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Despite low dealership inventories, consumer sales satisfaction unchanged from 2020: J.D. Power

November 26, 2021
As supply chain disruptions and effects of the pandemic continue, new vehicles are hard to find on dealership lots coast to coast. Nevertheless, customer satisfaction with the vehicle purchase experience has held since last year, according to an annual J.D. Power study released this month.
The 2021 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study found overall sales satisfaction remains at 789 points (on a 1,000-point scale). Satisfaction with dealerships where buyers purchased their vehicle increased two points to 841, while satisfaction with rejected dealers declined six points to 632. 
The buyer satisfaction increase is buoyed by buyers receiving more money for their trade-ins than they expected at the time of new-vehicle purchase. Year over year, the percentage of buyers who got more than they expected for their trade-in increased nine percentage points in the mass market segment and eight percentage points in the premium segment. However, satisfaction among vehicle buyers significantly decreased year over year in the inventory-related factors for website (-14 points) and at the dealership facility (-16 points). 
"Despite the lack of inventory, dealerships have overcome what might be thought of as a challenging sales environment for shoppers," said J.D. Power’s Chris Sutton. "Right now, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the supply chain tunnel, so dealerships need to continue to sell vehicles through their inbound pipeline and help customers with special orders. However, the silver lining for customers is that trade-in values remain high and that has had a positive effect on customer sales satisfaction." 
The study also found that satisfaction with the variety of dealership inventory significantly decreased 0.55 points (on a 10-point scale) among mass market shoppers and 0.42 points among premium shoppers during a three-month period from March through May 2021. 
Among key findings of the 2021 study:
• If you build new vehicles, buyers will come: Manufacturers struggling most with inventory shortages are losing shoppers to competitors. The percentage of shoppers rejecting a brand due to inventory shortages is most prevalent among domestic truck brands. One in four shoppers, on average, rejected one vehicle brand or another because dealerships didn’t have the exact vehicle they wanted. 
"The good news for dealers is that 78% of rejecters who reject a dealership due to inventory shortages indicate they will consider the dealership for future vehicle purchases. In other words, they’re not blaming the retailer for an inability to find their new vehicle," Sutton said. 
• Buyers of new battery-electric vehicles less satisfied with sales experience: There is a large disparity in satisfaction among buyers of battery-electric vehicles and of internal combustion engine vehicles. The overall buyer satisfaction index is 54 points lower for BEVs (790) than for traditional gasoline-powered vehicles (844). A cause for this is dealership personnel vehicle knowledge/expertise, with more than a full point difference in sales satisfaction between BEV buyers (7.59 on a 10-point scale) and gasoline buyers (8.72). 
"BEV buyers are a unique challenge for dealers," Sutton said. "As manufacturers ready new model launches, now is the time to ramp up training and knowledge of BEVs and related services—such as charging and aftersales requirements—as buyers will undoubtedly have more questions about them." 
• Remote buyers more satisfied with digital retailing: Among those buyers who are willing and able to purchase their vehicle without having to physically visit their selling dealer, the study found that satisfaction is much higher in both the premium and mass market segments than among those buyers who go to the dealership. "The ‘Amazon effect’ of seeing, buying and having a product delivered to your doorstep has made its way into vehicle-buying and it is here to stay," Sutton said. 
Now in its 36th year, J.D. Power’s sales satisfaction study measures satisfaction with the sales experience among new-vehicle buyers and rejecters (those who shop one dealership and purchase elsewhere). Buyer satisfaction is based on six factors (in order of importance): delivery process (28%); dealer personnel (21%); working out the deal (19%); paperwork completion (19%); dealership facility (10%); and dealership website (4%). Rejecter satisfaction is based on five factors: salesperson (40%); price (23%); facility (15%); variety of inventory (12%); and negotiation (10%). 
The study is based on responses from 35,387 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle from March through May 2021.