Updated: Dec 14, 2020
My decision to procure a new car was after one too many bad experiences with a used car I had purchased some 2 years prior. The car had a bad habit of not wanting to start for inexplicable reasons. When I decided I would buy a car, I had already established some purchasing rules and considered the importance of certain product attributes. I knew I would be looking at competing brands and needed some path or level of guidance to make sure that the decision I made included all the features of a car that were important to me.
As you can see in the table I designed,
I had developed some compensatory rules related to important product features included 4-doors, integrated Bluetooth, manual transmission, and all wheel drive (AWD). Other features like a sunroof and extreme safety felt less important to me. I knew they were mostly aesthetic add-ons that were going to significantly raise the price of my car. At the time of this decision, I was working a minimum wage job with the intention of going back to school the following year and had some money put aside but not much. I had no interest in putting a down payment and knew that I could not afford Tier 1 luxury brands like Lexus, BMW or Mercedes, or Tier 2 Japanese luxury brands like Genesis, Acura or Infinity (Wernle, 2015). Instead, my focus was on mass market East Asian brands and to avoid anything larger than a sedan, which was the result of a value-expressive attitude I had toward SUVs. To me they screamed “Soccer Mom” more than a sedan did, but I digress. My terrible experience with my used American-made Pontiac Pursuit (car) conditioned a brand aversion to American car brands and thus a non-compensatory rule was established: no American cars. Ultimately, due to my strict budget, I was forced to compare the features I wanted to the price. This is where things get interesting.
Throughout the shopping process, I only visited 3 alternatives. As I had very little knowledge of cars prior to this experience, what is known as low-involvement hierarchy of effects (Solomon, 2018), I did some preliminary research on brands that offered what I was looking for. I had already established a second non-compensatory rule that the cost of the vehicle per month would not exceed a quarter of what I was making per month. With these rules in mind, the options that I found were Subaru which offered the best AWD option, Honda which offered the best all-around option, though AWD did not exist in the sedan models I was looking at, and Hyundai which offered the best feature-to-price ratio.
As you can see in the second graphic despite Subaru being the best option for AWD sedans (McEachern, 2020), it unfortunately did not have any of the other features I was looking for, namely a modern radio option or any comfort options like heated seats or air conditioning. Though safety was a priority for Subaru, for what I could afford, very little else made it into the base model Impreza they offered.
Influence from reference groups in the form of product endorsements were initially what drew my attention to Honda, particularly their Civic. With expensive repairs plaguing me on my past vehicles, Honda’s established reliability and overall cost effectiveness in replacement parts was a strong draw (Gorzelany, 2019). Having driven my mother’s Honda Accord, I also appreciated the drive of the vehicle and felt that it was the best overall option. However, an experience I had in the dealership was ultimately what stopped me from purchasing the car. As a student, I hoped that the salesman would be sympathetic and open to negotiating part of the price with me or offer some accessories for the price. The car was a little over-budget but included nearly all my important features. However, the salesman’s excuse that Honda’s reputation preceded the value of the car and essentially telling me that if I did not buy the car, someone else would have an adverse effect on my perceived value of the car.
I ultimately purchased the Hyundai Elantra. While it did not have AWD, it did have all the amenities I was looking for in a car at the time for the right price. But most importantly, it was the sales experience that made me appreciate the purchase more. While Honda’s experience felt very clinical, Hyundai offered the best service. They were truly attentive to my needs and appeared to listen to my requests. I even managed to negotiate for added accessories and ultimately left as a satisfied customer. However, I always wondered why I chose the Hyundai over the Honda, which only ended up being slightly cheaper, with somewhat fewer amenities.
Of course, there is the aspect of limited problem solving with decision rules (Solomon, 2018). The rules I had established in the form of a checklist of important features I wanted in my vehicle motivated my decision greatly. With my budget being a driving factor in my purchase, it was a non-compensatory rule that guided my decision, ultimately. The weighted additive approach to the rest of the features was ultimately what made the decision for me not to select the Subaru. Behind the budget was the entertainment system. For the price I was willing to pay, I could not concede to a vehicle without a modern entertainment system, an elimination-by-aspects rule. The AWD was a much less important to me at the time, though I do regret it on particularly snowy days. However, this only explains my decision to eliminate the Subaru – what about the Honda, technically the better vehicle between it and the Hyundai?
Using a theory that argues that the personal investment in a product determines the consumer’s interest and changes their belief on the product, I could rationalize why I chose not to purchase the Honda (Solomon, 2018). My lack of knowledge about cars made me more susceptible to making judgments based on stimuli associated to, but outside of the car itself. My shopping experience was poor at Honda, the result of essentially being gatekept out of purchasing one of their cars. So, I chose not to buy the Honda.
As you can tell, purchasing a car is a complex and stressful process. If I could recommend anything when making a huge decision like this, it would be to do some research. There is nothing more overwhelming than walking into a dealership without any information. As many as 95% of people practice this and do online research prior to entering a dealership so you know it can be helpful (Google Analytics, 2016)! However, avoid over-researching. There is a level of research that helps engage and understand the information that is being shared when speaking with a salesman, but over-researching and setting your heart on a particular car may shut you out of suggestions you may not have considered (V12, 2020). A second suggestion for car shoppers is to establish some rules on what signifies an optimal car to you. Dealerships can be overwhelming, and car salesmen are just as eager to put you into a car as you are to get into one. Establishing some preferences and rules helps keep your mind focussed on the goal and sometimes realize what your priorities are in purchasing a car. These rules can encompass anything from your lifestyle and values in relation to the car, to important details like trim and accessories. Create a list of priorities and work from there; you may realize that what you initially wanted is not quite what you need after all.
25 Amazing Statistics on How Consumers Shop for Cars. (2020, June 12). Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://v12data.com/blog/25-amazing-statistics-on-how-consumers-shop-for-cars/
Gorzelany, J. (2019, November 17). These Are The Cheapest And Costliest Vehicles To Keep Running For A Decade. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2019/11/18/these-are-the-cheapest-and-costliest-vehicles-to-keep-running-for-a-decade/?sh=48a2a42671fd
Hyundai steers the customer journey to digital. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/consumer-trends/car-buying-research-data/
McEachern, S. (2020, June 12). Top AWD Sedans for Different Budgets. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://www.autotrader.ca/newsfeatures/20200612/top-awd-sedans-for-different-budgets/
Solomon, M., Main, K. J., White, K., & Dahl, D. W. (2020). Consumer behavior: Buying, having, and being. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://etext-ise.pearson.com/courses/6185795/products/2NE1ECMND0M/pages/a11a62485c267fa99f9f08e0aecad4d8289bc97d4-P7001016966000000000000000000023?locale=&key=28563251061347115878232020
Wernle, B. (2015, March 16). 'Tier 2' luxury brands struggle to compete with elite Germans, Lexus. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://www.autonews.com/article/20150316/RETAIL01/303169995/tier-2-luxury-brands-struggle-to-compete-with-elite-germans-lexus