Women Car Buyers Still Met With Dealer Disrespect

Last Updated Nov 9, 2009 12:25 PM EST

Women buy 60 percent of all new cars and 53 percent of used cars, and spend $300 billion on buying used cars and keeping them repaired. So is it really good business to treat them badly or with condescencion when they arrive at the dealerships? That's apparently still happens, because a quarter of female respondents in a recent CarMax poll said they were foiled in an attempt to have "a quick, effortless transaction."

It's a cliché--with some lingering truth in it--to say that macho car salesmen don't think women know much about cars, and carry that attitude into the transaction. Women apparently have a lingering sense that they're not being treated fairly. In the CarMax poll, 19 percent said they don't think they got a fair trade-in value; 15 percent said they didn't have a trustworthy salesperson (who could be male or female, obviously); 13 percent said fair pricing was missing; and the same number thought they didn't get a good finance rate.

"Women want a car-buying experience that is straightforward and fair," said Donna Wassel, regional vice president of CarMax. Don't we all?

The treatment gap is not illusory. A study of 200 Chicago car dealerships by economists Ian Ayres and Peter Siegelman found that women are consistently quoted higher prices than men. Edmunds.com sent both female and male shoppers into Los Angeles Hyundai dealerships and found unequal treatment at two out of three.

Sensitivity training appears to help. At LB Smith Ford in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (in business since 1940), the 12-person sales associate team has to take courses in "ethics, gender and customer demands." According to the dealership, "To ignore the women's market, or any potential customer, is business suicide." CEO Richard E. Jordan says his sponsorship of the regional Business Women's Forum allows him to spend a day with 1,000 potential female customers as "the consummate focus group."

This same goal of understanding the specific needs of customers also extends to other large consumer groups, including gay car buyers. Gaywheels.com, for instance, tracks which car brands are "gay friendly" (Honda and Acura were recently added) and offer domestic partner benefits to gay employees.

At CarMax itself, purchaser Corri Cottingham says sex discrimination is not an issue. "We do a great job of training sales associates," she said. "The no-haggle policy does not allow them to discriminate against women in pricing. When women buy a car, everything is laid out right there." Needless to say, haggling is very much part of the process at most car dealerships.

Bankrate.com offers a "bill of rights" for female car buyers, and among the most important provisions is coming in armed with data. Consumer's Union says women save money when they walk in with detailed information about the cars on the lot, and a firm sense of what they want to pay. "If they won't meet your price, threaten to hit the road," says Bankrate. "They'll give you the right of way if they want your business."

Here's some hard-earned video advice from FemaleFriendlyDealers.com: Other points for women car shoppers made by CarMax are:

· Research vehicles types, makes, models, options, features and prices online before you go to the dealership; · Carry the title and registration of your current car, your license and insurance card; · Bring a pre-approval for an auto loan if you have one; · Talk to friends and family to find a trustworthy dealership.

Other polling by CarMax found that many car-buying decisions by women are prompted by life events, with a new job cited by 37 percent, retirement by 23 percent, and pregnancy/having an additional child by 15 percent.
  • jim motavalli

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