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Women Are Deeply Involved in Car Buying, So How About Respect from Dealers?

New polling by NBC/Universal offers some interesting information about how women buy and use cars. Since similar polling by Gfk Roper in 2000 for Virginia Slims, women have gotten a lot more assertive about the cars in their life (taking them in for repairs, and negotiating with dealers on purchase price, for example).

Previous polling shows the strength of the female auto consumer. Women buy 60 percent of all new cars and 53 percent of used cars, and spend $300 billion annually keeping their cars repaired. and yet, a study of 200 Chicago car dealerships by economists Ian Ayres and Peter Siegelman shows that women usually get higher price quotes than men do.

According to the new poll, eight of 10 women say they are involved (solely or jointly) in car purchase decisions. A third say they make those decisions themselves. And almost all women (97 percent) say they dicker with dealers before the sale is made, up 11 points since the 2000 poll.

This is a key finding: 79 percent of women say they are more confident when it comes to negotiating with dealers (up 16 points since 2000), and 78 percent say they're more confident taking the car in for servicing (up 22 points since 2000). And 76 percent say they are being taken seriously when trying to make a deal (up a whopping 27 percent since 2000) or visiting the repair shop (77 percent, up 31 percent).

But this means that a quarter of women don't think they're being taken seriously at the dealership--a challenge for auto companies in a challenging environment where every sale counts. Some dealerships are even offering sensitivity training to their male salesmen.

According to Janet Gallent, vice president of consumer insights and innovative research at NBC/Universal, "Women are equally likely to participate in bargaining, equally likely to want to be involved in the process. What we see is an opportunity for auto marketers--not just talking to the guys, but talking to the women too. There's a missed opportunity when dealers don't hear what women want and what they need. Especially when women have more purchasing power and are more involved in decision-making."

An iBase Insights study concluded, "--[M]ale and female car buyers did not differ significantly on most metrics" when buying a car. And yet they are treated differently at many dealerships. Outsell's advice: "Create a gender-blind sales process at the dealership. Require dealership floor sales staff to undergo sensitivity training prior to meeting with customers and prospects."

Interestingly, Outsell's data doesn't show much male/female difference in ranking prime objections to the dealership experience. Both sexes said that "price negotiations/pressure tactics" was what they'd most like to change, with "dealing with salesperson/issues of honesty" second. Men care slightly more about "more disclosure around pricing and information."

In further NBC/Universal revelations, the polling shows that two in three women (66 percent) say they are the family chauffeur, and nearly half (46 percent) report being the family's prime breadwinner. Of the female breadwinners, 66 percent say the role is different from their experience growing up.

And nine of 10 women (the same percentage for men) say they want to be involved in all the stages of auto decision-making. More than three quarters say they want to be "very involved" in the process. recently sent Phil and Carmen into several Hyundai dealerships, and found blatantly separate and unequal treatment. At one stop, for instance, "Phil and Carmen went to this dealership approximately an hour apart from each other. While the salesman was not blatantly rude, he definitely ignored Carmen, lied about pricing information and tried to control their interaction. Phil, however, said that the salesman was highly respectful, obliging and courteous."

As three million auto sales have vanished annually in the U.S., dealerships are fighting for every customer. And, given that, what sense does it make to alienate half the car-buying public?

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