Let’s face it: traditional car dealerships don’t have a great reputation in the public eye. But we wanted to see just how true that was, as well as what was fuelling the dislike in the first place. That’s why earlier this year, we asked market research firm Ipsos to conduct a survey about Canadian drivers’ experience with car dealerships. 

We won’t sugarcoat the results: Canadian car buyers aren’t satisfied, and for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of the survey’s key findings*:

  • 84% of car buyers wish that the process of shopping for or purchasing a car was easier 
  • Seven in ten (71)% agreed that they’d prefer not to negotiate with commission-based salespeople
  • Three quarters (76%) would prefer to spend less time visiting dealerships to find the right car
  • One in five (21%) of car buyers have previously felt taken advantage of

Notably, each of these four statistics covers a different aspect of the customer experience that stands to be improved: 1) the overall ease of the process, 2) haggling and negotiations, 3) time-consumption, and 4) trustworthiness. Let’s start with the last one first.

Trust, Transparency, and the Reluctant Sharing of Information

As mentioned above, roughly one in five car buyers (21%) feel that they have previously been taken advantage of by a car dealer or dealership. And it’s not hard to speculate why: there is a huge knowledge gap between the seller on the one hand, who knows a whole lot about cars, financing, and so on, and the buyer on the other hand, who doesn’t. That is perhaps why, according to the Ipsos survey, 19% of car buyers are worried that their inexperience with vehicles makes them a good target for commission-based salespeople to upsell to. 

But a knowledge gap alone doesn’t necessarily lead to untrustworthiness. By being as fair and upfront as possible about their cars, quality, and pricing — avoiding hidden, last-minute, or hard-to-decipher fees or upsells — car sellers can alleviate much of the anxiety that many of their customers may feel. 

Unfortunately, the Ipsos survey revealed that more than three quarters (76%) of car buyers believe there is a lack of transparency between sales reps and customers. It’s not just the knowledge gap, in other words: it’s the lack of an effort made to close it. 39% of those surveyed agree that salespeople have more information than they are providing, while 21% believe they are often upsold on features or financing that they’re unfamiliar with. 

The lack of trust, in other words, is fuelled by a lack of willingness to share valuable information. Among those who purchased a car at a dealership in the past 2 years, more than half (55%) cite a sense that they needed more information, as only 45% stated that they received all the information needed to make their decision with confidence.

The takeaway here is clear: customers want clearer and more information about their purchase. Specifically, nearly a third (30%) of those surveyed highlighted a desire for more transparency around the vehicle price and valuation, while 21% wished they had more vehicle history information before visiting the dealership. 15%, finally, indicated they would like a Carfax report, while 14% indicated they wanted better pictures and videos of the vehicle before visiting the dealership. 

Haggling with Experts Feels Less than Fair 

Haggling is not most people’s favourite activity at the best of times, so when you’re faced with a professional who knows more about the product than you do (and who is incentivized by a sales commission), people can really feel the squeeze. As mentioned at the outset, seven in ten (71%) of those surveyed agreed that they’d prefer not to negotiate with commission-based salespeople. It’s not hard to see why: the odds are stacked against them.

Whether because of their superior knowledge, haggling skills, or pressure tactics, the “home team” advantage of traditional car dealers is perhaps why nearly eight in ten (79%) of those surveyed indicated that they prefer to bring someone with them when visiting the dealership — a figure significantly higher among women (89% women vs. 69% men).

Brick and Mortar Equals Time and Hassle

Finally, there’s the simple matter of time. As mentioned above, 84% of those surveyed wished that the process of shopping for or purchasing a car was easier, while three quarters (76%) would prefer to spend less time visiting dealerships to find the right car. 

Perhaps it’s because of the slow and laborious process of buying a car in person that 61% of recent/future car purchasers indicated that they would consider purchasing a car online without seeing it in person first, but not without conditions. Four in ten (39%) of these potential online shoppers would want to be able to view the car’s ownership history, vehicle service history etc. or be reassured that they’d be able to return the vehicle if they were not entirely happy with it (38%). Similarly, over a third (36%) would want access to high-quality images of the interior, exterior, and existing vehicle flaws or to speak with a customer support person when choosing their vehicle so they can ask questions (30%). 

Dream Guests and Dream Cars

Finally, just for fun (because how often do you get to conduct a third-party survey?), we asked Canadian car buyers what car drive around in one famous movie car for a day, what would it be?” Canadian car buyers most commonly selected the 1969 Mustang from the John Wick films (29%), followed closely by James Bond's 1964 Aston Martin DB5 (27%), the Batmobile (15%), and Back to the Future’s Delorean (11%). 

When asked who they’d want to take a cross-country road trip with, Ryan Reynolds was the top choice selected by 28%, country music star Shania Twain was chosen by 15%, while singer Celine Dion is the passenger of choice for 8% of Canadian vehicle purchasers. My heart will go on.

A Better Car-Buying Experience Starts at Clutch

Clutch is Canada’s largest online used car retailer, delivering a seamless, hassle-free car-buying experience to drivers across the country. With Clutch, customers are able to shop hundreds of used cars online, get the right one delivered to their door, and enjoy peace of mind with our 10-Day Money-Back Guarantee. 

Plus, all our cars come with a free 90-Day Protection Plan and are put through our rigorous 210-point inspection and reconditioning process, ensuring they are ready for the road. We also offer competitive financing options and even facilitate sales and trade-ins — all without having to set foot in a dealership.

*Taken from a sample group of Canadians where 34% bought a car within the last 2 years, with a further 25% indicating they planned to buy a car within the next 2 years