Dealers Should Promote Ethical Practices to Upend Consumer Distrust

BY Courtney Huckabay
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Total Dealer Compliance, a car dealership compliance-​auditing firm, announced key findings from its latest auto dealership survey conducted online in July among 200 U.S. adults aged 18+. The survey explores the public’s perception of a car dealership’s adherence to a code of ethics. Total Dealer Compliance showcases consumer fatigue toward auto dealership sales practices and the industry’s reputation.

Upon examining the survey results, nearly 65% of consumers said they believe that U.S. car dealerships’ business practices are not ethical. While over 50% of consumers are more likely to shop at a dealership if their code of ethics were clearly displayed when shopping.

A code of ethics is designed to reinforce a dealers' personal commitment to quality service and high ethical standards,” said Max Zanan, President of TDC. “Our survey confirmed that the trust between the consumer and car dealer is truly broken. Ensuring a code of ethics is on display will be the first step in rebuilding the consumer’s trust, where compliance is of top priority.”

Posting that code of ethics in advertising could be just what the doctor ordered. And utilizing sources like Auto Trader to highlight a credo of service can only help. The latest AudienceSCAN survey found 6.7% of consumers used AutoTrader​.com to research or purchase a specific product in the past 6 months.

Car dealers have a lot of work to do when it comes to changing the public’s perception. While ethics and compliance go hand in hand, car dealers should execute regular audits, provide online courses to employees and conduct their business ethically,” said Zanan. “TDC’s survey further highlights the need for a strong compliance training program that will proactively mitigate risks while helping dealerships to build a positive reputation.”

A Gallup poll ranks car salespeople at the bottom of the list of most-​trusted professions, tied with telemarketers and members of Congress. Only lobbyists fared worse.

AutoTrader​.com Users are looking and listening for stellar car salespeople. According to AudienceSCAN research, 69.1% of them took action after hearing radio (over-​the-​air, online, mobile or tablet) spots. Let them hear about dealers at the TOP of the list!

Tanya Gazdik asked an analyst at Cox Automotive, which includes Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, what she thought of the Gallup poll.

We do lots of studies about what consumers want,” says senior analyst Michelle Krebs. “I don’t believe we have specifically asked about trustworthiness or ethics. But according to the most recent Autotrader Car Buyer of the Future study, consumers are not satisfied with the current car-​buying process. Of the 4,002 people we surveyed, only 17 said they like it just the way it is.”

They tell us they still want to buy their car at a dealership, but they want big changes in the way they make their purchase,” Krebs says. “They want more test-​drive time — including one without the salesperson — and that includes multiple models they are considering. They want to do more of the process online, especially applying for a car loan.”

Dealers should be promoting these very things in their advertising. Campaigns can emphasize online application offerings and solo test drives! Try these in newspaper advertising. According to AudienceSCAN survey results, 38.7% of AutoTrader​.com Users took action after seeing newspaper (print, online, mobile or tablet) ads in the past month.

Incidentally, consumers still want to negotiate price, according to Krebs.

They don’t trust flat-​price selling as they don’t trust that the flat price is the best price,” she says. “They feel they have to negotiate to get a fair price. What our data shows is consumers mostly want the system to change to be more efficient.”

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.