Selling Cars Online or Offline: Let’s Remove (Not Reduce) The Friction


Newsflash: Regardless of what you and your team believe, customers perceive multiple points of friction in the car buying process. Friction, by the way, that has today’s buyer seeking ways to avoid the dealership experience while working overtime to ensure you make no money on their deal.

Given this, how your customers view your buying process is all that matters; and you need to accept this, because of two unrelenting truisms:

  • Perception is reality; and
  • The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer.

Understanding these allows you to move beyond the debate over whether there is friction that needs to be removed; and simply get to the task of removing it. For dealers truly interested in removing friction, the task begins by uncovering the causes of the most damaging friction and making the necessary changes to rectify these.

Catalysts of Friction in Car Buying

The primary catalysts of friction that cause today’s buyers to hate our traditional processes are (in no particular order):

  • A lack of price transparency
  • A lack of process transparency
  • Repeating sales steps
  • Paperwork
  • Waiting

By focusing on these few causes, it becomes easier to spot where friction is most likely to occur in the traditional process, for example:

  • A lack of price transparency – Throughout most in-store processes, but especially during the trade appraisal and desking.
  • A lack of process transparency – Again, throughout most in-store processes.
  • Repeating sales steps – Generally at the beginning of the Road-to-the-Sale (Needs Analysis; Product Selection).
  • Paperwork – Excessive (in the minds of the buyers) paperwork occurs most often in the business office and during some trade appraisals.
  • Waiting – Most needless waiting occurs during desking (the back-and-forth) and prior to getting into the business office.

Any of these instances of friction can make the entire process feel like a grind to most customers; and taken together, they likely explain why the typical dealer still closes just one in five traditional Ups, despite the average buyer visiting fewer than two lots today.

Removing friction can not only improve close rates, but also front and back grosses, and (of course) CSI. Let’s look at some radical and not-so-radical solutions some dealers are using today:


Whether you’re ready to admit it or not, the future of desking involves a tablet and a customer… and no desk manager. Moreover, giving the customer a tablet and the ability to self-select their lender (which they can do today online or offline with tools like AutoFi), to play with the length of the loan, and to decide on a payment, moves the discussion away from price and onto terms.

This is the epitome of process transparency and provides just enough price transparency (in the form of a self-selected interest rate, for example, where the dealer still earns their reserves) to give the consumer the required confidence to buy today… all without the friction (or waiting) that comes standard with traditional desking.

Yes, this is a radical move; but many one-price dealers have been doing a version of self-desking for years… they just didn’t call it that. When a single person works with the customer from beginning to end, the desking process can be a cooperative exercise. That is, the customer participates in the final selections.

Moving from buyers participating in the process (as is done at many one-price stores) to handing the customer an iPad and helping them go through the steps is an easy transition that builds trust, eliminates unnecessary waiting, and, above all else, removes friction.

Of course, self-desking is just one (radical) step of many toward removing friction in the car buying process. We’ll explore other (including some less radical) steps in the next few posts in this series. Next up: DIY F&I? WTH?

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: It’s About a Great Experience)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at