Women get in gear for the buying process

When I first started selling cars in the early 80’s – originally only as a gap year occupation – there was little or no training on offer to budding salesmen, you were given a desk in the showroom, expected to read the brochures and left to fend for yourself.

If a couple came in to buy a car we were told to ‘deal with the man as he is going to be the decision maker’. However, growing up with psychiatrists for parents, I was brought up to be a little more understanding about relationships and communication and thought that this was a load of old cobblers.

Even in those early days it was clear to me that women play a big role when it comes to buying cars, whether it be for themselves, their partner or the whole family.

With the advent of the internet, offering high quality information to consumers at the touch of a button the role of the car dealership has had to evolve. Women are as enthused to research and educate themselves to know just as much about vehicles on offer in the marketplace as their male counterparts, if not more!

In the US it is believed that 80 per cent of vehicle purchasing decisions are made by women. In the UK this figure is not quite so high but it is still a significant majority. Research carried out over the past two years has revealed that 60 per cent of women are either solely responsible, or have had a significant influence in their household’s car purchase, with most of them visiting showrooms.

If there isn’t a wife or a girlfriend, to for want of a better phrase, ‘obtain permission’ from, then often a man’s purchasing decision will be greatly influenced by the image he will portray to the fairer sex when driving around in the car! Either way I think it’s safe to say that women have the casting vote.

The one exception to this rule is where wealthy petrolheads come into the equation. These guys collect specialist cars without the slightest care whether their wife approves of the £400,000 Shelby Ultimate Aero they want to add to their stable. Remarkably, there are very few female petrolheads who do this.

Petrolheads they may not be, but today’s women are much more assertive than those of times gone by. Women are not put off by the fact that modern dealerships are still predominately a male zone – albeit the old male chauvinistic approach has reduced significantly. For those who thought that negotiating was a male trick, then think again, women are definitely not afraid of driving a hard bargain to bag themselves the best deals in showrooms – particularly when this comes to acquiring free upgrades!

So what goes through a woman’s head when it comes to buying a new car? Key factors that women consider are price, brand, style, appearance and colour. Some show sequential purchase loyalty, although this is more about the quality of service and convenience.

Interior space is a major consideration particularly for women with children who often have to take charge of the school runs. As the children flee the nest the space becomes less important, allowing more focus for style and comfort.

Waking up to the fact that men and women shop in a very different way, car manufacturers have gradually introduced new showroom designs to overhaul the male-dominated image which the car showroom has been labelled with. Modern car dealerships have become more like department stores, with informal seating areas, cafes, crèches and internet points.

Showroom staff are also less like the tethered Rottweiler salesmen of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Many are on salaries with small bonus elements up for grabs rather than the mainly commission based remuneration that was once the norm. All this generates a less intimidating atmosphere, allowing women to take control of their buying experience, sometimes even allowing them to enjoy it in the process.

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