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Web service goes where car shoppers dread to tread

About the author

Ken is a freelance writer and editor who resides in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Ken has more than 25 years of editorial and communications experience.

In Seattle, the test drive evolves

(Tred)

A web start-up wants test drives to have something in common with pizza, groceries, flowers, singing telegrams and packages from Amazon: home delivery.

With this better-mousetrap sales approach, Tred.com takes direct aim at eliminating three primary consumer pain points: high-pressure sales tactics, price haggling and all-day, dealer-to-dealer slogs, ordeals that have long made car buying as appealing as a forced march. It also reflects a wider trend of both automakers and entrepreneurs continuing to reimagine the traditional car-buying experience.

Why Tred and why now?

Grant Feek, founder and chief executive officer of the Seattle, Washington-based company, notes that on average, consumers spend almost 12 hours buying a car, of which 4 1/2 hours is consumed with tedious paperwork. Moreover, industry surveys indicate there is a strong inverse relationship between the amount of time customers spend in a dealership and consumer-service index scores. In other words, less time spent on the deal-making gerbil wheel leads to greater consumer satisfaction.

“We live in the era of the consumer,” Feek says. “People can easily waste an entire Saturday visiting dealerships, not to mention the logistics involved if you have kids with car seats and strollers. We want to make buying a car the coolest and easiest experience ever – as much fun as driving a new car.”

At a cost of $19 per car, trained Tred representatives deliver up to two vehicles at a time to consumers’ homes or offices for test drives and side-by-side comparisons. There is no time limit on the visit; Tred wants consumers to “scratch and sniff” the cars to their hearts’ content. And consumers can request as many car deliveries as they want – although test drives cannot exceed 15 miles per car.

“That rarely comes into play,” Feek notes, dispelling any notion of meandering joy rides.

Tred drivers are trained to answer questions and help customers make unbiased, informed decisions about which vehicle best suits their needs. If they’re completely stumped by a question, they return a consumer’s query within 24 hours. Ultimately Tred drivers are not in the business of driving a hard bargain, but in providing a service.

“We empower consumers to make their own decisions,” Feek says. “Our drivers are incentivised to give customers a good experience, not to sell cars.”

Dealers, meanwhile, are incentivised to partner up with Tred. When a customer wants to take a step towards a purchase, a dealer that had previously paid Tred a fee (undisclosed by Feek) sends an email with a no-haggle price. The customers also receive a link to a Tred Talk “deal screen”, a sort of online chat service that enables consumers to ask dealers questions and perhaps negotiate sale or lease terms, financing and the like – and do it anonymously, with no contact information solicited. The actual purchase can be consummated at a dealership or at a customer’s home during week days.

Tred is so confident that consumers will get the best possible price that the company vows to pay customers $1,000 if they can find a better price that the dealership will not match.

Feek says Tred has partnerships with dealerships that represent most major car manufacturers, with the exception of some higher-end brands such as Audi, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini. Dealerships find the Tred approach attractive because the fee-based test drives identify consumers who are serious car buyers, not mere tire-kickers.

Tred, which launched last June in Seattle, does not collect a percentage of sales, merely the $19-per-car delivery and dealership fees. While Feek declined to share specifics about sales volume, he says that by the end of the year or in early 2014, Tred plans to expand beyond its Seattle base.

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