Dear Car Dealer, Don’t Make Us Slay the Mammoth. Thanks, The Ladies Responsible for 80% of Your Sales

So, I started off with this idea of hunting vs. gathering on my own, just about a few weeks ago, (and unfortunately not while my living depended on selling cars) but it looks like researchers already studied it, and it turns out this is a real thing: University of Michigan (2010, December 21). Shopping differences between sexes show evolution at work. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 7, 2012.  That being said, the rest of this is strictly assumption and narrative unless I use a specific statistic, and I will link the statistic back to where I found it.

How Shopping Got Started

Back in the day, men were hunters and women gatherers.

Men were responsible for obtaining meat to eat, bones for tools and fur to keep jealous mistresses quiet. In order to provide this, they would hunt down some large beast like a woolly mammoth.  A battle would occur and the animal would be slain. I picture it being a pretty emotional deal – man respecting beast, pride in the kill, love for providing for his family and the like.  It required a focus on the mammoth and the battle.  Man would have to head home right after the battle before the meat went bad – no stopping at Starbuck’s or anything on the way.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the women were doing their part in providing for the family. They would head out and grab things like fruit, berries, nuts, grubs, and insects to fill in between the hunts and to accompany the delicious mammoth steaks. While equally important, it was different from hunting. Little emotion would have been involved.  Berry-picking would have been a bunch of quick “this one over that one” decisions based on brambles that would need to be traversed vs. likelihood of poison in the berries. Also, if while berry-picking a woman stumbled upon some fat little grubs or acorns, she likely picked those up, too. The berries weren’t going to run away.

Providing Responsibilities Divided By Sexes

Dividing these responsibilities between the sexes would have had nothing to do with strength or brainpower. I bet the woman tried hunting. She would have cornered a huge mammoth and, thirsting to spill the blood of the kill, confidently raised her weapon. Inevitably, the infant on her back would have chosen that moment to have blow-out of his leaf diaper or start crying to be nursed. (Hey, probably no formula yet, she would have had to have brought it along right?) That’s what babies do. This type of emergency was more easily handled back amongst the gathering activities.

As time went by, these two definitions of “providing” would have evolved (or been improved upon by God, depending on what you believe) differently in the sexes. Men became great at hunting, women at gathering. Agrarian society, the industrial revolution, and other advances in human society would somewhat negate the necessity of some of these skills. But the instincts that had developed would take a long time to go away. You can still see it in shopping habits today.

Shopping Habits Today:  Man’s Shirt vs. Woman’s Shirt

Say my husband and I are attending an event together and both need to get a new shirt. My husband is going to head out to one store, find the best one and bring it on home. He won’t leave one store to see if there’s a better shirt elsewhere because what if there are no shirts at the next store? Is there even more than one store for shirts? If it were his ideal situation, he’d have a “shirt guy” he’d see for all of his shirts; someone he trusted to tell him what looks good.  He’ll walk by six sock displays, annoyed that the walk is so long – he’s got a hole in his sock his toe keeps poking through but he had to wear them because the two pairs he had left without holes were dirty. But he’s not there for socks, he cannot let the shirt escape. He wishes he wasn’t paying the price on the tag; he’d like to funnel his “fight and kill” instincts into negotiating. Men have a primal need to feel they’ve won and someone has lost.

My search for a shirt will be different. I will visit several stores, trying on different shirts and comparing prices. I might even bring some friends along and make a day of it. Probably won’t get too far, though, because I’ll have the baby and he’ll need feeding and diapering. And if I don’t find it that day that I head out, I will wait. Perhaps I find the perfect shirt but it’s just not ripe enough to pick yet (i.e. I have a coupon for 20% off at that store but it’s not good until next week) I will wait and buy it then.  I’m only going to appreciate interaction with store employees if I need them, like to ask if the shirt comes in a different size. Customer service definitely matters, but it’s more in keeping the shopping environment easy to navigate, not in having someone there to educate me or influence me. If I want an opinion on how it looks, I’ll ask a friend. (Speaking of friends, I’ll tell every one I have and as many people as will listen if I feel the customer service was lacking.) If I see a great deal on socks, I’ll grab some for husband because I know he needs them, and other items I see. I feel like I’ve won when I’m satisfied with a purchase.

My husband hates buying shirts, of course. What does he like to buy? Cigars, ski equipment, cars, and if he could, boats and RVs. And he’s got a “guy” for each of those. (For years, his car “guy” was me.) He goes to the store and capitalizes on relationships he’s built through the years, sometimes bartering and always negotiating. He just buys one thing or a group of things that go together.

Me, I avoid those relationships for the most part. No offense, I’m sure you’re great, I just don’t care. No matter how big-ticket the item is, it’s one of hundreds of things I will buy this week. Because I’m the gatherer for my family. If I had a relationship for everything I buy, my day would be very long. Shopping is the one situation where I’m less emotional than my husband. In fact, if I think a purchase is getting too emotional, I think it’s awkward and will find a polite way to escape.  I do like to look around an entire store even if I’m there for one thing.  The stores I visit know this and are laid out accordingly.

Jenn, you filed this under cars, you gonna get to that?

Yup, here we go.  My husband likes buying cars probably because a car dealership’s sales process is custom-built for men. You can’t do anything else while you are there. You have to fight (negotiate) to get a great deal. It gets emotional. Yet, 80% of vehicle buying decisions are influenced by women. In fact over 60% of vehicles are purchased by women. Car dealerships need to realize what grocery stores, malls, department stores, convenience stores, and drug stores figured out.  But gatherers also need to realize that some parts of the “hunting”-like buying process are unavoidable.

Are You a Gatherer?  Here’s Some Tips on Hunting

First of all, keep doing your thing.  Your gathering skills will net you significant savings online.  Eventually though, you’re going to have to head out to the store.  For two good reasons:  to test-drive (click here for my post on why that’s so important) and to take delivery.  I think this may be one of the reasons dealers have been slow to change – some of this process does need to be one-on-one: the test-drive and the signing of the paperwork.  There’s a lot of registration/financing/etc. that can’t really easily be done online.  So, here’s some tips on making the visits easier:

  • Attend an international auto show.  This is a great way to truly shop, although you can’t buy or test-drive.  Most manufacturers don’t have dealer representatives at the show – they hire actors to tell you all about the car who are knowledgeable but not pushy.  This is a great day to see all the cars you’re considering, but you’ll need to plan well in advance of needing a car as they’re only once per year.  The New York International Auto Show is in the spring, and the Connecticut International Auto Show (in Hartford) is in November.
  • Start early and do your homework online.  I probably don’t need to say this, but just in case.  Learn what cars are in your price range and which vehicles you want to consider from the comfort of your own home.  There are over 40 makes offering 5-20 cars each, and you may want to consider certified pre-owned, so you’ll want to multiply that by the last 2-3 model years.  There’s leasing vs. financing.  There’s your trade-in.  Lots to consider.
  • Make an appointment before you go in.  For the best experience, make it for a weekday if possible.
  • Have realistic expectations for your visit.  You need to test-drive the car and you need to discuss the details, it’s going to take an hour or more.  Kids don’t enjoy this experience, if possible leave them at home.  Also, it’s not feasible for you to install car seats in a car you don’t own. (It is important to get a feel for how the car seats will fit, though.)
  • A good salesperson can make everything smoother.  I’ve got a post coming up on the specifics but a great salesperson can make your experience less awkward, quicker, and easier after you make the purchase.  Go with your gut if you don’t like who you’re working with. This goes for the whole dealership, too.

Are You a Car Dealer?  Here’s Some Info on We Gatherers

If only women had some tool where all of their gathering were right there at their fingertips – perhaps something even in their homes, I bet they’d be all over it, especially to avoid those man-oriented shopping experiences. Oh wait, do you think this is why women’s Internet usage had surpassed men’s by 2000?  Since it is nearly impossible for people to actually buy a car over the internet, it has become the car dealer’s enigma to get these folks into their showroom.  They have awesome internet departments who do a great job communicating.  Still, when working with a “gathering” buyer, it’s like they’re sending engraved invitations to a keg party because the experience in-store is still not what the buyer is looking for.

I wish I had realized this while I was still selling cars. Or at least advising people how to sell cars. To think I was actually taught to show internet sales managers to bring the showroom process out to the Internet, to drag gatherers through that very hunting game they’d gone online to avoid.

If you’re still thinking that it doesn’t matter, women are only 1/2 the population, that you’d rather stick to the man-selling, bad news; these hunter/gatherer instincts are fading away, and we’re losing the hunters. Studies show that younger men shop more like women. That 18-24 year old group is about to get their first new car themselves, is your website and store ready for that or does it funnel them into the old-school hunter process?

These days there are female-friendly certifications and other consultants who are making the dealership experience better. Top “female-friendly” dealers offer more hospitality that makes women more comfortable spending time at the dealership. This makes sense, as gatherers like to explore the whole store or berry patch before picking the berries for their family. But I think they’re just scratching the surface on what needs to be a complete restructuring of the dealership from lot positioning, staff functions, and showroom layout.

If you’re thinking that letting people wander around on their own would mean customers would pay less because we didn’t start with that one-on-one relationship, I have two words for you.  Stew Leonard’s.  I have a friend who will drive 40 minutes to go grocery shopping there, where things cost more but the store is attractive, there are lots of free samples and the kids are occupied.  She always makes sure to spend at least $100 because that means she gets a free ice cream.  It’s only 20 minutes from me, and I’m there all the time.

So here’s some tips on helping me, the gatherer, in your dealership:

  • Don’t make me spend hours alone with joe-schmo-who-I-don’t-want-to-know.
  • Encourage me to wander around.
  • Change up your consultative approach so I’m the one asking most of the questions.
  • Make sure there are lots of things I can touch and explore without help.
  • Let me bring all my friends and kids (not on a test test-drive, obviously).
  • Sell me other stuff. Seriously. Let me multitask.
  • Or bring your car to where I’m already buying other things. Not locked up at a mall or bulk-buy club, that’s a waste. I have to be able to shop it!

What would an ideal dealership experience look like from inside a gatherer woman’s head? “Sweet. I feel comfortable here. They have a lot of nice cars I’m interested in right in one place. If nobody bothers me, I can check all these babies out in no-time- gotta get back to feed the baby and get dinner ready. If I have a question, there are employees who can help right over there, to make this faster, and they look nice.  Glad I brought my friends, they’ll help me out. Sherry already bought a car here and I know Suzy’s lease is up in a couple of months, so she’s into this too. Is that chocolate really free? Ooooh, that’s a great price on socks- gotta grab them!!!”

And I’m only half kidding about the last two.

A quick note to my fellow car salespeople:  Think about it.  Did you notice that many times when you left a female customer alone at your desk she would either get up and walk around or get on her phone? I always chalked it up to nerves about being in a dealership.  I now believe it’s more about her primal need to multitask.  Have you started talking about your family (because it’s a woman and they’re emotional and dig that stuff) while you were waiting for a price from the manager? Did you think you built great rapport and then never heard from her again? Oh, really, this has happened more than once to you? (It sure did happen to me, and I’m a girl, they’re supposed to really like me.) Those mean ladies! You should not take offense, it’s just that they’ve got enough people in their life to care about and build relationships with. She just wants to “gather” the best car and move on with her life.

Ladies, if you are reading this, please comment below. I’m hoping to get a couple of dealers to look at this and they will respect your opinions. The change is not going to happen overnight, so I will continue to post on “gathering” the best deal in the hunter’s showroom. Dealers, if you read this, I have three or four revolutionary ideas that I think could make your women buyers really happy. Email me at if you want to be the dealer I test them at. If you have issues with employees still talking down to women or calling them “babe” or “honey,” do not email me. You should get comfy sit back and watch the boat you missed pull away from the dock.

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One thought on “Dear Car Dealer, Don’t Make Us Slay the Mammoth. Thanks, The Ladies Responsible for 80% of Your Sales

  1. […] If you are planning on buying a car within the next year, possibly even two, this is a chance to shop the way we smart women like to shop.  We like to browse the options, touch, feel, see, assimilate, without anyone bothering us.  Preferably with our friends, our kids if we have to bring them, and an opportunity to grab a nice lunch or at least some coffee.  (I wrote about this in my Dear Car Dealer, Don’t Make Us Slay the Mammoth post.) […]

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