Car Buying: What Do Women Want?

It’s a fact: women make 62 percent of new car purchases and make nearly 80 percent of car purchasing decisions in the United States. So why are automakers still struggling to effectively target this huge buying audience? Tinesha Craig, director of the i on Women division of the market research firm Insights in Marketing, took a look at how women view the car buying process. She found that only 26 percent of women said they were “extremely satisfied” with the options available to them in the automotive market.

Craig surveyed women about their habits and experiences in shopping for cars to try to figure out what needs to change. What she learned was that—perhaps unsurprisingly—women aren’t all that different from men when it comes to shopping for cars. But there are a few places where we differ. “In terms of motivators and thought process, [men and women] are fairly similar,” Craig said in a phone interview. But women are more likely to start their shopping process online, and have a greater desire to feel informed before we ever set foot in a dealership. Here are five things that are important to women buyers. Automakers, are you listening?

1. We Want Clarity on the Web

There’s a lot of information available on automakers’ websites now. Unfortunately, many automakers have websites that aren’t fully responsive to the needs of a variety of shoppers. Websites often fail to clearly demonstrate a car’s full range of features, tending to focus in on its performance attributes instead. “Some women may be interested in performance, some want to know about safety features. It’s important to understand the range,” Craig explained. She said many shoppers would benefit from a full, jargon-free rundown of a car’s features and how it compares to the competition.

2. We Want to See Warranty and Resale Information

Women also buy new cars less frequently than their male counterparts, meaning they hold on to cars for longer. This means we want to know how long our cars will last, how reliable they’ll be, and what kind of warranty the manufacturer offers. “The warranty piece, I think, is a mystery to everybody,” said Craig. While some automakers tout their warranties and resale values, others aren’t as clear. It should be easier to make head-to-head comparisons and find the details on the model you are looking at.

3. We Expect a Little Respect at the Dealership

While we’re waiting for car companies to wise up to the things they could do to cater to women in the shopping process, is there anything women can do to streamline the process ourselves? Craig acknowledged that for many women, a trip to the dealership can be a stressful experience. “Going to the dealer feels like being in a pressure cooker. The focus is on [the dealer], not what the customer wants.” This could be why so many women start their search online in hopes of avoiding an unpleasant experience at the dealership. Craig said she has walked away from a dealership that gave her “that slimy, icky feeling,” opting instead for one that treated her with respect and gave her plenty of time to test drive the car she was interested in.

4. We Listen to Our Friends

Craig said that in her own car buying process, she has relied on advice from trusted friends instead. That’s not uncommon: 63 percent of the women she surveyed also looked to friends for car advice. Dealers should be leveraging the socially interactive female customer by asking them to refer friends and inviting them to bring friends along on the buying process.

5. We Want Car Buying to Be Fun

If you’re dreading a trip to the dealer, don’t. You have the purchasing power to make it a good experience. Starting your search online could be a good way to get some basic information about the cars you’re interested in. The test drive is still a crucial step, so don’t put up with a dealer who won’t give you the time you need. Find one who will help you feel good about the process of buying a car, and be sure you’re comfortable with your purchase before you sign on the dotted line. Craig lamented that car buying has become such a chore for some women. “There’s a lot of frustration with this process, but there doesn’t need to be. It should be exciting.”

Images from Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/ThinkStock

This article comes from our sister website—and editor-in-chief Jean Jennings’s other project—Jean Knows Cars. Check it out at