that much. The interesting thing about the study is that J.D. Powers was able to categorize car buyers into four groups. They are listed as follows:

ARMED UNFRIENDLIES (33%). This is the largest segment and they are basically an antagonistic sort of buyer. They are thorough, systematic and precise and gather a lot of information before they visit a dealership. They are also, as a group, the youngest and most educated. They like to shop at dealerships that have large inventories and tend to prefer Japanese cars.

RELATIONSHIP SEEKERS (25%) They enjoy the car buying process and are generally loyal to the car brand they've bought before and to the dealership as well. They rely heavily of dealership personnel for information. This is the type of customer the car makers love. This kind of buyer is attracted to high-line brands such as Porsche, Audi, Cadillac, Jaguar, and Land Rover.

LOW INVOLVED PRAGMATISTS (24%) These customers consider themselves private and reserved and look at the car as a convenience or an appliance more than anything else. They don't really care what kind of car they drive. They don't believe there is a perfect car for them out there and feel that car shopping is not using their time in the best possible manner. 45% of this group are women. They like convenience, so you'll see them more often at local dealerships than not and, generally, prefer domestic brands.

HIGHLY INVOLVED DEAL SEEKERS (18%). This group is the smallest of the four groups, but is typically 73% male. They tend to be younger than the average new car shopper and like to shop at many dealerships. They also do a lot of information gathering before shopping and consider themselves strong-willed and competitive. They like car shopping and are generally friendly towards dealership personnel. They prefer import brands.

Even though use of the Internet has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, interestingly, the source of information that is the most influential in the car buying process is still the salespeople themselves. Of course, there are other information sources such as ads, buyer's guides, magazines, friends, and so forth, but each type of buyer places more importance on one source over another. For example, the Armed Unfriendlies are influenced by the Internet while the Low-Involved Pragmatists say they aren't influenced, at least to any large degree, by the Internet.

From a regional standpoint, you'll find the most Armed Unfriendlies in the West (39%). They also comprise of large shares in the South (39%) and Northeast (36%). In the North Central area you'll find the Armed Unfriendlies still at the top (32%), but Relationship Seekers (25%) and Low-Involved Pragmatists (24%) are right behind them. The greatest percentage of Highly Involved Deal Seekers are also found in the West (24%) and the lowest in the Northeast (14%).

There are also some interesting gender differences that cropped up in the study. 76% of the women feel it is important to stay within a budget while only 66% of the men do. More women (82%) feel a test drive is important than men (74%). And 25% of the women dread shopping for cars because they dislike car dealers while only 19% of the men feel the same way.

The bottom line seems to be that car buyers are more interested in the basics—such as how the buying process is carried out and with what sort of pressure exerted on them. They, most of all, want to be treated fairly and without pressure. The new amenities that dealers are investing in, such as child care facilities, touch-screen computers, and the like, while nice, aren't bringing the customers through the door.


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