Thursday

Influence: Going undercover to buy a car

I went to Carmax for my influence project; the dealership is located in Plano, TX on W. Plano Parkway.  I chose to go undercover at a car dealership because there is a “stigma” that car sales people are pushy; I saw an online ad for Carmax that stressed their “No hassle approach to car buying” so I decided to go see for myself.  When I chose to buy a car I wanted to buy something that seemed out of the ordinary for my needs.  I am a spouse, a mother, a full time student, and a part time employee so an ideal vehicle for me would be a SUV or a full or midsize car.  I chose to keep my identity the same but I changed my “ideal” vehicle to a 2 door sports car.  The target demographics for 2 door sports cars are male and either between the ages 18-25 or 49-65; Porsche company’s demographics are eighty percent male, with a household income above $200,000. I wasn’t going for a Porsche; but the goal was to determine if my needs and wants would be addressed or would the sales person just allow me to buy this car to make a commission. Vehicles at Carmax range from $10,000 to $50,000.  The company sale new and used vehicles but at the Plano location there is only used vehicles.  The sports cars on the Plano lot ranged from $35,000 to $50,000.  My ‘goal’ was to ‘spend’ $45,000.

     The first technique that was used was Liking; The Friendly Thief Influence. (Cialdini, 2007, p. 174-176) When I was introduced to my sales consultant Bob; he shook my hand and gave me a warm smile.
Bob: Hi Olivia, How are you?
Olivia: I’m fine, thank you.
Bob: Wow, you have beautiful eyes; your husband is a lucky man.
I started to smile; “we are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Although there are limits to our gullibility--especially when we can be sure that the flatterer is trying to manipulate us--we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false. The initial compliment was a great way to get the conversation started.” Pg 175 Throughout the sales pitch of Bob; he was constantly showering me with compliments and confirmation of what I said.  He wasn’t overwhelming with the compliments; it was just the right balance of compliments that allowed me to feel comfortable and open up to him.  When I told Bob about my goals for buying a 2 door sports car after telling him about my family he agreed with me in that choice with no hesitation. That took me off guard because I was expecting a conflict but Bob was ‘in sync’ with me.  He did not allow any conflict to arise during our interaction.
    The second technique that Bob used was Scarcity; The Rule of the Few. Influence. (Cialdini, 2007, p. 238) The 2 door sports car is, according to Bob, is hard to come by. Cialdini says the idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. Pg. 238
Olivia: Now that I’m sitting in this car I don’t think it’s right for me.
Bob: Olivia, you have a sports car personality; this car is right for you it fits you perfectly.
Olivia: Wow, you really think so?
Bob: Absolutely, plus 2 door sports cars are hard to come by and I would hate for you to miss out on the car of your dreams.  You can ride to campus in style.
Olivia: That would be cool, I do look really good in it.
Bob: Sure you do; How does if feel?
Olivia: It feels great from the driver’s seat but do you think it’s too small?
Bob: Olivia, this is what you said you wanted and I believe that you are a person that knows what she wants.
I couldn’t help but laugh, and when I did he told me that I have a beautiful smile!  Bob didn’t miss a beat; he was ready to respond no matter what I did or said.  He then said that he would go check the computer to see if there would be anymore 2 door sports cars available besides the one I test drove since I wasn’t ready to buy today.  He came back with his supervisor (authority figure) to tell me that if I wanted to buy a sports car from carmax I should buy it now because they don’t get many sports cars and they would hate for me to miss out on this great deal.  I was amazed at there coordination and ability to naturally come back to me with such empathy and concern about this sports car.  I then again said thanks but no thanks and walked out the door.
    I thought that Bob was really good at making me feel good about the 2 door sports car.  His persuasion tactics of liking and scarcity was used well and had good balance.  He wasn’t overpowering or pushy and he got straight to the point; he showed me what I asked to see without trying to change my mind.  It was different then what I was used to when buying a car.  Carmax does have a different approach to buying a car; they don’t negotiate on the price so it may seem like you are getting a good deal because no one would be able to out negotiate you.  They go by first come first serve based on the cars they get on their car lot.  
    I would suggest to Bob to incorporate the Commitment and Consistency technique; “the tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger request.”  Influence: (Cialdini, 2007, p. 72 He could have asked me to tell him what I needed in the car and assess my needs then write them down.  With the commitment on my part and the compliments and scarcity on his part it may have been harder for me or anyone to walk away from buying a car from him.  He also could have shown me a less desirable looking car before he showed me the sports car that looked good.  This contrast effect found in Influence: Cialdini, 2007, p. 11-12 is a good way to sell a car because it makes the real car the person wants to sell look more appealing.  With commitment and contrast working with his already likability and scarcity techniques he should be able to sell cars to everybody that walks into his office.

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