A study published on price gouging shows Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model protects its brand and offers a better customer experience.
The study, published by the research group Growth from Knowledge, shows that price gouging is not only damaging to dealerships but also to the brands that they represent. Hence, Tesla’s lack of dealers ensures that customers are protected from the poor experience of paying over MSRP.
Most startling from the report is that 80% of car buyers between May and June of this year paid at or above MSRP when they bought their new vehicle. Of those who spent above MSRP, 31% would not buy from the same dealer again, while 27% would no longer buy from the same manufacturer. Alternatively, customers who paid at MSRP had a far better experience; only 14% chose not to buy from the dealer again, and 10% decided not to buy from the manufacturer again.
Researchers found four statistically significant poor experiences that many customers faced. Of those who paid above MSRP, 34% paid fees that they had never heard of, 31% purchased a model that wasn’t their first choice, 30% compromised on features they wanted, and 30% bought from dealers who weren’t their first choice.
The consistent and high amount of poor customer service even bled into popular culture. Many sites now offer links to “markup trackers” that hope to document and highlight price gouging. On social media, many now use the nickname “stealership” to label dealers who have unjustly raised prices above MSRP.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, despite its advantages, the dealership model has a significant problem. Manufacturers have such little control over the buying experience of their customers that they can’t even control the price which their products are sold for. All the while, their brand is plastered over the entire experience, meaning that despite the brand not owning the dealership, customers (as this study has shown) link their experience with the brand of vehicle they buy.
It is important to recognize that dealers offer a critical service in being available for customer maintenance, recall work, and other support roles. For instance, when a car buyer buys a Ford vehicle, they now have easy access to a vast dealer network that will, no matter where they live, be able to fix their vehicle, do important safety recall work, and even be open to them if their vehicle breaks down away from home. Transversely, manufacturers that have begun to offer direct-to-consumer models must now build out their service network to complete all of the same services.
This situation could push manufacturers to blend the dealership model with direct-to-consumer, allowing their vast service networks to remain while overcoming issues with dealerships’ poor customer service. This change may also offer a unique opportunity for manufacturers to provide new buying models for the vehicles, such as subscriptions, that were previously impossible.
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