Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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(Not Really) Selling Over The Web

From: Stephen - Middletown, Ct.

I am an Internet sales manager in the auto industry. While the Internet has helped both the buyer and seller in some ways, it has given the consumer the impression that you can buy any car online like they would buy a toaster. I deal with people everyday that want to know the lowest price on a car that I am selling but few are prepared to buy at the time they are asking the price question.

How would you suggest I should communicate my willingness to try to match or beat any price they get but only when they are ready to buy and willing to meet in person in order to sign a purchase agreement?

Response:  A high proportion of Internet sales are of items that are the same whether they are bought in person, by mail or telephone order, or through in-person visits to stores.  Internet sales of cars are a bit different.  The first question is whether it is actually possible to complete the purchase of an automobile on the Net.  Unless one can buy the car using a credit card or by the use of an electronic deduction from a bank account to pay the full price, the transaction is rather difficult.  That certainly must apply to virtually every car sale.

Thus, before providing price information over the Internet, a car salesperson has an must get information from potential customers: car specifications, trade-in, method of payment (cash, bank financing, dealer financing, etc.).

The other side is that purchasers need to get hands-on access to information as well: test drives, decisions about what bells & whistles they want to buy, speed of delivery, color, and other factors that may — or may not — be reflected in the price.

Perhaps your wisest move is to respond to ‘just give me the price’ questions by saying that the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) is a certain amount but that, depending on the car to be purchased, the financing arrangements, buyer’s eligibility for special promotions, and delivery issues, your dealership can offer an excellent deal.  Indicate that without real specifics, it is impossible to determine the final price — and that those specifics require input from the purchaser.  You could offer to email forms for them to complete to see where they fit as regards financing (including leasing) -- or you could say that if they come to the dealership, you can do all the paperwork based on information they give you in person.  

Purchasers may be willing to submit to an interview on the phone or on the Web — and you can say that, generally speaking, your dealership’s prices tend to be X% below MSRP or what other dealers in the local market tend to charge.  You can offer a range, underscoring that the price range is based on a whole bunch of factors that can’t be determined until the buyers have had a chance to ‘interact’ with the car and make final decisions on accessories, packages, etc.

Clearly it is in your interest to be familiar with competitors’ prices and pricing policies — and to know whether competitors will offer prices on the Net or the phone.  If every competitor gives prices electronically then you pretty much have to be prepared to do that.  It will take research to find out what the situation is in your market.

Good luck,

The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.   P O Box 172   Pride's Crossing, MA 01965, USA   
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