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In today’s connected world consumer experience IS your brand. Your brand is defined, not by a marketing team or agency, but by how people experience it. Our study shows unequivocally what we think the industry has known instinctively for some time; women are disenfranchised by the automotive industry.
In this ground-breaking research project, we surveyed over 48,000 women to establish the "state of the nation" of the female experience of automotive.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?2
“I expect you’ll want to go home and consult your husband”. So said a car
dealer to a divorced, high net-worth businesswoman, about to spend £30,000
on a year-old, premium convertible. Part of a conversation between customer
and dealer, not in 1982 but in 2014.
Something has to change in the car industry. And change radically. From motor shows to showrooms, the female
customer experience is in the most part negative; indeed, the findings of this report claim that the industry is
fundamentally failing women, and that they feel disenfranchised by the automotive world.
For those of us who care about cars, who believe in the track record of manufacturers to evolve and adapt to
changing behaviours and demands, it is inconceivable that the answer is to sit back and do nothing.
At Goodwood, we are passionate about automotive innovation, working with manufacturers and motoring
enthusiasts since the inception of the Festival of Speed in 1993. The arrival of the Moving Motor Show in 2010
gave us a new, privileged opportunity to work alongside the public and industry together, engaging in discussions
around the consumer.
To complement the experiential journey, we have sought the best market intelligence and data-driven insight on a
significant scale; to help us all understand our audience better.
To that end, this year we have partnered with Good Rebels, whose automotive experience innovation lab, Different
Spin, conducts insights projects on the issues we know matter to you and your customers. We are pleased, therefore,
to present the latest Different Spin research project, focused entirely on female car buyers: what are they looking for,
how do they view the buying process? And what do they feel about the ownership experience?
Why are women such an important demographic? Why should manufacturers single them out as a group? And why
should the industry pay attention to this report?
In the UK, women are expected to own 60 per cent of all personal wealth by 2025. From the unparalleled
sample of 48,345 UK women surveyed by Different Spin, the deeper dive survey of 719 women and the panel
of 68 women, the results are staggering. This report gives you a comprehensive, unique insight into a crucial
demographic, but one finding is worth particular mention: 90 per cent of the women questioned would not visit a
car dealership without a male partner, male relation or male friend.
It’s time we all looked for a revolution in the female consumer experience of automotive. We hope this report will
whet your appetite, as it has ours at Goodwood, to look outside the familiar industry constraints for new solutions to
support your female customers.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 3
This project is a ‘state of the automotive nation’, understanding the total female experience of automotive. To
dig deeply into the subject, our methodology has borrowed from ‘design thinking’, a human-centred approach to
innovation that combines analytic and creative processes. Yes we analysed large volumes of data using statistically
significant samples. But we also used our intuition to engage with the women who participated in our research. We
recognised patterns and understood concepts that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional. We enabled our
participants to express themselves through techniques beyond the traditional survey.
Nobody wants to run an organisation on feeling, intuition, and inspiration alone, but an over-reliance on the
rational and the analytical is just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way.
We have spent 3 months running an ‘Experience Lab’, immersing ourselves in the reality of the end-consumer
experience, in this case four segments of women:
This has allowed us to clearly understand the need states of the female consumer when it comes to automotive and
get a robust view of where the sector is delighting and dismaying female consumers.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?4
Experience Lab methodology
During the 3-month Experience Lab we used a variety of techniques to
get under the skin of this topic in an unprecedented way. We integrated
quantitative analysis of data with in-depth qualitative analysis via open-
ended surveys, audience panels and interviews.
1. Automotive purchasing and behavioural data
Sample size: 48,345 UK women
2. Deep dive survey
Sample size: 719 UK women
3. Hark research panel
Sample size: 68 panel members
4. One-to-one interviews
Sample size: 12 in-depth interviews
We partnered with Mumsnet and Reevoo to reach their consumer panels of women to conduct the deep dive survey.
Survey participants spanned a cross-section of the UK, including region, age, family types and social-economic
All data sources include representation from, and can be segmented into, the following demographic groups:
• Empty Nesters
Female, aged 45-64 with children aged 21+
Female, aged 19-34
Female, aged 18-64 with children under 21
• Above average earning professionals (Professionals)
Female, employed, personal income of £32,001+
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 5
Experience Lab tasks
In order to get beyond the data, we asked our Experience Lab members to carry out a series of creative tasks
• Writing a love letter to an auto brand
• Writing hate mail to an auto brand
• Visualising their shortlisting process
• Uploading or creating a visualisation of the experience of dealerships
• Evaluating car advertising
More detailed information on methodology and data sources is found in the Appendix on page 92.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?6
experience is everything
In today’s connected world consumer experience is your brand. Your brand is
defined, not by a marketing team or agency, but by how people experience it.
Our study shows unequivocally what we think the industry has known instinctively for some time; women are
disenfranchised by the automotive industry.
The picture is a nuanced one. There are elements of the experience that delight and dismay the female consumer in
equal measure. We explore both sides in this report.
Parts of the consumer experience are so broken that they are tarnishing the entire female perception and experience
of the industry. Marketing, dealership and service experiences are disproportionately exasperating and are driving a
wedge between women and automotive as a whole:
• 90% of the female consumers surveyed would not visit a car dealership without a male partner, male family
member or male friend
• 56% said they felt patronised by car advertising
• 34% believe that no car brand understands women
Some of the stories shared by the members of our Experience Lab will make you chuckle, some will make you
wince and some will make you downright angry.
Did you know? In the UK alone, women are expected to own 60% of all personal wealth by 20251
. You already
know what an important demographic women are. There are great initiatives underway in some major automotive
players; the problem is that these iterations are not radically transforming the female consumer experience.
How is the automotive industry, ripe for disruption, going to tap into this potential? Will traditional OEMs develop
experiences that are capable of connecting powerfully with the female market without diminishing their value to
men? Or will it take a bold new entrant (from Silicon Valley or beyond?) to finally create a delightful experience for
every female car buyer?
It is time to stop iterating and start innovating. It is time for a consumer experience revolution in automotive.
Source: Centre for Economics and Business Research
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 7
Experience Lab methodology 4
Executive summary, experience is everything 6
Brand experience 13
Favourite car brands 14
What makes a favourite? 15
Least favourite car brands 16
What makes a least favourite? 17
Do car brands get women? 18
Mini and ‘gendering’ 19
Even women stereotype women 20
Does car advertising work? 20
Women don’t think car advertising is for them 21
What ads do women love? 22
What type of ads do women dislike? 23
TV ads are struggling to be memorable 25
Buying experience 26
New consumer journey model 27
Trigger points 29
Hardcore research 31
Price comparison 32
Test drive 33
Sources of information and advice 34
What are women looking for in a car? 35
Substance over styling 36
Size and space 37
A bit of character 38
Room for emotional connection 39
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?8
Dealership experience 40
The dealership in the car buying process 40
The role of the dealership 42
Importance of the test drive 43
Dealership for showrooming 43
A new kind of showroom experience 44
Dealership for negotiations 45
Dealership to build confidence 45
Are women ready for a full end-to-end online experience? 46
Case study: BMW Retail Online 46
What do women really feel about the dealership experience? 47
What do women hate about dealerships? 49
6 dealership commandments 49
1. Thou shalt not make wild assumptions 49
2. Thou shalt not make me feel like a small child 50
3. Thou shalt not direct all conversation to my husband 51
4. Thou shalt not look at my children with fear in thine eyes 51
5. Thou shalt not direct me straight to the family cars 52
6. Thou shalt listen to my needs 52
Going the extra mile really pays off 56
Ownership experience 59
Servicing and maintenance 59
Little things = big difference 61
From ownership to advocacy 61
The recipe for success 63
From advocacy to loyalty 64
Surpassing ownership expectations 65
Forming an emotional connection 65
How to earn a customers’ long-term loyalty 67
Customer experience for service-based companies 68
What women want 71
But what does being customer-centric really mean? 73
Experience Innovation 74
Creating a delightful consumer experience 76
Ripe for disruption 76
1. Complex experiences 76
2. Broken trust 76
3. Redundant intermediaries 76
Don’t understand, empathise 77
Do one thing 78
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 9
If you take nothing else from reading this report take these three points:
1. You no longer define your brand; your brand is defined by the people who experience it.
2. This process is always-on. The consumer journey is not a funnel. It is not even a circular journey from
awareness to consideration, to purchase, to advocacy. It is a messier process where brand experience is
affected at every moment, by every touchpoint.
3. Most of the time these touchpoints are not controlled by you.
That’s why the experience of 50% of your target market (women) matters so much. It influences their perceptions
and the perceptions of all consumers (men and women).
The reality is that women experience delight and dismay at their experience of automotive in equal measure.
But why do 90% of the women surveyed feel the need to take a male partner, male family member or male friend
with them to buy a car at a dealership?
Our conclusion is that the times of dismay are so exasperating that they overshadow the majority of the good
experiences. This leaves women feeling (in their own words):
Confused, uncomfortable, unpleasant, dreadful, horrific, tortuous, hideous, diabolical,
demeaning, patronising, ghastly, sickening
If we sum up the five strongest themes from this report for you to use to develop an experience transformation brief
for your marketing and sales teams, they would be:
1. Stop making assumptions
Despite the millions invested in research every year, the experiences of women who participated in our Experience
Lab show that a high proportion of consumer experience design in automotive is based on assumptions and not
critical thinking (if indeed consumer experience design is considered a strategic priority at all). We saw evidence of
marketing and sales experiences throughout our three-month Experience Lab that showed a real lack of empathy
and understanding of the female consumer. Above all else our Lab participants want automotive to stop making
assumptions and start to ‘get’ them as consumers.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?10
2. Stop patronising me
It is these assumptions that give rise to patronising marketing and sales activities. Time and again we heard Lab
members talk about being stereotyped or spoken to like a child. In one activity, we asked Lab members to visualise
their dealership experience. Here is a montage of their experiences:
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 11
3. Give me character, not cutsey
Women take enormous offense to the ‘gendering’ of vehicles or marketing campaigns. This is not because they
object to being targeted as a female demographic. Instead, it is because this gendering is based on assumptions that
lead to patronising stereotypes. Advertising campaigns in particular are viewed with exasperation.
Women want to have their brain engaged. This is evident in the meticulous research they carry out prior to creating
their shortlist. But they also want their hearts engaged. They talked about ‘clever’ auto brands, able to manage both,
winning their custom.
4. The little things make a big difference
Of all the positive experiences we charted during the Experience Lab one consistent theme came through. It is the
little, personal touches that make the biggest difference to this group. This is how auto brands can win.
5. The dealership is (making or) breaking your brand
90% or women take a man with them when visiting a dealership. What does this say about ‘brand automotive’ in
2016? Experience really is everything and 90% of women ‘experience’ automotive as alienating to the extent they
feel they need male backup when parting with their own hard-earned cash.
This report is split into four sections to represent the four distinct ‘experience states’ we observed women identified
when talking about their total consumer experience:
1. Brand experience
2. Buying experience
3. Dealership experience
4. Ownership experience
It is important to understand that these ‘experience states’ are not linear. Brand experience in particular is
happening and impacting female consumer decisions constantly.
For each of these four states, we have attributed a satisfaction score to help you understand, in a snapshot, the sum
total of the female experience.
I am the main decision-maker when it comes to our car. So why on earth is buying a car the
only time in our ten-year relationship when I shrink behind my husband rather than standing
side by side. Why has the auto industry got it so wrong when it comes to courting my not-so-
insignificant new car budget?”
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?12
Scores are based on our interpretation of the quantitative and qualitative analysis to provide a picture of overall
female satisfaction with automotive.
Now let’s find out about the delights and dismay of the female consumer before exploring what you can do to
transform the female consumer experience of your auto brand.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 13
If your brand is defined by the people who experience it and they give a satisfaction score of 4/10 (unsatisfactory),
you have a problem.
It is fair to say that the industry has moved on from a funnel model to describe the path to purchase. In recent
years, this has been replaced with various iterations of the McKinsey consumer journey model, certainly a better
interpretation of what actually happens and has driven incremental change in automotive over the last 5 years.
Car brands understand very stereotypical women. Not all women, no. They’re very generalised
in the way of it being ‘All girls like small cars, pink steering wheel’...”
However, our research shows that what is understood as the ‘awareness’ stage, often depicted as one step in the
linear consumer journey, is happening and impacting female consumer decisions constantly. The impression that
auto brands have on women is not something that gets forgotten once they are onto the ‘next step’ in the purchase
What do women think and feel about car brands and marketing?
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?14
Ford, Audi, Volkswagen and BMW stood out as the most loved car brands; brands that fit into the top 10 bestselling
car marques in the UK during the first quarter of 2015 according to the SMMT. The only brands finishing in the
top 10 list that didn’t fall within the SMMT’s top 10 were Land Rover (13th best selling brand in the UK) and Volvo
(21st best selling brand in the UK).
Whilst we did receive a handful of Aston Martins, Lotus and Bugattis, the favourites brand list is made up of mainly
mainstream makes, varying from economy to luxury, but all commonly seen on the road.
Of particular interest was the percentage of women who do not have a favourite car brand, 15% of women (higher
than expressed a preference for any brand) said they did not have or did not know their favourite. This suggests they
have yet to form any strong affinity with any manufacturer.
funnel/cycle. Even the smallest details: a bad servicing experience, a dislike of a certain model’s drivers, a crass ad,
can stay fixed in the memory for years.
In this section we explore women’s reactions to brand and model marketing activity, and the effect this has on brand
Favourite car brands
We asked women to tell us their favourite car brand and why. An even split of standard and premium car brands
were cited as most favoured brands, and these broadly matched the best-selling car brands in the UK.
0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% 14% 16%
Top ten favourite car brands
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 15
What makes a favourite?
We asked women why they chose a particular brand as their favourite. In an open question (not guided by pre-
selected options) we received a range of responses but by far the number one answer was reliability. Over one third
(39%) of women gave reliability as the reason for choosing their favourite brand.
A reason for the overlap between the favourite brands list and the SMMT’s best-selling cars list is that women select
their favourite brands based on personal experience. Selecting a brand for its reliability is almost always based on
prior ownership rather than aspiration. Women are practical and realistic when it comes to their perception of car
brands, and when it comes to behaviours like researching cars to buy (see Buying Experience).
The top five reasons given for favouring brands were:
1. Reliability (39%)
e.g. reliable, safe, well built, solid
2. Stylish (18%)
e.g. styling, attractive design, sleek
3. Brand image (12%)
e.g. classy, prestige, heritage, cool, fun, innovative, reputation
e.g. comfortable, practical, good size, space
5. Performance (8%)
e.g. good to drive, fun, powerful, fast
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45%
Value for money
Top reasons given for favourite brand
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?16
Least favourite car brands
Ford and BMW appear in both the top 10 most loved and most hated car brands for women. However, the least
favourite car brand list is more divided in terms of UK bestsellers. From our least favourite list, BMW, Ford, Peugeot
and Vauxhall are all UK top 10 bestsellers, but Fiat (16th), Renault (14th), Skoda (15th), Smart (30th) and Daewoo
(outside top 30) are all outside of the top ten. Fiat is disproportionately mentioned negatively against its sales figures.
Most automotive brands had some detractors, even the likes of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and MG. Only Aston
Martin, Jaguar, Lexus and Tesla escaped unscathed.
When we dug deeper to understand why BMW was named the least favourite car brand, it became clear that it was
the BMW owners and drivers rather than the brand itself that gave women a bad impression. Here’s what some of
the detractors had to say about their reasons for choosing BMW as their least favourite:
BMW drivers tend to drive aggressively so associate that with the brand (sweeping
BMWs are often driven by posers who aren’t very good at actual driving. This puts me off the
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45%
Ten LEAST favourite car brands
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 17
As we saw with women’s favourite car brands, ‘don’t know’ was the most common choice; 35% of women failed
to name a lease favourite brand. Women are more likely to have a favourite brand than a least favourite, with 85%
women selecting a favourite vs. 65% who named a least favourite.
What makes a least favourite?
The number one reason for a least favourite is poor quality. Women talk about ‘cheap and nasty’ brands they would
never consider. We have classified such comments separately to reliability (or in this case unreliability) as although
quality and reliability are linked, reliability relates directly to mechanical failures and repairs.
Styling and image are the second and third most common reasons for women disliking brands, and these reasons
are attributed to all manner of automotive brands. When women talk about the ‘wrong brand image’ it is in relation
to themselves, so brands they deem ‘too flashy’ or brands that have a reputation for a type of driver (BMW!) that
doesn’t match their personality are penalised. Brands being too mass market, too male orientated or too ‘mumsy’
are also reasons for being women’s least favourite.
Top reasons given for disliking brands:
1. Poor quality (21%)
e.g. poor quality, cheap, nasty, basic, flimsy, unsafe
2. Styling (17%)
e.g. poor styling, image, looks ugly, frumpy, boring
3. Wrong brand image (14%)
e.g. wrong image, too male-oriented, too mass market, boring, horrible drivers
4. Unreliable (12%)
e.g. unreliable, problematic, “nothing but trouble”
5. Impractical (6%)
e.g. too big, not enough leg room, not enough space
BMW drivers have a stigma, rightly or wrongly, of being selfish drivers.
Because most of the idiots on the road seem to drive BMW’s.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?18
Do car brands get women?
We asked women which car brands they thought understood women. A lot of respondents struggled with this
question, and over a third of women (34%) could not name one brand they thought really understood female
Of those that did suggest an automotive brand, Mini was the top selection at 22%, followed by Volkswagen (19%)
and Ford (17%).
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25%
Wrong brand image
Don’t trust brand
Boring to drive
Poor value for money
Top reasons given for LEAST favourite brand
Which brands understand women?
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 19
The women in our Experience Lab talked about the perception of car brands understanding women and said that
when brands do appear to directly target them it is often only as a mother, with family cars, playing heavily on the
safety message. They suggested those brands that seem to understand women actually only understand families.
It is interesting that women perceive Mini to be the top brand that understands the female consumer, but it only
finished as 11th most favourite car brand.
Mini and ‘gendering’
Although Mini was the top brand cited as appearing to understand the female mindset, one of our Experience Lab
members took to the hate mail task to speak out against the ‘gendering’ of its models:
Car brands understand very stereotypical women. Not all women, no. I don’t think so. They’re
very generalised in the way of it being ‘All girls like small cars, pink steering wheel...’ Yeah I
think it’s very generalised.
I’m not sure that they take women into account as much as men. I mean you never find any
women in car dealerships, do you?
Because all of you at the head of BMW are sirs, right? One lady on your board of
management. And of course, she works in HR.
Your marketing of the Mini Cooper, in which I learned to drive, has been very
clever. The pretty little cars have captured the minds of all of us Barbie-
But it’s not that I’m writing to talk about. It’s the interesting way in which you
are trying to masculinise your offering with the Mini Cooper Clubman, Countryman
and Paceman, including subsequent models.
34% of women don’t think ANY automotive brands
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?20
Even women stereotype women
When thinking about themselves personally, their opinions and their preferences, women put forward one picture.
But when asked what they think about women in general, they may also revert to stereotypes. Throughout our
interviews, when asked about brands targeting women as a whole, we found many participants talking about women
as bad drivers, liking small cars, and being focused on colours. Even though they do not put these elements as
important for themselves when they are buying a car.
Including ‘man’ in the car model name is ingenious, first of all. How many seconds did
it take you to come up with that one?
And the chunky wheels, exhaust and ‘beefed up’ exterior will ensure no man is seen
embarrassing themselves by driving a feminine little Mini Cooper.
My question is, why generalise? Why have ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ cars? I can easily
drive a Clubman. So surely, it would make sense to target me, too?
It was only when an ex-boyfriend brought the subject up did this even enter my mind.
“I want a new car, but Mini Coopers are so girly,” he said. Like it was some kind of
insult to his masculinity to even suggest it.
We spotted a Clubman parked up one day, and he very nearly changed his mind.
But I started thinking, why do cars need a gender? And should they?
And why is femininity perceived as a bad thing for a car?
Well I’ve found my answer while searching for your board of management: Male, stale
Next time, I’d suggest redesigning the mini logo in a phallic style, just to be
really, really sure men know Mini Coopers are for them, too.
Does car advertising work?
When analysing the reasons for loving and hating brands, and reviewing conversations sparked in our Experience
Lab by seeing car ads (print and video), it was clear that great advertising won’t make women love car brands, but
WILL make them hate them.
Ford are good at targeting women, they do lots of little cars. Nissan. Because not all women
like little cars but I’m a stereotypical woman of, can’t do parallel parking. I just don’t know how
it works. I can, it just takes me about 10 minutes. So Nissan, Ford and Renault. They all do little
dinky parkable cars.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 21
Dear Renault, many years ago you advertised the Megane in a hugely sexist manner. I decided
at the time not only to not buy a Megane but never in fact to buy any Renault. All these years
later nothing has changed.
Women don’t think car advertising is for them
Women do not identify with the majority of automotive advertising and marketing, so whilst they are aware of the
car ads they see, they don’t feel it is aimed at them.
I think quite a lot of car advertising is quite cheesy so I tend to think ‘Oh god’ and then switch
over. But I think they’re trying to appeal to families, that sort of demographic.
Our survey showed us that 56% of women feel patronised by car advertising, a theme that was supported in the
Experience Lab. The idea that women are only interested in “girly” cars or family cars comes through in a lot of
the ads that women take offence to.
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
What do you think about car advertising?
Yes NoDon’t Know
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?22
What ads do women love?
We showed a variety of car ads to the women in our Experience Lab. Responses were very mixed, with some
women loving some ads that others were offended by.
Below are the top three characteristics cited by UK women commenting on the print ads that they liked from our
selection. All adverts posted as stimulus (by Different Spin and participants) can be found in the Appendix.
Playful ads that stand out or made our Lab members think were appreciated. Bright colours was one aspect that
stood out, but ads that gave the cars some character or put them in an interesting context worked well. Mini
October or the VW Beetle Cabriolet ads are good examples.
Love this advert. Minimalist, fun, clever - and not your average, generic car ad. Thumbs up!
69% of women think that car advertising often makes false assumptions about the role of the woman and the shape
of a modern family. This, along with a feeling of being patronised has led to women becoming disenfranchised with
car advertising and marketing.
56% of women feel patronised by car advertising
69% of women think car advertising makes false
assumptions about families
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 23
Like this - but I am a sucker for anything Scandi and have owned a number of Volvos over the
years. It seems to be treating its targets as grown ups, professionals, and I like the fact that
it’s not really gender specific. Think this ad would appeal to both sexes.
Our Lab members made a point to mention when they deemed ads to be non-gendered. This was always seen in a
positive light. However, ads that they thought were too gendered (either masculine or feminine) were disliked.
Reaction to most of the ads was subjectively varied (with some exceptions – see below), to account for different
design tastes. Some negative reactions were based purely on colour or copy. However, the positioning of the ads and
the meaning behind them drew deeper debate and saw stronger trends of agreement.
What type of ads do women dislike?
1.Overly gendered – for males
Our Lab members discussed some ads that were obviously aimed at a male audience, including the 2008 BMW
print ad (‘You know you’re not the first’) that was eventually withdrawn after negative public reaction. The
reaction in these cases was predictably strong, with many women calling out sexism and arrogance. Where female
models were featured in place of the car Lab members struggled to see the relevance for a car ad.
Eww eww eww and eww! A) where’s the car and B) where’s the freaking car! This is perverted
Personally, I think this is the best ad. It’s visually pleasing - nice and simple with a very clear
2. Authentic/straightforward/simple design
Lab members appreciated ads that did not appear to fool them with jargon or small print. Whilst they want to be
treated as adults and served the information they need, they do not want to hear over inflated claims in slogans or
see half a page of small print. Skoda Fabia or Citroen Cactus are good examples.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?24
2. Overly gendered – for females
The Lab was equally offended by ads that appeared to “try too hard to appear feminine”. Ads like the Fiat500
‘Life’s too short to wear a boring car’ or ‘Catwalk technology’ that both feature strong fashion and beauty
messaging and imagery alienated women who didn’t approve of the shallow connotations. Like using pink as
shorthand to label an ad as feminine (see below), car ads with fashion and beauty themes are also seen as lazy,
patronising and even offensive.
Why does a woman want to match her clothing to her car?! It doesn’t make me want to buy
the car any more - in fact, it makes me think that Fiat thinks women are idiots and if it looks
pretty then obviously I must have it! Wrong.
3. Too complicated
Aside from gender politics, the other type of ads women disliked were those that included a lot of information,
jargon, copy or scenarios that seemed too visually confusing.
I dislike this one because of how gendered it is. It feels like its talking down to women a little
like “Oh here look at this pretty car, it links to fashion, you ladies like fashion right?” To
me it’s the other end of the scale from car adverts that cater specifically to men through
sexualisation of women’s bodies. This one isn’t as harmful in that respect though, but its
overtones and assumptions are very sexist and undermine women.
The pink debate
It’s not that British women hate the colour pink, it’s that they see it as shorthand for “I’m trying to appeal to women
here”. A lazy option when there are so many colours that appeal to women. Naturally there were women in our
study who were attracted to ads featuring pink as they like the colour and it stands out to them.
This advert appeals to me because it looks fresh, modern and feminine (anything pink will
catch my eye!).
The issue is not with using pink in ads geared towards women – it is in always using pink to say ‘here’s one for the
girls’. After seeing multiple ads using this approach to label themselves as feminine, women see it as unoriginal,
trying too hard to appear ‘girly’ and often failing – the equivalent of a teenager’s parents trying to connect with
them by saying ‘on fleek’ and ‘bae’.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 25
TV ads are struggling to be memorable
77% of women said that they struggled to remember car ads as they either all seemed the same or that they were
just unmemorable. When trying to recall the last adverts they had seen some women could only bring to mind the
old Renault Clio (Nicole and Papa) TV ads.
Perhaps we are seeing this lack of recall because women do not think automotive advertising is addressing their
needs or really speaking to them. Perhaps they zone out if they think the ads aren’t for them?
I think car advertising on TV is a load of bollocks. Say if you watch it on the TV, they make the
car look amazing. They make the car look either a lot bigger than it is, if it’s a manly car, or a
lot smaller, if it’s a feminine car.
There are so many different types of woman and so many shades in the colour spectrum to
choose from - must we always resort the same one...
I did see an advert recently for a pink car and it was targeting women. It had a woman on the
poster and the car was pink but I don’t remember what the brand was. Probably because I just
scoffed and then was like ‘meh’.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?26
How do women approach car buying research and evaluation?
In-market female car buyers are meticulous in compiling their long-list and shortlist following a remarkably uniform
process to reach a decision. They find the process of devising a long-list and then refining it to a shortlist (usually of
1 or 2 models) hugely empowering, using expert opinions, ratings and reviews by other customers, and the brand’s
own product information (in that order) to narrow down their shortlist.
Crucially most women have made their decision before setting foot in a dealership but value the test drive
experience to validate that decision. A bad test drive or dealership experience can and does turn women off buying
a brand, not just this time, but for life.
I am ashamed to say I hand over to my husband to contact dealers and test drive. I absolutely
HATE going to dealerships myself. If I could buy a car at the touch of a button online, I would.
This is the part of the automotive experience women are most satisfied with and feel most in control of.
Is this because automotive has invested huge amounts in recent years on the brand touchpoints experienced by in-
market car buyers?
Or because the in-market touchpoints are not with manufacturers or dealers, but with the people who have
experience of the brand or model, ‘people like me’?
Our research suggests a bit of both.
860,000 women in the UK are in the market to buy a
car right now2
Source: Global Web Index. Women planning to purchase a car in next 6 months. Q3, 2015
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 27
Females play a crucial role in decision-making
In 2014 Frost and Sullivan rocked the car world with news that every woman already knew, 80% of automotive
buying decisions are influenced by women. The results of our Experience Lab support this assertion. Women are
broadly the ones who plan, research and make the decision. Pulling husbands, partners or male friends in at the
final hurdle; the dreaded visit to the dealer. No wonder, for so long the industry assumption was (and clearly in many
cases still is) that men hold the purse strings.
In particular, our survey of the Mumsnet community found that 93% of women buying a family car with their
husband/partner are involved in the car research and planning process. Of those involved, a further 82% of women
are equally or mainly responsible for research, planning and decision-making. Only 7% of women are not involved
in this process at all. By family car, we mean the car most often used when the whole family travel together.
My partner is
planning and the
Who is responsible for research/decision?
New consumer journey model
Our respondents were very clear on the approach they take (or would take next time they’re in market) to research
the best car for them. Many follow a very similar pattern of a) establishing their priorities b) online research c)
advice on shortlist from family and friends d) test driving their final selection/s at a dealership. On-road observation
is also important for evaluating design and styling, and usually happens naturally as in-market consumers become
more aware of the cars around them.
Online research plays an increasingly important role, as women arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible
before they face the dealership or seller.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?28
Always go to Google first. That’s my first instinct to finding more about anything - any movie
trivia question and I’m on IMDB in no time, any ingredient I don’t recognise in a recipe I’ll find
in a search, so when I don’t know about a product (be it a phone or car) online is the first
place I start my knowledge gaining.
Many respondents could not pin down one ‘main’ source of information, citing multiple sources as equally
important, including their own personal experience from prior ownership/brand loyalty. Whilst the dealership is still
very important for the main purpose of test drive access, it is not the obvious main choice of information provision
it used to be.
Based on our qualitative analysis, we have mapped out the process that is undertaken by women once they have
decided to start looking for a new car.
map out requirements and budget
starting point to guide the search
3. HARDCORE RESEARCH:
deep online research to create a shortlist
4. PRICE COMPARISON:
understanding different price points and financing options available
final check to make sure shortlist is sound
6. TEST DRIVE:
head to the dealership once I’ve decided the 1-3 cars I want to buy
either negotiate with the dealer, or go online to find the best deal
Each of these stages will be explained in more detail in this section.
But first, what are the trigger points? What happens to lead women to decide it’s time to start looking for a new car?
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 29
When women talk about the triggers that might cause them to start looking for a new car, the top reasons involve
maintenance, servicing and unreliability issues. More women felt that issues with their car itself would be the main
reason for replacing, rather than changes in personal circumstance for example.
Generally women want to get as much out of their cars as possible, or as much as is economically viable. This is why
half (56%) of the women surveyed said that they would only think about replacing their car if things were going
wrong and it was becoming too unreliable, or if the cost of maintenance and servicing became too high. 16% would
only replace their car if it was a total write-off.
15% of women pointed to factors that could affect resale and depreciation such as age and mileage, even if the car
was still fully functional. 4% of the women surveyed said that as a matter of course they always change their car
every 2-3 years, before it needs to go in for its first MOT, as they love driving newer cars, especially because of the
constant improvements to fuel efficiency and safety.
Only 18% of the women surveyed anticipated that a change in family circumstances or a desire for more space in
the car (extra legroom, seats or boot space) would be their main driving force behind looking for a new car.
4% of women did not need a reason for deciding to buy a new car, other than they were likely to become bored of
driving the same car over time and they might fancy a change.
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35%
Car is too unreliable
Car is written off
Too old/high mileage
Need more space
Change in family
Change in financial
Just fancy a change
Change every 3 years
End of lease
Paid off finance
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?30
[I’d look for a new car if there was…] somebody passing their driving test who then needs to
share car ownership and also somebody who will take my car away from me because they get
a job locally and they need to have a car and leave me without one. So yeah there’s always a
reason to buy a new car, unfortunately it’s not usually down to me.
Although some women wanted to jump straight into researching new cars to buy, many identified an important pre-
research stage where they scope out their needs.
The first thing I do is list all my requirements and budget, than I will start doing the research
according to my need and get a few models on my list.
They work out as many requirements as possible based on what they already know before they start researching,
in order to narrow down the search. The most common requirements women scope at this stage are size and seats
i.e. do I need an estate or a super mini? They then work out their main priorities to give them a framework for
evaluation i.e. is fuel economy more or less important than space?
[The first thing I do is…] consider needs and wants e.g. the priorities I rank for choosing a car.
It is also important for many women to understand a rough budget they can work with early on, as price is one of
the most important factors. Initial outlay is one price consideration, but insurance costs, fuel consumption and resale
value/depreciation are also taken into account. Insurance costs are particularly of importance to Millennial women
who have been driving fewer years and can be a major factor affecting purchase decisions.
Less obvious trigger points included spotting a financing offer they couldn’t refuse, getting a new job and having
a different commute, moving to the country or moving into a more urban area, a change (either way) in financial
circumstances and having children reach an age where they’re learning to drive. This often leads to either needing
to change the car for one with cheaper insurance for learner drivers, or needing to buy another car because the kids
‘sharing’ the car has evolved to the kids owning the car.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 31
The inspiration phase is the starting point for all car searches whether our female participants recognised this or
not. However, the sources that women draw inspiration from at this stage vary greatly.
A Google search is usually the first source of inspiration, but what women type into the search engine depends
on their needs and personalities. Some women are finance-led, for example they look online for articles about
the cheapest cars to insure or the best new cars on a £250 per month PCP deal. A smaller percentage are led by
emissions so will search for articles and reports listing the best and most energy efficient cars and start from there.
Some women cited online car selection tools as a useful way to get inspiration based on the personal requirements
they know about. The Auto Trader ‘Help me choose a car’ tool was mentioned as a useful starting point by women
with less experience in buying cars.
Some will have a favourite manufacturer in mind, either the brand they’ve always driven, the brand their parents
swore by, or the brand they’ve always wanted to drive. In these cases, they go straight to the manufacturer’s website
for inspiration, although it is rare to use a manufacturer website as a starting point (see Price comparison).
In terms of offline sources of inspiration, which also feature heavily at this early stage, women talk about drawing
inspiration from the cars they see on the road. They become more aware of the cars around them once they have
entered the car buying mindset, and, especially those women who class themselves as very design-led, will look to
the road for inspiration.
I normally just see a car when I’m driving around and either like the shape and style of a car.
I’m quite led by what I like design wise.
Finally, a small proportion of women will ask friends and family for recommendations. They want to know which
brands and models are trusted by their close network, especially if any of them happen to work in the automotive
industry. However, it is quite rare for women to go to their friends and family for inspiration at this early stage. This
is not to say they don’t consider recommendations from their connections – quite the opposite – but for women this
tends to come in once they’ve already conducted a lot of their own research and arrived at a shortlist.
This phase takes place almost entirely online, with the exception of a small number of women who like to use
Which? or consumer car magazines. This is the phase where many women feel very comfortable, and by the end
will have arrived at their initial shortlist.
I then do research - I am a research queen. I look everywhere from Auto Trader to What Car?
What gets the best reviews and why?
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?32
Women talk about spending a lot of time on specialist automotive websites such as What Car?, Autotrader, Auto
Express and Parkers to read in-depth articles and reviews. Women use these websites to compare models based on
the requirements and priorities they had scoped. Manufacturer websites are also used at this stage if certain details
and specifications are not provided on other websites. Here, women will fact-find to be able to compare data about
models against their priorities, using safety ratings, price ranges, MPG figures and measurements.
I then look online at reviews written by humans.
Customer review websites like Reevoo and owner reviews on websites like Parkers are used as trusted sources of
information by female shoppers who want to see unfiltered reviews from ‘real people’ like them. If they are already
users of a particular online community like Mumsnet, or regular readers of blogs, they can be influenced by reviews
on these sites. 42% of women say they would use social media, blogs or forums for advice and information at this
The hardcore research phase will have narrowed the car search down to a shortlist of 3-5 favourites. The next phase
is about selecting exact specifications and getting as much information on pricing as possible. Women want to make
sure they’re getting the best deal, whether they’re buying new, second hand or leasing.
When I’ve narrowed it down to a handful of models, I research online to get an idea of price -
and if there is a particular car I’d like to buy, I’ll run a background price/ownership/mileage
check on it prior to test-driving.
Women look for all available financing options or scour the second hand car websites for the models of their choice
to compare costs. If they’re buying from a dealership, it’s rare that women would want to walk into the forecourt
without arming themselves with information and a good idea of pricing. There is a perception that car salespeople
Women are twice as likely to use customer review
sites for information on cars than manufacturer
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 33
Please see the Dealership Experience section for a full analysis of what women do and how they feel about the
Second-hand car buyers also spend time comparing prices of cars from private sellers on websites like Gumtree,
eBay, Exchange and Mart and Auto Trader, to look for the best deals and to give them extra confidence to enable
negotiations on a purchase they’d like to make.
When their initial shortlist has been narrowed down to the 1-3 cars to test drive, they look back to previous sources
for validation of their choices. Often, this will be by asking friends and family if they have any personal experience
of owning the shortlisted cars. Women may also revisit customer review sites for final validation, or check social
media to see the opinion of new customers.
At this stage women are mainly looking for approval of their shortlist by the people they trust. It is interesting that
despite friends and family being seen as very trusted sources, many women choose not to ask for advice from their
personal connections until they have researched and developed their own shortlist first. The more interested they
are in cars, the later they leave it to consult friends and family
So now the time finally comes to set foot in the dealership to test drive the 1-3 cars of their choice. This is generally
not an activity most women relish, although it is fair to say that are a small percentage of women only get engaged
and excited by the car buying process when they see, touch and importantly drive the cars (rather than reading
about them on websites). Whilst many women relish the research stage and feel in their element systematically
working through online reviews, it’s certainly not for everyone.
I only got excited and engaged when I got to drive the cars. My decision to purchase is based
on how the car drives and how it looks.
If I were purchasing from a dealership, although I would ask them questions, I wouldn’t go in
blind, and would have to have done a good bit of research online first.
will try to rip off female customers so to counteract this, many women talk about the online research and price
comparison stage as giving them the extra confidence to have the right conversations when they eventually step foot
in the dealership.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?34
Assuming a test drive has gone well, the final stage in the car buying process is the purchase itself. Whether buying
through a dealer or private seller, most women admit that they take a male partner, family member or friend with
them for the final negotiation and sale. Further analysis on this phase is detailed in the next section: Dealership
Sources of information and advice
It is incredibly rare that a woman will rely on just one or two information sources during her car buying process.
As we have seen, advice and information sources are wide-ranging and vary from on-road observation to customer
We know that online research is incredibly important for women in the car buying process, and customer review
sites, specialist automotive websites, and car manufacturer websites (in that order) were named as key sources of
information by approximately 78% of all women surveyed.
It was also important for women to source recommendations from more objective sources than manufacturer
websites or salespeople. This is why customer review sites like Reevoo and consumer reports are relied upon, as well
as first hand experience and advice from friends and family.
However, when asked to pinpoint their main source of advice and information during the whole process car
dealership took top spot. Whilst multiple sources are used at different points in the process, the test drive is such a
crucial experience for women to be able to feel first hand what the car is like to drive.
Almost a quarter of women selected the car dealership as their number one source of information. For some, they
like to be able to ask questions face to face but it is the test drive that makes the dealership visit so important.
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25%
Customer review sites
Friends and family
General online search
Social media and blogs
Main source of info
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 35
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70%
Top three priorities when choosing a car to buy
We asked women to tell us what their main priorities were when choosing a car. Price is the key factor, coming in at
least twice as important as safety or styling.
It really all comes down to money for me. Safety and comfort are ‘luxuries’ - the price is
really the big determiner.
Price also features in the second and third most important factors, both in reliability, which covers upkeep, repair
and servicing costs, and fuel economy, which covers both environmental and economic benefits.
I care greatly about the environment and if I were to buy a car I would have to get one that
wasn’t too damaging to the environment. Obviously with the above point in mind too I wouldn’t
want to buy a car that guzzles fuel... both for environmental reasons but would definitely not
be wanting to pay too much for fuel.
What are women looking for in a car?
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?36
The price factor is a consideration that is not limited to young or lower income female consumers. Even those with
bigger budgets still want to make sure they’re getting value for money.
Substance over styling
Whilst women do talk about what they like and don’t like when it comes to car design, styling featured mid-table as
a priority and colour was bottom of the list. When pushed to prioritise, women are more concerned about practical
and economic factors rather than design. They don’t want to drive something they hate the look of, but they are
happy to compromise on appearance if it means a more comfortable drive or bank balance.
Often the perception of reliability is subjective and will come from personal experience or the recommendations of
When it comes to design I don’t expect too much but I don’t want a bad looking one.
Interestingly, many women seemed embarrassed or ashamed of admitting when styling, design or colour is an
important factor. The few women listing design aesthetic as a priority felt like they needed to justify their answer or
apologise for it. Some said they thought it made them sound cliché or shallow if they added styling and colour to
their priority list.
I know it sounds shallow but how it looks always, it’s got to look right. So there are certain
cars that I would never even contemplate looking at just because they don’t appeal.
Perhaps women are fighting against the apparent stereotype that they are only interested in how the car looks and
not how it drives? From the results of this study that stereotype is certainly unfounded. Or perhaps mums, experts at
being practical for the children and putting them first, don’t like to admit to what may be seen as a more indulgent
Most of the priorities on this list are visible (size, styling, technology) or easily researched online or at the dealership
(price, fuel economy, engine size). Reliability, which is the second highest priority and listed in the top three factors
by 45% of women, is more difficult to find out about.
Reliability – as a single parent, one-car family I depend on my car to keep my life running
smoothly, so it’s got to be reliable.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 37
Size and space
Whether we were hearing from a new driver who only feels comfortable driving a small car, or a mum of three large
teenagers arguing over who has to sit in the middle seat, size and space is a top priority for women choosing a new
Those looking to buy smaller cars gave two main reasons for this, ease of driving and cost. Women talked about
small cars being manoeuvrable and the benefits of driving and parking smaller cars in urban areas. Some, mostly
newer drivers, weren’t confident driving a larger car and wanted something closer to the car they’re used to driving
and learning in. Women looking for smaller cars talked about them being cheaper to buy, efficient to run, and
cheaper to insure.
Size - as a new driver I think I would want to stick with a small-medium sized car for ease of
parking and navigating narrow streets! Plus I don’t have any children so I wouldn’t need a lot
of space in the back.
Women looking for a larger car list more or bigger seats for the family (either new family members or children
growing into teenagers/adults), legroom and boot space as the main reasons for size being a top priority. As we
discovered earlier on in this section (trigger points), the desire for more space to fit in a growing family, dogs or
equipment is a common trigger to start a new car buying journey.
Those women taking longer car journeys, especially on motorways, on a regular basis also talked about wanting
something a bit bigger.
Suitable size for my needs - I’d be looking for something that’s small enough to be able to
manoeuvre/park in a city, whilst large enough to do motorway journeys and not feel tiny/
vulnerable against all the other traffic!
When it comes to space and convenience inside the car it is really important for mums that they can fit the children’s
car seats in easily. In fact 17% of Mumsnet users said that this was one of their top three priorities, and featured in
more top three lists than engine size and boot space.
friends, family or customer reviews. Whilst manufacturers and dealers can provide objective information on price,
spec, MPG, engine size with certainty, female buyers need to trust the opinions and experiences of other drivers in
order to gauge how reliable a model or brand might be.
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?38
Although it wasn’t listed as a top priority performance, drivability and handling at speed is very important to female
drivers who like a more exciting drive. Whilst safety is a huge priority to both mums and less confident or younger
drivers, women who are more comfortable behind the wheel also highly value safety because they want a car they
can feel confident driving at speed. None of the women surveyed said that they like to drive slowly (although some
said they didn’t like driving at all) but women did say when they like to drive fast.
A bit of character
Finally, a trend talked about and related to styling, although in a less obvious way, is that many women we spoke to
value a car that has ‘character’. Whether a car has character or not is often in the eyes of the beholder; one woman
mused fondly on her “quirky little KA” with a broken head gasket, jammed doors and a loose handbrake that ended
up rolling down a hill when she was at work.
However, usually when women talk about favouring cars with character they are talking about exterior or interior
styling. Whilst ‘character’ wasn’t an option on our survey, nor was it put forward as a key priority in car buying,
when exploring reasons for liking or disliking cars at first sight with our Lab it became apparent that an underlying
visceral connection with the way a car looks also occurs during the process. Women are much more likely to answer
with their head when asked their main priorities in a car buying survey, but when shown pictures and seeing the cars
in real life there is a heart reaction going on that is harder for them to pinpoint.
It is not necessarily that women want the slickest-looking car on the road (although most wouldn’t say no to a free
Lamborghini), rather they are attracted by something that portrays a bit of personality, something a little quirky.
Many women mentioned being put off by cars that are labelled as ‘mum cars’ and don’t want to drive a car that
portrays a ‘mumsy’ or ‘frumpy’ image, despite their practicality.
If I’m thinking of buying I look at cars in the street everywhere and one of the most important
thing is something that’s cute and has character - so many cars are just utterly dull they may
as well be cardboard boxes. After driving a Renault Espace for years with the kids I want a
car that is fun to drive and look at.
I hate cars that have images attached to them. So for example I would hate to have sort of
“the family car” because I like things that are a bit quirky.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 39
I suppose women are often quite practical about what they need. When you’re a mum at home,
you need a car that you can actually put all the children in, and it’s got safety belts and it’s
easy and practical. So that in itself immediately becomes a very unsexy thing. But most women
aren’t like that. They don’t want to be in that situation, they find themselves in that situation.
If manufacturers and dealers can make the car buying experience a) less painful and b) more exciting and fun for
women, not only will they connect better with hugely influential consumers, they will also build an affinity that keeps
them coming back.
Room for emotional connection
We have seen from the logical approach to the research process and the top priorities women select for their
purchase decisions that they are incredibly practical when it comes to car buying. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There is room for women to have more fun in the car buying process, maintaining their practicality whilst enriching
the experience by unlocking the heart as well as the head. As one of our Lab members Alison explains, women often
find themselves needing to be sensible and practical one, but that doesn’t mean they always want to be
If and when I learn to drive, I know exactly what car I’d like. And that’s the 2006 Peugeot 107.
In yellow. At that’s because it’s the smiley-est car on the market. I mean, LOOK AT IT...
www.different-spin.com/womenMad Maxine - Does Automotive Fail Women?40
What role does the dealership play and what do women think of them?
This is the part of the automotive experience that is most broken. However, the dealership picture is a nuanced one.
We explore both the good and the bad. The problem is that the negative experiences are so bad that they tarnish
the entire female perception and experience of the industry. Female consumers do not differentiate between brand/
manufacturer and dealership. A bad experience in a dealership can undo any points gained from clever marketing
or customer recommendations.
Furthermore, increasingly women make only one or two visits to dealerships. When you have one chance at a face-
to-face experience, it is critical to get it right.
How can OEM’s empower women by making the ‘test’ part of the buying process empowering and even delightful?
The dealership in the car buying process
As we saw in the previous chapter, women approach car buying in a logical and systematic way. Unless brand loyalty
inspires the buyer to go straight to their favourite brand’s local dealership and speak to their favourite salesperson
without researching other options (this is rare), the dealership visit is unlikely to happen until towards the end of the
Dear Ford, I recently came into your showroom to view the cars and consider buying one from
you. However, you made it next to impossible for me to even feel any type of way about the
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 41
Women need to establish their own requirements and conduct thorough research into the market before they walk
onto the dealership forecourt. Because of the hardcore research, price comparison and validation stages, this means
that women often have a clear idea of the make and model they want to buy before entering the dealership. In fact,
it was most common for women to only have visited one dealership before they made their last car purchase, just
over a quarter of women did this.
The majority of women visited two dealerships or fewer, with only 37% visiting three or more. This gives the strong
indication that many decisions have been made prior to speaking to a salesperson. Many have already got their
shortlist down to three, two, sometimes just one model by the time they go for a test drive. Furthermore, 15% said
that they didn’t visit any dealerships at all, making their purchases either online or direct with the seller.
26% of women only visited one car dealership before
they bought their last car
62% of women visited just two dealerships or fewer
before buying their car
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How many dealerships did you visit?
As we have previously uncovered, the dealership experience provides female car buyers with the most important
source of information they can get, the test drive. Almost a quarter of women surveyed said the dealership was their
single most important information source during their car buying process.
Women value being able to see and feel for themselves whether the car they want to buy matches up to the
expectations they’ve built during their research. They want to feel what it’s like to drive, and inspect the boot space
and cup holders for themselves.
The role of the dealership
So if the dealership visit happens when many purchase decisions have already been made, or if customers don’t use
dealerships to ‘shop around’, what role do they now play? In this digital age where consumers can easily access a
wealth of data, opinions and recommendations from people they trust more than car salespeople, how important is
23% of women named the car dealership as their
number one source of information for buying a car
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 43
Of those women who said that they would not skip the dealership experience, 94% gave this reason. Only 5% said
they would keep going to the dealership because they liked the personal service they receive, and just 1% said they
would still go because they like the information they receive there.
Dealership for showrooming
The ease and financial benefits of buying goods online has led to a rise in ‘showrooming’ – browsing and testing
products in-store then going online to buy cheaper.
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80%
Would you skip the dealership?
The car I wanted on paper looked like it would have been better. But I test drove it and it was
godawful. Didn’t have any poke to it, no torque, no acceleration. So I actually got the one that
looked worse on paper but was better to drive. Also if you don’t go and look at a car you don’t
know how many scratches there are, dings, the size of the boot because I’ve got to have a big
enough boot for a wheelchair for my friend.
Emma , 22.
Well it turns out that whilst 19% of women would skip the dealership completely (including the test drive), the
majority said that they still needed to physically see or test drive before they made their decision.
Importance of the test drive
Despite the importance of the dealership for physically viewing and driving, the overall perception of the dealership
experience is poor. As we will explain later, for many women the dealership experience is a negative part of what
should be a happy and exciting process.
So what if the broken part was taken away entirely? What would women who are completely disenfranchised by the
dealership experience think about a process where they wouldn’t have to speak to ‘dodgy’ salesmen, or be blanked
in favour of their husbands? What about a sales process that could be entirely carried out online?
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I would test drive at a dealership and then buy online.
When we asked women whether they would skip the dealership experience entirely, 76% said no, because they
needed to experience the car they were buying. When we explored this subject further with our Lab members, it
became apparent that many women use the showroom to test out cars that they would then be happy to buy online.
Some already do this, especially with second hand cars.
I visit the car showroom/carpark thingy to actually see it, sit in it, look in the boot, see if the
seats fold flat. Arrange a test drive of a few models. Then go elsewhere to purchase.
The benefit of showrooming for consumers buying any type of product is chiefly to get the best deal available. But
for many women in our study the idea of buying online appeals because it could allow them to bypass face-to-face
interactions with the salespeople in the dealership.
There exists a battle between the need to sit in and drive the car, and the dislike of being confronted by salespeople.
A new kind of showroom experience
Many women talked about an alternative dealership where they could still see and test drive the cars they wanted to
buy, but where they could do this without fear of being ‘sold to’ by ‘pushy salespeople’.
I would like to avoid the actual people at the dealership though. They tend to be focused on the
sale, and not the customer, from my experience.
Whilst three quarters of women are not willing to give up the test drive, they could happily say goodbye to the car
If I could test drive without the dealership ‘experience’ that would be fantastic. Hate car
salesmen and their lack of knowledge and not so charming.
[I would go for the test drive] but would be happy for the salesperson to piss off.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 45
A service that allowed potential buyers to book test drives online and get the car delivered to them to test in their
own time was something that really appealed.
Dealership for negotiations
However, despite the animosity of many women towards the car salesperson and the overall bad reputation that
seems to afflict them, there was an important secondary function of the dealership that was highlighted by some
female dealership supporters. Cost-conscious women still want the face-to-face interaction so that they can negotiate
on price and package.
These women like to haggle and feel that that they are getting the best deal possible; they do not like to pay ticket
price, especially for such a large purchase. They feel that if the whole purchase process was conducted online, they
would not be able to get the best price (despite the perceived benefits of looking online for a better deal) because
they would miss out on their opportunity to negotiate. The women that like to haggle are confident in their ability
to knock money of the price of the car, and negotiate extras, something they don’t believe they would be able to do
were it not for the face-to-face sales experience.
I might test drive with a dealer then try and haggle with them to get a better price by getting
online quotes and ask them to come close!
These ‘hagglers’ are a small but important minority, especially considering how important price is, however an
equal number of women would rather not negotiate and are in fact deterred by what they call ‘the hard sell’.
Dealership to build confidence
The final role of the dealership or more importantly the car salespeople is the ability to have a face-to-face
discussion about the details of the car. The women that value this interaction said they felt more confident speaking
to somebody in person, where they could ask questions as part of a conversation, and get the answers they needed
Want questions answered straight away and would feel more trusting or a person face to face.
This doesn’t always mean that they intrinsically trust the salespeople they are asking questions to – often women
point out it is so they can get a better gauge of whether they are being lied to!
Some women made a point about any potential post-sale issues being easier to deal with if they are complaining to
a familiar face. They felt more confident in their ability to get any issues resolved if they could go back to the person
who had sold them the car in the first place.
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It’s a lot easier to go back and raise an issue with a face you’ve seen before.
Are women ready for a full end-to-end online
Despite the important role of the dealership in the buying process, especially around the points highlighted above,
our research demonstrates that 19% of women would consider skipping the test drive if it meant they could conduct
the whole transaction online.
The sad fact is that these women have had such a bad dealership experience that they would happily switch to an
alternative rather than go through the experience again.
19% women would skip the dealership entirely
(including test drive) and buy online
Some of the women we spoke to are already doing this. Let’s look at an example from BMW of how this end-to-end
process can work online.
CASE STUDY: BMW Retail Online
At the end of November 2015, BMW was the first retailer to make 24/7 online car buying a reality. BMW
customers are now able to choose, spec and buy their car entirely online in under 10 minutes via BMW Retail
The new process enables consumers to arrange a test drive if necessary, agree financing options and payment
method, and get a trade-in value for their own car before finalising the delivery date. Every step can be supported
by a BMW Genius or sales executive at the retailer via live chat or email.
There are a number of key features to BMW Retail Online. The online journey starts with the optional tool ‘Find
your BMW’, leading to the vehicle configurator on bmw.co.uk.
With a click on the “Buy your BMW” button the customer selects a retailer, is shown cars with a faster delivery
date and selects their preferred finance method. The customer can then finalise all steps of the purchase with their
chosen retailer in the Retailer Online showroom.
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 47
We are the first car manufacturer to offer a digital sales solution for the entire product
range and the full end-to-end buying or leasing process online. Now, the customer can do it all
from the comfort of their home. The integration of the BMW Genius via live chat and retailer
messaging functions where the customer is able to get personalised support in real time,
makes this system unique and a new benchmark for the automotive industry.
We will watch with interest as more retailers introduce this end-to-end solution and expect it to be standard by the
end of 2016.
What do women really feel about the dealership
Female participants were divided about the dealership experience. When asked to provide one word to summarise
their last experience in a dealership, we received over 166 different descriptors. Whilst the overall split between
positive and negative was fairly even, the truly negative experiences had more of an impact and elicited a higher
level of emotion than the excellent experiences. 16% of women reported an ‘awful’ experience compared to 6%
who said their last dealership experience was ‘excellent’.
The reality is that the dealership picture is a nuanced one. There are elements of the experience that women find
good. However, the negative experiences are so bad that they tarnish the entire female perception and experience of
Ian Robertson, Member of the Board for Sales and Marketing, said:
Women are 3 times as likely to say they had an awful
experience in a dealership than an excellent one
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Thankfully the largest portion of women (35%) said their experience was good, using words like pleasant, easy,
helpful, professional and efficient to describe their visit.
The 18% of women whose description we classified as OK portrayed mainly feelings of disinterest, with descriptors
including fine, satisfactory, unremarkable, uninspiring and mediocre.
Many of the women who reported a bad visit (25%) complained about their dislike of the sales tactics, using words
like pushy, arrogant, smarmy and pressured, whilst others seemed disappointed by their visit, describing it as boring,
tedious, confusing, uncomfortable or unpleasant.
The 16% of women who described awful experiences did not hold back their words, as we saw 43 different ways
of saying awful (compared to the 8 different descriptors we saw for excellent). Dreadful, horrific, tortuous, hideous,
diabolical, demeaning, patronising, ghastly and sickening were all words used.
Women are more passionate about very bad experiences at dealerships than they are about very good ones, and it is
the extreme experience either end of the spectrum that leave lasting impressions.
Describe your last dealership experience
I hate car salesmen, those in main dealerships are misogynistic arses.
So what exactly happens in dealerships to spark such strong negative reactions from women?
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 49
What do women hate about dealerships?
Buying a car is often the second biggest investment people make in their lives after buying a house. The process
should be exciting and memorable – for the right reasons.
I hate them. I absolutely hate them. I think they’re sexist, they make women feel
uncomfortable, I hate them. I think they’re, ugh, they’re horrible. I think you feel judged as
soon as you walk in. In fact, I’d avoid them at all costs if you want to know the truth.
We know from our Experience Lab that women do value the experience of the test drive, largely for validating
their meticulous research process. However, the critical point and problem for OEMs and dealer networks is that
the bad experiences are having a disproportionately negative impact on word of mouth and are therefore having a
damaging impact on the overall female perception of automotive.
So what can the dealer network do to rectify the impact of negative experiences? Here we outline 6 commandments
based upon the key negative themes seen in the Experience Lab.
6 dealership commandments
1. Thou shalt not make wild assumptions
2. Thou shalt not make me feel like a small child
3. Thou shalt not direct all conversation to my husband
4. Thou shalt not look at my children with fear in thine eyes
5. Thou shalt not direct me straight to the family cars
6. Thou shalt listen to my needs
1. Thou shalt not make wild assumptions
One of the most common complaints from women about their dealership experience is that assumptions are made
of them before they have even opened their mouths. The fact that they are female does not automatically mean that
they know nothing about cars, have no interest in high performance, only like the cute little pink ones or need to be
shown a nice safe family car. However, despite the many women with completely different needs and wants walking
into the showroom every week, many salespeople appear to struggle with this fact.
He went ‘I could show you the Civic but it looks a bit too racy for you’ - how on earth do you
know how racy I like to be?! I could be a female drag racer and you don’t know that about me.
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2. Thou shalt not make me feel like a small child
We asked our Experience Lab participants to draw/source a picture of how they felt the last time they were in a
car dealership. The amount of pictures we received depicting our grown adult females as small children was quite
staggering. We have heard many tales of women being spoken to in demeaning and patronising manners by car
Seat thank you for having dealers who don’t treat me like a second class citizen for being a
woman. For not talking over me, for answering my questions in a non patronising nature and
for doing a deal that you honoured to the letter. Of course this should be standard for car
purchase but thanks for showing others how to do it.
“Hi, I’m a child and I’d like to buy a car” by Hannah, 22.
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Alexandra drew a picture of her recent visit to an Audi dealership where she felt completely invisible. Our Lab
members believed that the salespeople assume the husband or partner is the only one interested in the car and that
it’s always their final decision and their money that’s being spent. This is rarely the case.
A recent trip to Audi made me feel invisible, as the dealership sales rep was only interested in
talking to and smooching my boyfriend up.
“Am I invisible here?” by Alexandra, 30.
4. Thou shalt not look at my children with fear in thine eyes
Mums (and dads) carefully consider their children’s needs when it comes to buying a car. Do they have enough
legroom in the back? Can we get the car seats in and out easily? Do we have enough boot space for their stuff? Can
the little ones get in and out by themselves? Mums talk about needing to do the ‘child test’ alongside their own
3. Thou shalt not direct all conversation to my husband
Despite our Mumsnet survey revealing that 82% of women involved in buying a family car with their husband/
partner are equally or mainly responsible for the final decision, women are often ignored in favour of their male
counterpart. Women speak of the salesperson walking straight up to their husband and continuing the conversation
without even acknowledging their presence.
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test drives. So it should come as no surprise that children accompany their parents on visits to the car showroom.
But salespeople, especially in higher-end showrooms, are often unprepared and look terrified or disgusted by their
We walked into the showroom and I was greeted like I’d walked something hideous in on my
shoe, the problem was actually what was attached to my hand – our little boy. Looking at our
son, immediately the salesman made a beeline for my other half, assuming that we were there
5. Thou shalt not direct me straight to the family cars
A common assumption is that women who are interested in anything bigger than a small city car must have children
and will want to see a family car. Even if they do have children, women don’t automatically want a family car!
Many times salespeople have taken women straight to the family cars without asking anything about what they
are looking for. They might want a roadster or a van, but too often salespeople fail to ask such a straightforward
question without making assumptions.
I mentioned that I liked the look of the new HRV model - a compact 4X4. His first response ‘Oh,
this is a great - you could definitely fit a week’s shop in the boot of that. I didn’t realise you
had kids to consider, how many do you have?’ AT WHAT POINT DID I SAY I HAD KIDS?!!?
6. Thou shalt listen to my needs
Another risky product of stereotyping women is failing to ask and listen to what the customer actually wants. As
we know from the way women approach the research process, they often have a very clear idea of what they’re
looking for by the time they get to the dealership. But many feel they are directed towards models that don’t meet
their need. Often because the salesperson has failed to really listen to what they want, or ask the question in the first
Annoying - hard sell from irritating salesperson who kept telling me what I wanted rather than
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 53
You got to work at talking to me like a normal human being and finding out what I NEEDED and
WANTED in a car! Never had that before...usually every other sales person...works on the
“List of cars: Mini, VW Beetle, Fiat 500” by Rachael, 25.
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The need for male accompaniment
Reading the above, and hearing the stories of exasperation from the women in our Lab, it’s unsurprising that they
might feel more comfortable making the visit to the dealership with somebody else. But we weren’t prepared to see
the stats on just how bad the need for male accompaniment actually was
The majority of women surveyed said they would need to take their partner or husband with them. Many younger
or single women said that they would go with their dad, uncle or male friend. Only 13% said that they would visit
the dealership on their own.
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
Would you take anyone to a dealership with you?
90% of women feel they need to take a male partner
or family member with them to the dealership
Only 13% of women would visit the dealership alone
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 55
I think they’d probably try and pull the wool over your eyes a bit more [than they do with men].
I certainly don’tknow as much about cars as the men in my life so they probably hope you
don’t know as much.
When I went for a test drive on my own was a really really bad experience where they just
weren’t interested in me at all, whether or not that was to do with me being a woman I have no
idea but that’s the only time I’ve been on my own and it was really just shocking.
I would go with my boyfriend - I guess for decision-making, and partly because I’d feel we’d be
taken more seriously by a (probably male) salesman.
I would always take a man along to view the car, inspect it from top to bottom and give it a
test run. I have been ripped off too many times...
I would take my dad because car salesmen like to rip off women, don’t they?
I would yeah. The first one we went to Mike was with me the whole time. Then the second one
we went to he was on the phone so I was on my own. It’s like they’re talking to a little girl. They
were like ‘oh, so what do you want?’ A car, what do you think I’m here for? ‘But what? Do you
want something shiny?’
When asked why so many felt the need to take a male along with them, many women pointed to their concern that
as a female they wouldn’t be taken as seriously, which could lead to salespeople trying to overcharge them, or sell
them a faulty vehicle.
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Going the extra mile really pays off
Despite the stories of frustration we’ve shared in this report, the picture is a nuanced one and our Experience Lab
members also took note of the positive experiences they have in the dealership. In fact, sometimes it’s the very small
touches that leave a big impression. A great car salesperson who really listens and understands their customers and
who goes the extra mile to make them feel special will be rewarded with loyalty and recommendations for years to
As well as seeing the effect of dealership nightmares in our Experience Lab, we also saw the positive effect of really
great experiences. When we asked our Lab members to write love letters to their favourite automotive brands, it was
clear that salespeople who have gone the extra mile provide fond memories that stay with women for years.
As mentioned earlier it is important to note that women rarely made distinctions between a dealership and a brand
– if they had a great experience at BMW Shrewsbury then it added to their opinion of the BMW brand as a whole.
Likewise, this happens with bad dealership experiences as a terrible showroom visit can put women off a brand for
One woman told us about her visit to a dealership with her son in a love letter to Mini High Wycombe. She was
delighted that they had a small battery operated Mini for children to play in. Not only did it keep her son happy
and occupied whilst she was asking questions to the salesman but it made her feel special that Mini had thought of
families like her’s.
Your salesman carried on showing me round all the other cars in a friendly confident manor,
the whole time my son was happy playing in the mini Mini. It made my whole experience so
wonderful. Thank you Mini High Wycombe for being so family friendly. One day one of your
Minis and I will be united.
Small things make a big difference.
When Christine was buying her Honda, she told the salesperson about her needs which included amongst many
other things, a cup holder for her Red Bull. As well as helping her choose the model that perfectly suited her needs,
when her car was delivered to her it came with a can of Red Bull in the cup holder waiting for her. Something that
Christine remembered years after.
Finally, Sarah talked about how Windrush VW in Slough made her experience of buying a car exciting, as she
It’s rare to feel treasured, or special especially as a customer, but the Windrush VW
dealership in Slough certainly added a bit of razzmatazz to picking up a new car. The big
reveal after all the paperwork was completed was quite a surprise. We’d been sitting in front
of a covered vehicle but hadn’t even considered it was ours. The moment as the cover was
pulled off to reveal a super shiny beetle was just lovely. And service was fab and the bouquet
The Automotive Experience Lab by Good Rebels 57
Dear UK Car Industry
Over the years I have met many sales men and women within the car industry,
in fact I used to be one myself. This side of the business has a pretty poor
reputation and is on a par with estate agents for being smarmy, disliked and not
particularly trustworthy. I’m not saying that all car sales people are without
scruples and would happily sell their grandmother’s only functioning kidney, but
the industry still needs to improve its image.
When I was 21 I found myself working in a car showroom selling new and used cars.
I wasn’t your stereotypical car sales person of the time, I didn’t have greased
back hair nor did I have a large belly or smoke cigars. I was quite the anomaly
and often caught buyers off guard as they’d automatically assume that I must be
the receptionist. My (all male) colleagues would love this and for a while I was
the butt of quite a few (mainly sexist) jokes and found myself regularly in the
kitchen making the tea. Despite this, I notched up quite a few sales and within
a few months became their top sales person, outperforming all of the guys on the
sales floor. I’d like to think this was because of my super sharp sales skills
and business brain but in reality, it was because I was a female and prospective
buyers found this disarming and would soon feel at ease and a little less guarded.
I memorised all of the technical jargon and could reel off urban mpg, horse
power and torque from across the range, which gave me credibility when talking
to certain customers. So I knew my stuff, I was friendly and courteous and came
across as not at all pushy; a professional.
Fast forward 20 years and you’d presume things would have changed? Well maybe
not as much as you’d think. From my recent experiences of looking for both a
new and second hand car I’ve come across some characters that would have given
my colleagues from twenty years ago a run for their money. Recently, we visited
an Audi garage to look at shortlisting a few company car possibilities. It was
during the weekend so we had our five year old son with us. We pulled in, parked
up and had a look round the forecourt. We walked into the showroom and I was
greeted like I’d walked something hideous in on my shoe, the problem was actually
what was attached to my hand – our little boy. Looking at our son, immediately
the salesman made a beeline for my other half, assuming that we were there for
him. They chatted about a particular model and soon moved on to the part exchange
conversation. It was at this point, the salesman turned to me and suggested that I
go and grab a coffee with the little one as this was the boring bit. My other half
was stood behind the guy and was struggling to stifle a laugh when he followed up
with “why not grab a brochure so you can look at the colours” What? Really? I’d
like to think that this was directed at our son but I’m pretty sure he was talking
to me. Needless to say, we didn’t get a part exchange valuation or a test drive.
Sorry Audi, you lost us there.
I know that not all dealerships are like this and we went on to buy a used car
and Stoke Park trial membership were really nice touches. Whether this was a VW thing or
just Windrush, who knows, but it was just great.
The nuanced picture of female experiences of dealerships is summed up well in this letter from Jessica.
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from a very good garage, where the salesman was excellent and very professional.
We’re still on the lookout for a new company car so come on car industry, you
need to up your game.
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What do female drivers feel about the cars they own or drive?
Make me feel grown up - well spec’d and sensible but powerful.
It is reductive to view the purchase of a car as the final step in a customer journey. Moreover it is just one part of a
much more complex process that is far from over at the point of purchase.
Throughout car ownership, consumers build their relationships with and opinions of car brands, not just the ones
they own but any they are aware of through advertising, friends and family, taxi rides and any number of other
However, whilst these impressions are built continuously, we have found that only a positive ownership experience
can result in true advocacy and loyalty for a car brand. Nobody can be blamed for mistaking lust for love on the first
test drive, but both manufacturers and drivers know that true bonds are built over time.
One of the reasons the women in our study regarded the car dealership experience with such high importance is the
expectation it sets for ownership and aftersales experience:
For me it’s very much on personalities as to whether they’re going to get a good sale or not
because if they can’t be bothered then you just don’t want to be interested. Because it’s so
much about the aftersales as well.
Manufacturers need to impress savvy female consumers and take them on a journey, from the moment they’re
handed the keys through to maintenance and if you’re lucky, as far as trading in for the next model.
Servicing and maintenance
For car owners, servicing and maintenance is rarely regarded with any reverence. At best it’s a chore. At worst it can
seriously damage an owner’s view of their car brand.
When asked whether car maintenance and servicing was a painful experience, the majority of responses mirrored
the views of this participant:
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It is interesting to note that even with a less severe experience, customers like Melissa take caution when engaging
with the same brand on future occasions and are less likely to advocate for or be loyal to the brand in forthcoming
purchase decisions. Clearly this is an area of the automotive industry that is in desperate need of transformation.
It is no wonder that women maintain consistently low expectations of servicing and maintenance. However, as a
result, it doesn’t take much from a servicing and maintenance experience to form a more positive impression
Yes, yes, massively. It’s expensive, you get screwed over, it’s stressful, especially if it’s not
Based on the experiences of our Lab members, if the car dealership is the Top Gear of culturally established
sexism, the car service garage is World’s Toughest Trucker.
In these accounts, workers are described as “lecherous mechanics” who ‘patronise’ and intimidate female customers,
undervaluing their intelligence and ripping them off.
All of my experiences have been negative. Every single one of them.
It all starts from the beginning on walking into a place – with the ‘why are you here look’ or
patronising introduction. Then there’s the questions that make no sense, the ripping off by
selling me parts I don’t need, further ripping off by fixing one problem but creating another
and continuing this process because they know they can get away with it because I don’t
know what they’re talking about and take their word as fact. I have literally left garages in
tears where I felt so belittled and intimidated. One guy even referred to me as Barbie. If it
doesn’t go that route then I tend to be asked if I have a partner and told that I am pretty which
is equally off-putting because the fate of your car then depends on your response to these
I get a very different experience if I take a male with!
We asked Melissa whether a negative experience like this would put her off using or buying from a car brand again:
I guess it depended on how bad the experience was. If it was catastrophic then yes it would.
However if it was something minor, let’s say a certain individual that was unhelpful but all
other staff were very helpful, then I wouldn’t necessarily be put off for life but just a little
cautious of the brand.