By Tom Kline, Lead Consultant & Founder, Better Vantage Point

Oops, they did it again.

I just unpacked my new desktop computer, screens, camera, and enough cables for you, me, and every adult on the planet. (Well, not quite but definitely an abundance!)

Along with my new goodies, I purchased, and I quote, the “Download Microsoft Office Home and Business 2021 All Languages Online Product Key License 1 License.” (Please note “Business” is part of the title here.) So, when I bought this, I had an expectation I could use it for my WORK as a consultant because I run a “Business.”

When downloading the product, it wouldn’t sync with my Outlook. At. All. (There’s no telling how many times I attempted this with different variations and permutations.)

After six hours on the telephone and online chats with Dell and Microsoft “support” and my web host provider, I learned I had purchased the wrong product.

After much typing and chatting and phoning, I finally learned from these fine folks, you see, “Business” doesn’t actually mean I am able to use it for a “business,” because I was informed that “Business” is really the “Home” version. Insanely aggravating, right?

Silly me, I thought the word “Business” actually meant you could use it for a business.

The software I purchased was $229.24 for a one-time charge, but now Microsoft told me the new price for you know – business business – was $99 per year. Honestly, after six hours of struggling with tech support, I really didn’t care; I just wanted this nightmare to end. (Doesn’t that sound like a customer coming out of F&I after a long transaction?)

And please allow me to mention I resent the word “support” here because none was given!

My Microsoft situation is a textbook bait and switch advertising ploy and is in breach of federal laws. I’m sure Microsoft has plenty of lawyers to argue about this. (By the way, if you’re a class action lawyer looking for a new case, this might be your next target…)

This story illustrates two important considerations in running your store:

1) If you are having customers accuse you of bait and switch advertising, examine your website and your other ads, including television, radio, internet, etc. Have you, as the dealer, looked at your online reviews recently? This is a terrific way for you to “listen” to customer feedback. If the terms are not “clear and conspicuous,” the ad would likely be considered deceptive in some way.

Because of competitive pressures, I know some dealers who intentionally advertise this way (so BEWARE!), and some unintentionally do it. Either way,

if you pay attention to Joe Public’s feedback, you will learn about process kinks at your store. As a result, you can improve procedures and avoid false advertising accusations and problems.

2) In my experience, there is (almost) always a disconnect between the advertising and the sales staff, which leads to claims of bait and switch. The ad agency or in-house ad person should be training the sales staff on advertising specials and how terms were calculated mathematically. When Sally arrives at the lot and requests the advertised deal, the salesperson should be able to clearly articulate “how the deal works” and understand how to communicate this to Sally courteously and effectively. Otherwise, when Sally is told she cannot get the deal (for whatever reason the sales agent creates), she will be (rightfully) upset. This is a classic scenario where the dealership can make improvements and avoid pitfalls by conveying information to the customer clearly and concisely.

This potential negative situation occurs when the sales agent doesn’t have the information to do their job properly. But this is easily fixed through training.

There are both federal enforcement agencies concerned with these issues, as well as the state Attorney General. For example, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, issued an advisory on March 3, 2022, warning of unfair and deceptive practices that violate the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law.

Here are three (3) salient points specifically about dealers directly from his advisory:

  • Represent and advertise goods or services at their actual price, comply with the terms of warranties given to the buyer, and not engage in fraudulent or deceptive conduct, which creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Sell a motor vehicle under the terms or conditions, including price or warranty, which a motor vehicle manufacturer or dealer has advertised or otherwise represented.
  • Disclose any hidden charges in any advertised vehicle price, as well as the expiration date of any advertised price.

Don’t be the dealer who ends up saying: “Oops!… I did it again, I played with your heart, got lost in the game…” It didn’t go well for Brittany Spears in 2007, and it won’t go well for your business either.

If your sales staff gets lost in the game and plays with customers’ hearts, you are going to create irate prospects, which (1) you won’t sell – so you will lose the sale and, (2) even worse, these bait and switch behaviors will attract regulators and lawyers.

Then, it’ll be your “Oops,” which will lead to a hefty fine, lawsuit, or worse… both!

About the Contributor

Tom Kline, a former franchise dealership owner with 30+ years, specializes in solving dealership problems through risk mitigation remedies: compliance, dispute resolution, and risk transference. Tom is the Lead Consultant and Founder of Better Vantage Point and He has worked with both publicly-held and private dealerships. 

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This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of Dealer Magazine. You can view the latest digital edition as well as past issues of Dealer Magazine here.

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