I just bought a car off the internet.

Written by

Andrew Millar


May 14, 2007

I’ve been busy lately so The Bleat is feeling a little neglected.

It is not that Black Sheep is frantically busy, I’ve been buying a new car. And it is a laborious process requiring months of athletic training to deal with all of those ‘leaps of faith’ you are required to take. It is a process that can really test your reserves of trust to the full.

But this is not a ‘diary’ type blog where the entries are ramblings about what I had for breakfast and who I saw during the day and what I did tonight. The Bleat is about marketing trends and advertising creativity. And while I want to tell everyone about my new car, I feel my story illustrates dramatically how the whole buying process has changed and what a powerful role the internet now plays.

Let’s go back to last Saturday.

I had been looking to replace ‘Germany’s Finest’ with something a little newer than its 22 years. But I was in no hurry. I had time to consider wisely and choose well. But ‘Paradox of Choice’ (see previous Bleats) stepped in and I kept putting it off as too hard.

I dropped into the office and while waiting for the printer to warm up. I Youtubed ‘Top Gear’ and found a few 5 minute entries that were entertaining, cleaver and hilarious. Then fate stepped in and I found a road test of a car, the predecessor of which I had owned 25 years ago.

Clarkson raved about it.

““Best car I’ve driven this year.””, ““Not powered by anything so vulgar as petrol.”, “This car is so smooth you swear it runs on double cream.”” and so on.

Curiosity then drove me to where I compared asking prices, year, mileage and models and got a fair idea of the good and the ‘wishful thinking’. And lo and behold – a 12 month old car was for sale 4 kilometres from home.

We dropped over to see it that day to put Clarkson’s comments to the test. I loved it. My darling wife loved it. The price was right. We were very tempted. But I just wanted to see if there were others that thought the same way. What if there was a history of the engine falling out after 18 months and here I was parting with a considerable sum of money for something with 6 months to live?

So back to the internet and the user groups that inhabit there. Here, hundreds of owners share their passion, tears, ideas, gripes, loves, pet hates and friendships bound by a common cause. And there is heaps of it. Sure there are the ‘I drove out the showroom and the doors fell off and now the Dealer doesn’t want to know me’ types. And there are the ‘I wash it twice daily and have moved my bed into the boot so we can be together at night’ types. But if you trawl through these entries you start to get to the truth beyond the myths.

I was left with a ringing recommendation from a professional (albeit cynical) journalist whose reputation is worth more than his manhood and the cheers of owners as far as Slough, England and Medicine Hat, Canada, via Osaka.

So we traded paper with the owner and I have not stopped smiling ever since.

But, and here’s the contrast, while on my way to do the deed, I dropped into a new car dealership. I thought I’d play interested purchaser to pinch a brochure. And I was struck dumb by the experience.

Instead the sales shark was everything I hated about sales sharks blended into one.

“”What’s stopping you making a decision? Can’t you make it on your own?” “I could talk a deal but we’ll have to get it done before the Manager gets back….””

And he didn’t know his product. I knew more about it than he did. He quoted the wrong horsepower and wrong information about servicing. He even tried to sell me an automatic demo model, when my answer to the previous question was to state an unswerving dedication to manually changing gears.

And if I was genuine prey he would have lost me by telling me the back seats were of no use. “”No one can fit in there, they’re just for show.”” The truth is I can fit my whole family in the car – 6 foot son and all. I know, I checked with other owners on the internet.

And that’s the point.

The web is a powerful influencer on the purchase decision. We are going there in droves to gather, read and filter information to form an accurate picture of our options. And we are making decisions based on what we learn there. Advertising has little influence beyond selling passion for a brand.

The salesman, in my story, was useless to the whole situation. He was trying to close a deal, not guide me towards buying the car. He should have been trying to sell me his dealership. Why should I place my trust with them? How will they help if something does, god forbid, go wrong? I don’t need to trust the manufacturer or their product. He and his business are the weak link in the process. If I could buy on-line I would have, seeing no benefit in buying from him.

What is even more threatening from his point of view is the extra information posted by buyers on the internet. They are mapping sales people and dealer service quality around Australia in a guide of ‘who you should talk to and who not to’.

One dealer in Queensland has been made aware of threads in certain ‘club’ sites and they have attempted to change their ways.

So, when it comes time for me to service the ‘grey ghost’ I go back to the web and find out who does it best and how much they should be charging me.

The internet has put me in the driving seat.

Andrew Millar
Creative Director