Let’s end this statistics abuse

Regular readers will know my “fondness” for press releases from the “female-friendly insurer” Sheilas’ Wheels.  

Today’s amazing insight is that car dealerships are not very women friendly: Showroom walk-outs account for potential losses in new car sales of over £17 million per week.

“Shocking” new research in the Car Showroom Shake-up report, is, as usual, based on extrapolation.

Although “one in five (20%) women questioned confessed to pulling out of buying a new car because of offensive comments made by a salesperson or the off-putting showroom environment”, the conclusion: “resulting in a loss of sales totalling a massive £907 million this year” is based on the assumption that “20% of women drivers who pulled out of a car sale purchase did not buy a new car in another car showroom for at least 12 months.”  What is the logic for this?  PR finger in the air?

I’m reminded of the fallacy used by health campaigners and politicians who claim their campaigns save lives – the fact is we will all die of something, sometime.  We might just live a longer, healthier life if we give up smoking, cut out fatty foods, reduce salt intake, drive better, etc etc – but it won’t save our lives.

If you need, or want, a new car, you will buy one – somewhere else.  So the industry as a whole doesn’t lose out.  Just those dealers and manufacturers who didn’t impress these particularly women. 

It is dumb to annoy customers – but how many women walk out of clothes shops and other retailers because of poor service.  I know I have.

Anyway, what most annoys me is that – the agency behind the story reveals a torturous approach to statistics in the notes to editors, with the mathematical workings:

*Calculation: Number of female drivers on the road (14.4 million – National Travel Survey) x Number of female drivers who always buy new cars (9% – Sheilas’ Wheels ‘Car Showroom Shake-up’) / Average number of years that women change their car (4 – Sheilas’ Wheels ‘Car Showroom Shake-up’) x Number of females who have pulled out of car purchase due to the showroom atmosphere or sales experience (20% – Sheilas’ Wheels ‘Car Showroom Shake-up’) / Number of weeks in the year (52) x Average price of new car (£14,000 – Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) = £17,446,153
Quick calculation: 14,400,000 x 0.09 (= 1,296,000) / 4 (324,000) x 0.2 (64,800) / 52 (1,246) x 14,000 = £17,446,153.

Apparently Sheilas’ Wheels audited 220 car dealerships (hardly a representative sample), and found only 14% of salespeople are women.  In this respect, the survey’s observation that 58% of female driver find showrooms “a ‘very male dominated’ environment”, could seem low.  And the “fact” that 31% of women would prefer to negotiate with a female salesperson perhaps indicates over two-thirds aren’t bothered.

But then we get back to a pretty standard Sheilas’ Wheels theme – poor frightened women. 

Almost three quarters (72%) of the women drivers questioned said they now take a male partner, friend or family member with them for support and to help them get the best deal – being afraid to ‘go it alone’.

The spokeperson for Sheilas’ Wheels goes onto slate the car industry – rather than individual dealers – as

not meeting the needs of the modern-day female driver. It’s stuck in the dark ages and is missing out by not grasping the female market with both hands. The fact that so many women have pulled out of a new car purchase because of the atmosphere in the showroom and sales experience shows that a lot of changes are needed.

Add in our ubiquitous “independent psychologist”, Dr  (an expert on postnatal depression as well as being for hire for PRs), who makes unsubstantiated claims that sales people who “appear most honest and trustworthy will be the most successful.”

In my extensive personal and professional experience with car dealerships, the issue isn’t as simple as male versus female.  There are dealers who understand how to interact with customers and those who do not.  In fact, huge amounts of money has been invested by the industry in creating pleasant showrooms and training staff.  Customer satisfaction is not only monitored, but a key reward mechanism.

Yes, I know it is just a harmless story aiming to generate coverage – as the TeamSpirit PR team:

created through client demand, translates complex financial messages into their simplest forms — and takes financial brands beyond the money pages, and into living, headline-grabbing stories.

Its goal is to “make your brand come alive” through “attention-grabbing work that gets talked about”. 

TeamSpirit even has a – with sporadic, and increasingly short posts.  Maybe that’s not surprising as since it was launched in June this year, there have been just 2 comments left by readers (both anonymous and critical of typos and the arguments made).  Indeed, one of the 28 posts to date generated criticism by for faulty logic.

I have nothing against media relations campaigns – but I’m pretty fed up with silly surveys and misuse of statistics.  Until the media likewise becomes more critical and ceases to provide the column inches, then I suppose Sheilas’ Wheels and TeamSpirit will keep them coming. 

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “Let’s end this statistics abuse”

  1. On the other hand, as someone who has visited a few showrooms recently looking for some info on least mean to the environment cars, I’m reminded what an unrewarding experience it can be, and I suspect it’s not just women who walk out of showrooms. Some sales people I’ve talked to don’t know what VED band their cars are in. Yesterday I was completely stood up having booked a test drive. And then there’s still the old favourite ‘why don’t you sit around half an hour while I play games with my boss about the price…’
    Not a bit of wonder people go to the sales showrooms to try cars then go and buy them on the internet. Nothing about the ‘showroom experience’ makes you inclined to spend money there!

  2. I agree with you entirely Caroline that many dealers remain quite poor at the basics of customer relations (and maintain ridiculous tactics). The VED ignorance is just pathetic given that it will be detailed on all material relating to the vehicle. I don’t think the car industry is alone on lack of environmental awareness in retail though. I remember reading a study where those selling furniture had no idea whether it was made from sustainable sources.

    I would probably be less annoyed by the Sheila’s Wheels release if it was part of a genuine campaign to get better treatment for women (and men) in dealerships. But it is just another poorly researched story aimed at generating headlines only. I can think of lots of newsworthy ways in which SW could make this a high profile campaign – social media is ideal to empower and motivate women in this way.

  3. Heather

    You are absolutely entitled to your views, that’s the beauty of blogs, but perhaps you are a little hard on our own blog?

    To the best of my knowledge blogs can be as long or as short as they need to be – the content is crucial not the word count.

    Surely the important issue is that we blog, that we post when we have something to say and we permit anyone to comment – not the volume of comments?

    If the readership of the majority of blogs is 0 then does that mean the millions of people who blog worldwide are wasting their time? I like to thing blogging has helped a lot of people find a way to express themselves – that’s all we are trying to do.

    I hope you take this post in the spirit it is intended – a good natured one.

  4. Peter,

    Thanks for stopping by – and yes, I do take your comment in a good natured spirit. My point wasn’t really about the length of posts per se, but that they seemed to be getting shorter and were sporadic – which doesn’t imply a lot of commitment or life in the blog.

    I welcome anyone to the blogosphere and it is entirely for you to judge the success of your own blog on the basis of your objectives. If the goal is simply to express a view and the number of visitors or comments isn’t important, then that’s fine and, no you aren’t wasting your time.

    From a PR perspective, I just feel it could do more for you guys.

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