Poll: Car Dealers Good, but Not Necessarily the Best, at 'Sales Prevention'

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Mark Lilien, retail industry consultant and RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, rates New York City-area auto dealerships on the merits of their "sales prevention" skills, while an accompanying poll suggests that other segments of retailing are at least equally accomplished at turning away good customers.

"Most businesses have a key department or function that drives the rest of the organization," writes Mark Lilien, RetailWire BrainTrust panelist and consultant for the Retail Technology Group.

"For some retailers, the key department is merchandising, because the function sets the tone and positioning of the store to customers. In automotive retailing, I've recently come to believe, the key department is sales prevention."

Lilien turned the occasion of helping a friend shop for a new car into an anecdotal research project to identify potential Sales Prevention Award recipients. In due course, he scoped out dealers on the Internet, and then visited NYC-area Honda, Infiniti, Volkswagen and Acura showrooms. The Honda experience was typical:

"The dealer informed us none of the hybrids were on display and we'd have to go up to the garage in an elevator to test 'sit' in one. The retailer had a policy of 'no test drives for any car on the weekend' so hitting the road was out of the question.

"Seeing that, even though the car was licensed and sitting in front of the garage car elevator, it wasn't going anywhere, we tried another tactic. We asked for literature on the model. Not having any actual literature, the salesperson was only able to provide a photocopy of specs from his reference copy."

For its innovative test drive policy and other best practices in sales prevention, Lillien awarded the Honda dealer a Silver Star Sales Prevention rating.

A Instant Poll that accompanied the article and ensuing online discussion asked the professional retail audience, "Are new car dealers, on average, better or worse than companies in other areas of retailing when it comes to sales prevention practices?"

A majority of respondents saw other kinds of companies as being either on par (19 percent) or better (38 percent) at "sales prevention" than car dealers.

In follow-up comments submitted by RetailWire BrainTrust panelists and web site members, it was clear, however, that Lilien's observations rang true.

"Being responsive to the demands and expectations of a customer takes skills and commitment," wrote Tom Zatina, Founding Principal Zatina & Associates. "Sadly, too many sales associates seem to make it a priority to never let a customer disrupt their normal job routine, even if it means losing a sale."

Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation, commented, "This is without doubt the worst consumer experience in existence. You can buy a house faster than you can buy a car. First, you have cave man technology - form after form, repeating the same information five and six times - 'Can I have your Social Security number again please?' To auto retailers - move into the 20th century, we'll work on the 21st later."

And yet, as the poll indicated, retail experts see sales prevention being perfected in a broad variety of retail segments.

"Take the clothing retailer that lets you wander around for 20 minutes toting an armload of garments -- but won't let more than 6 of them in a fitting room at a time," wrote Lisa Everitt, Business Editor, Natural Foods Merchandiser. "Or the food retailer that staffs the so-called service deli counter with one overworked teenaged kid who really doesn't know how to work the slicer. Or the restaurant that keeps customers waiting and waiting and waiting to sit down and eat while unbussed tables are visible from the holding pen. Or anyplace that forces a shopper to wander the sales floor looking for somebody to take their money."

"As a middle-aged woman, I find myself becoming more and more invisible. I can walk around all kinds of stores picking up merchandise, checking price tags, reading shelf talkers, even taking notes -- all behaviors that should signal 'ready to buy' to a salesperson. Does anyone check up on me? Rarely. It's great in my job as a retail reporter, but sometimes I actually want to buy something."

See the full story on

"Perfecting the Art of Sales Prevention" ... plus the accompanying Instant Poll and commentary from the RetailWire BrainTrust panel:
(Free registration required)    

RetailWire editor-in-chief George Anderson has recently been featured on CBS Marketwatch radio and NPR. He is available for interviews and commentary:    

George Anderson 908-709-1690    


RetailWire is a unique online news analysis and discussion forum, which launched in February 2002. RetailWire goes beyond conventional headline news reporting. Each business morning, RetailWire editors pick news topics worthy of commentary by its "BrainTrust" panel of industry experts, and the general RetailWire membership. The results are virtual round tables of industry opinion and advice covering key dynamics and issues affecting the retailing industry.    

Membership to RetailWire is free to all qualified retail industry professionals. Over two-thirds of members are in top executive or senior management positions, representing a broad cross section of retail channels and the companies that supply them.    

RetailWire is supported by sponsorships from leading retail suppliers and service organizations. Sponsorship packages take the form of information-rich "Business TIPS." Current sponsors include Campbell Soup, ACNielsen, Unilever, Hershey's, Nestlé Purina, DemandTec, Interactive Edge and Concept Shopping.    

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