My plan is to send out a barrage of pricing requests to see how dealers respond. I’ve created an online identity, including a Gmail address. I even have a vision of the kind of customer I’m pretending to be: one who demands to know specifics. Not because he doesn’t trust salesmen, but because he appreciates details. Being the detailed researcher type, I’ll go to each LA-area Honda dealer’s website and request “more info” on a specific vehicle they have in stock, include an obviously fake phone number, and type in their message field:
“Hi – Can you give me your best lease payment with $1,000 total down, selling price, money factor, and residual value? I prefer email-only communication.”
Simple enough, right?
This being Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world and one of the largest retail automotive markets in the country, I felt I should receive the cream of the crop in responses. In a city where even the taco trucks are engaged in full competitive combat on Twitter, I should receive something quite special from dealers. And not only am I expecting the responses to be concise and thorough, I’m wondering if they’ll exceed my expectations. Maybe they’ll have links to the dealer’s social media identities, perhaps even customized video responses introducing the dealer, my salesman, and the Honda Civic I’m inquiring about. This could be the response that sets new benchmarks for the rest of the country.
I type and send my barrage of requests to 13 LA-area Honda dealers. To give them time to settle in, I take a walk around the dealership on this gray Los Angeles afternoon. Maybe later, I’ll check in on the new guy.
My phone clock now says it’s 3:55 PM. After nearly two hours, I’ve only received two responses (besides the normal auto responses) that address my needs for a lease quote. One of those comes from someone who doesn’t include his company affiliation. My report below includes late responses – I monitored my Gmail account until 6:30 and found:
Dealer 1 – Never Responded
Dealer 2 – Responded with an estimate quote on the wrong vehicle
Response 1: Auto response indicating they were the only recipient of a Presidents Award in Los Angeles five years ago
Response 2: The sales rep emailed, saying he won’t tell me the money factor or residual value unless I’m there in person. He said my “estimated lease number for a 2011 Civic LX is $220 a month with $1000 down.” The only problem is that their quote was for the wrong year. I requested a 2012. Additionally, I’m not looking for estimates.
Dealer 3 – Never Quoted
Response 1: Auto response indicating they were reviewing my response
Response 2: Auto response asking whether I wanted an automatic or manual transmission.
Dealer 4 – Quoted*
Response 1: Auto response that they’ll contact me and that they won the number one volume award the same year Dealer 2 won the Presidents Award.
Response 2: Another auto response asking me to respond with a good time to talk on the phone so they could better assist me.
Dealer 5 – Never Quoted, stating it’s not in stock
Response 1: Auto response saying they’re going to give me the attention I deserve
Response 2: An email saying they don’t have my car in stock
Dealer 6 – Wouldn’t quote unless I fill out a credit application.
Response 1: Auto response saying they’ll call me and I should look for this call.
Response 2: Email saying they can’t give me any lease information unless I complete a credit application on their website
Dealer 7 – Quoted
Response 1: Emailed me a lease payment, rate, and selling price. This dealer is also the ONLY dealer to include links to social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp reviews
Dealer 8 – Never Quoted
Response 1: An auto response that landed in my junk mail folder
Dealer 9 – Never Quoted
Response 1: Auto response asking if my email address is good
Response 2: Sent me a spam email about a huge weekend sale-a-thon that landed in my junk mail folder
Dealer 10 – Partial Quote
Response 1: Auto response saying they won the same Presidents Award as Dealer 2, but in 2009
Response 2: A price quote with just the selling price, but no lease quote
Dealer 11 – Never Quoted
Response 1: Auto response asking what model I’m interested in
Dealer 12 – Never Quoted
Response 1: Auto response saying they’re reviewing my request
Response 2: Response saying the vehicle is available and to call them
Dealer 13 – Partial Quote
Response 1: Auto response saying they’ll call or email me within two hours
Response 2: Sent me the selling price only. No lease payment or lease details
Someone sent me a lease breakdown on a lease, but it’s impossible to determine what company he works for. Even his email address doesn’t say a company. Just email@example.com. I’ve since googled his name, and he works at Dealer 4. I’ve also checked his calculations and can’t make sense of his email when I compare them. When I emailed back my unclear responders (dealers 2 & 4), the responses I received were still vague.
By now, you should notice a common thread amongst my Honda dealers. Their intention isn’t necessarily to quote you like our wonderful dealer 7 who actually read my comments, responded to them, and took it a step further with their social media links. They’d rather begin some sort of dialogue, with a heavy preference for phone communication, and give even a detailed researcher type (like my fake shopper) as little information as possible until he gets to the store. In our busy lives where we can book flights, find our favorite taco trucks, and even get a quote on life insurance, must someone work so hard to get a lease quote?
Now – I’d better get back to responding to my own leads.