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Unlocking the Truth: The Real Cost Behind ‘Special’ Online Pricing

Are we still pretending that “unlock the [dealer name] price” is a treasure trove hidden on a dealership website? It’s 2024, and the cat is well out of the bag: most often, the price you see online is the price you get. Yet, the charade continues. Customers click through hoops hoping to reveal a special sales price, only to find it layered with conditional discounts—OEM Loyalty Cash, Military Savings, or OEM Finance cash—that may not apply to them at all. And let’s not forget about those additional freight charges and miscellaneous fees that magically appear later in the process.

Dealerships persist with this model of “competitive” pricing, but is this method really serving its purpose, or is it backfiring? In an age where every consumer carries a powerful research tool in their pocket, deceptive pricing strategies are not just frustrating—they’re downright insulting. 

Yet Dealers continue to clutter their vehicle display pages (VDP) with numerous calls to action. “Call us,” “email us,” “chat now,” “unlock price,” “schedule a test drive”—but is this abundance truly necessary? The cluttered approach can overwhelm and confuse rather than facilitate a smoother transaction. Has any thought been given to simplifying the customer’s journey? More isn’t always better. Sometimes, it’s just more.

Besides competitive pricing, what else are dealerships doing to genuinely stand out? Sure, there are the perennial “customer promises,” free oil changes (shop fees and supplies not included), and complimentary car washes. But in the grand scheme, what value do these perks actually hold if the fundamental experience is flawed?

With customer testimonials and exposés on platforms like TikTok (trust me, if you haven’t seen one yet take a moment and look) becoming more prevalent, the old tricks are becoming less effective. These videos aren’t just viral moments; they are testimonials of the widespread dissatisfaction with the car buying process. The modern customer’s patience for pricing games is wearing thin. And whether or not everything in the videos is true, perception is unfortunately reality. 

Truly, there’s no need to play games to be profitable. Transparency isn’t just good ethics—it’s good business. As the industry stands at this crossroads, it’s time for a shift towards genuine simplicity and honesty in how we sell cars. Wouldn’t it be refreshing not to worry about a customer’s dealership experience going viral for all the wrong reasons? The automotive industry has the tools and the technology to offer straightforward, fair pricing—it just needs the will to steer in that direction.

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