Welcome to the the Ivey HBA Retail Marketing Management blog. Retail marketing is an exciting, dynamic, important, and very visible aspect of the overall field of marketing. Throughout the year, students will be posting comments regarding contemporary retailing issues. Although this is intended to be used by Bus 4411 students, industry marketing professionals are also invited to join in if they like.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where are all the female friendly car dealerships?

As a soon to be recent grad, I am a woman in the market for a car. My requirements for a car mirror most men’s attitudes towards shopping for tableware: I want something that is affordable and comes in a pretty colour. Women are buying 54% of the cars sold in Canada and are a key influence on most car sales. Yet cars are primarily marketed towards men.[1] In light of today’s Acura case, I have proposed a few suggestions for car dealerships to make the experience aspect of their RVP one that is more female friendly:

1. Hire more female salespeople.

Women understand women. During a recent visit to a Honda dealership with my father, I noticed there were no female salespeople. That’s because women make up only 7 per cent of dealership workforce.[2] This is a huge disadvantage to dealers since 39% of women would rather deal with women in the car showroom. [3]Naturally, women understand what women are concerned about and are more attuned to female needs. For example, I am less concerned with horsepower but more concerned with good visibility, plenty of storage space and low operational costs. Female salespeople could highlight features and functionality that I care about. Further, women in general are more patient with customers. I’m about to make a big purchase I don’t want to be herded through the showroom like low-grade cattle. I want to be nurtured like Kobe beef, massaged into a purchase that I will feel very comfortable with.

2. Loosen up on the hard sell tactics.

We all know the stereotypical car salesman. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation I had with someone at Honda, after I had told them that I was waiting until I start work in July to buy a car:

Salesman: "If I make you a really good deal, would you buy the car today?"

Me:“What? If I don't buy it today, the deal won't be as good tomorrow?”

That's the kind of crap that offends people, especially women. When salesmen come on strong like this, it makes it seem as if they are trying to intimidate rather than educate, and women are particularly sensitive to this issue. I don’t want to feel pressured into making one of the biggest purchases of my life. I want to do research, make sure I’m getting the best deal, and talk to my friends! They’ll be able to tell me if the color is pretty! Salespeople should be patient and focus on building a relationship with female customers. Buying can be a lengthy process, so get my email address and send me information about upcoming deals. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for more commitment than that!

3. Sell to me! Not my boyfriend/dad/husband/brother!

I mean this third point literally. During this same recent visit to Honda, the salesman was talking to my father rather than talking to me, when I was the one who would be purchasing the car, which was made quite clear in the beginning. When the salesman instead chooses to target my male counterpart, they give me the impression that they don’t think I have the money or the brains to make the decision myself. If that’s the case, I’ll just bring my hard earned cash elsewhere. Salespeople need to understand that women are often the key decision maker. Try finding out her profession or her hobbies, then based on those insights, make tailored and relevant comments that will peak her interest. Even simple gestures like taking notes on a note pad from the conversation to pass on to the customer to bring home are very valuable for females.

All these recommendations stem from the fact that car dealerships are lacking in the experience aspect of the retail value proposition. I know this is a large generalization, and may not apply to the luxury brands market, but overall, the experience for women is far from spectacular. If a car dealership followed these simple recommendations, they would be flooded with women. Dealers don’t treat men who are looking for a Hummer the same as men who are looking for a Smart Car. So why treat women like men? Car dealers could effectively carve a profitable niche out of the market by simply treating women like valuable customers.

To all the car salesmen of the world: it’s time to cater to female demands. (No offence men).

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourview/2007/03/car_dealers_catering_to_women.html
[2] http://www.roadandtravel.com/newsworthy/newsandviews04/womenautostats.htm
[3] http://www.roadandtravel.com/newsworthy/newsandviews04/womenautostats.htm

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