Call our agent for the best deal in town

By Duncan Graham-Rowe CAR buyers may soon have a powerful weapon to use against those masters of negotiation—used-car dealers—in an intelligent software agent that haggles for a good deal. Ryszard Kowalczyk, a computer scientist at the Mathematical and Information Services division of Australian national research organisation CSIRO, says the software will work for most online trading. But in developing it, he and his colleague Van Anh Bui felt that the aggressive selling in the used-car market was the ideal place to test it. The Intelligent Trading Agent (ITA) will use the buyer’s preferences for price range, trade-in value, warranty deals and even how much they want a particular car to start the online haggling. The buyer is given a list of different negotiation strategies to choose from and, based on that choice, the ITA opens negotiations, changing the criteria if necessary to reach a consensus. Kowalczyk says the ITA might initiate a session by offering a price to the vendor that is reasonable but lower than the buyer’s maximum price. If the vendor finds this unacceptable, the agent might then offer to take less for the trade-in price on the buyer’s old car. If the dealer still isn’t happy, complaining perhaps that the car has had twenty particularly careful owners, the agent can offer to accept a shorter warranty. Because people tend to let personality traits get in the way of negotiating, Kowalczyk says even his early tests are showing that the ITA gets the consumer a better deal. Lee Williams, sales and marketing director of the British online used-car service Auto Trader Interactive believes that the ITA is great news for the consumer. But with the development of more sophisticated software agents, he says, negotiation may be taken out of the equation altogether. “People will stop haggling because they recognise that search engines look for the lowest price,
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