Black shoppers are treated differently on visits to car dealerships

Christopher Nabeta

Accelerate Auto, a not-for-profit focused on increasing representation of Black talent across Canada’s automotive industry, released the findings of new third-party research aimed at better understanding what Black Canadians experience when they visit dealerships to shop for vehicles, and whether barriers exist that discourage them from working in the industry.

The study from independent research firm RKI surveyed a diverse sample of 1,116 Canadian consumers.

The survey revealed that when it comes to decision making factors influencing buying a new or used car, there are very few differences between White, Black and Other (non-Black) minorities.

However, their experience when entering a dealership is much different, and these experiences influence decision making around not only whether or not to do business with a dealership, but in pursuing an automotive career overall.

More than three quarters, 76% of Black Canadians, (and 82% of non-Black minorities) report having had a negative experience at a dealership vs. 64% for White consumers.

“This survey reveals Black Canadians and other minorities feel they are treated differently at dealerships, and they have developed strategies to combat the biases they encounter,” said Christopher Nabeta, Executive Chair of Accelerate Auto.

In terms of the types of negative experiences they report, Black consumers, 20%, are more likely than White consumers, 15% to report they’ve been steered towards less expensive models or assumed they cannot afford a model.

Among Black vehicle shoppers, 22% report they felt the dealership sales representative assumed they had a poor credit score, vs. only 12% for White buyers.

Nearly three quarters of Black consumers, 73% and 74% of non-black minority consumers employ at least one strategy to ensure they are treated respectfully by the sales staff when preparing to go to a car dealership, while only 55% of Whites do so.

Top strategies include ensuring their clothing/dress was immaculate when entering a dealership, 30% Black vs. 16% for White consumers. Another strategy used by 36% of Black shoppers was to do extensive research on the vehicles they are interested in so that they come across as experts vs. only 20% for White shoppers.

“Our organization was created to help our industry partners — OEMs, dealers and suppliers — identify and close these gaps. We need to revisit how we are treating all buyers who walk into our showrooms,” said Nabeta. “There’s some good news in our findings too, since 92% of respondents have had a positive dealership experience when looking at vehicles.”

There are also big wins for dealerships who treat their Black customers well, because Black consumers are more likely to write a positive online review about their experience, 34% vs. 25% for White customers.

The other key part of the study was to discover how Black talent felt about pursuing careers in the automotive industry.

The survey found Black and Other minority consumers are more likely than White consumers to say a workplace with greater diversity would be a reason to switch industries (30% and 23% vs. 15%).

However, Black consumers are almost twice as likely than White consumers to say it would be difficult to switch careers and start working in the automotive industry, because of the perception that car companies do not want to hire people like them (24% vs. 14% of White consumers).