Why do we hate car salesmen so much?
Pity those poor car salesmen. To many American consumers, they’re devils in not-so-flattering suits. Do a Google search on the term “car salesman,” and you’ll come across numerous references to “scum.”
Are car salesmen really the “scum of the Earth”? If you believe consumers, they are. Only 8 percent of Americans questioned in a recent Gallup poll rated the car-selling profession “very high” or “high” for honesty and ethical standards. That put them right ahead of members of Congress (10 percent).
Sure, car salesmen may have their flaws, but I’m not sure I’d rank them below members of Congress. Why? For one thing, car salesmen have no effect on my federal tax return. For another, car salesmen don’t engage in the kind of partisan bickering that’s so common in our nation’s capital.
Actually, I had a pretty pleasant experience when I bought a 2012 Honda Fit earlier this year at San Francisco Honda. How is that possible, you say?
First off, I came to the dealership prepared. Sure, I was a little nervous and on guard, but I’d done my homework online and knew what the going price was for a new Honda Fit. Plus, the car salesman didn’t hassle me; he was quite easygoing. When it came time to negotiate a price, we haggled a bit; I wound up getting a fair deal, and the car salesman and the dealership ended up with some money in their pockets. To top that off, the woman at the dealership who handled my car loan was wonderful.
I guess my opinion of the car-buying experience must be in the minority. Gallup says car salespeople have sat at the bottom of the professional ranking every year except 2011, when they tied members of Congress with an honesty rating of 7 percent. The perceived honesty of car salespeople never has climbed out of the single-digit range in the history of the list, Gallup says.
‘Scum’ or not ‘scum’?
In a January 2012 post, blogger Steve Lawrence explained why he thinks people despise car salesmen so much: Consumers hate the car-buying process.
“They have no doubt they are getting screwed. Customers feel they have no alternative,” Lawrence wrote. He said car dealerships wrongly assume that “everyone is happy as a pig in poop about buying a car.”
Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at automotive website Edmunds.com, holds a different view. Back in 2004, Reed went undercover as a car salesman for three months at two auto dealerships in Southern California.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sweeping generalizations like I once did, by declaring, ‘Car salesmen are scum!’ I knew a lot of salesmen whose skills I admired,” he wrote. “Besides that, it’s a tough life. The hours stink and you live or die by your ability to sell dreams and move cars.”
A new study from market research company J.D. Power and Associates doesn’t quite back up the broad-brush “scum” perception, either. On a 1,000-point scale, buyers of new cars gave a 664 score for dealership satisfaction, up 16 points from the 2011 study. A key finding of the study: 21 percent of consumers detect some or too much pressure from salespeople who ask questions to determine a customer’s needs, compared with 32 percent when salespeople don’t ask questions.
“These results indicate that customers prefer salespeople who invest the time up front to listen to them and ensure they select the right vehicle,” J.D. Power says in a news release. “Perceived pressure decreases when sales consultants establish a business relationship and understand customer needs.”
Hooray for nurses!
Whatever the case, it’s too bad that car salesmen can’t be more like nurses. In the Gallup poll, 85 percent of people had a “very high” or “high” opinion of nurses. Nurses have appeared at the top of all professions every year since they were first included in the Gallup list in 1999 (except when firefighters took the No. 1 spot in 2001).
Nurses deserve to be hailed. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, they save lives and heal wounds and take care of us when we’re ill. But at least the car salesman I dealt with didn’t stick me with a needle.
Here’s the complete Gallup list of professions and the percentage of “very high” or “high” marks (highest to lowest) that they got this year.
- Nurses – 85 percent.
- Pharmacists – 75 percent.
- Medical doctors – 70 percent.
- Engineers – 70 percent.
- Dentists – 62 percent.
- Police officers – 58 percent.
- College teachers – 53 percent.
- Clergy – 52 percent.
- Psychiatrists – 41 percent.
- Chiropractors – 38 percent.
- Bankers – 28 percent.
- Journalists – 24 percent.
- Business executives – 21 percent.
- State governors – 20 percent.
- Lawyers – 19 percent.
- Insurance salespeople – 15 percent.
- Senators – 14 percent.
- HMO managers – 12 percent.
- Stockbrokers – 11 percent.
- Advertising practitioners – 11 percent.
- Members of Congress – 10 percent.
- Car salespeople – 8 percent.