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I had a very interesting conversation with a friend the other day that confirmed my beliefs about online car shopping. We were discussing how people use the internet when they're ready to buy a car. He mentioned that he had just purchased a car and how the internet helped a lot with the process. In fact, he said it was "Great!"

I wanted to find out more. Everything I've read about internet car shopping has pointed to inherent weaknesses, frustration and the proverbial 'run-around'. A recent industry survey found that 3 out of 4 car buyers had said that the process was unsatisfying. Polk, J.D. Power and others have found that online car shoppers are looking for several key pieces of information; Inventory, Price and Response. Seems reasonable enough.

Back to my friend. He went on to tell me about how he had first gone to one of the big "research" sites to find out more about his selections. Like most buyers, he had already narrowed his search to 2 vehicles. So after learning more about trim, options, MPG etc he settled on the Honda Pilot. He then visited one of the big "buying" sites to get a fast, free quote. He entered his contact information and hit 'submit'. While waiting for the fast, free quotes, he decided to visit the local Honda dealer's website. Then another, after all there was inventory to browse, video test-drives and moving images!

After just a few hours he received roughly 13 emails from 3 different dealers. The first several were auto-responses acknowledging his request. He never did get his fast, free quotes but each email promised that he would be contacted as soon as possible to determine:

1. The kind of car he wanted

2. What’s available

3. Schedule a test drive

4. Work up the price

5. Discuss finance options

Sure enough, the phone began to ring, despite the fact that he expressly indicated that his preferred contact method was email. He talked with 2 of the 3 dealers and decided to visit the dealer closest to his home. He was assured they had the color he wanted and the price would be great. So he went to the dealer, negotiated a price and bought the car.

How did the internet help? Why was this experience acceptable? If he were buying a camcorder would he accept this? I think not. Imagine having to go through this process to get a price and availability for a camcorder or a TV.

The bar has been lowered to the point where it is considered a 'good experience' to not get a simple price on a car without having to first speak to a salesperson. Virtually every other industry has responded to consumer expectations and has embraced the inherent benefits offered by the internet to improve the buying experience. From consumer electronics to insurance to real estate, the internet offers transparency, selection, anonymity, and research. And sales have not declined as a result of this consumer empowerment, in fact they have increased.

So why hasn't the car business done the same?

Views: 15

Tags: antley, joe

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Comment by Joseph B Antley; JB ANTLEY on May 22, 2009 at 4:55am
Zackly.
Comment by Megan E. Bucher on May 21, 2009 at 3:32pm
Great point, Stanley! The percentage is 87%...those that don't buy the car they request a quote on. The best we can do is respond to them quickly with what they ask, and maybe suggest a few more in stock vehicles...and keep the price competitive. It doesn't have to be the lowest to beat the competition. Fast and accurate is key.
Comment by Stanley Esposito on May 20, 2009 at 4:41am
Research shows the customer almost never buys the car they come in on. I say give them a price and quick. Get them in and go to work. If they ask for a price give it to them. They may not know the features but they do know they don't want you to tell them what is right for them at least not before they come in.
Comment by Pat Floegel on May 19, 2009 at 2:46pm
I ran an Internet department for a number of years. 98% of the time when someone would request a quote, there was not enough info (purchase or lease, do they want a car exactly as they built online....or might something similar and less expensive be suitable). We always tried to help determine the clients needs. Often times, despite all of the info which is available online, the person requesting the quote still didn't know which features were included on the car. Then they get to the dealership and find out that navigation is an option.
The other big issue still boils down to price. Even when it was determined in advance what the client wanted and a price was quoted (it has to be low enough to beat all the other dealers which were contacted), when the client would come to the dealership, they would then want to start negociating from the quoted price.
It is never as simple as it seems.
Comment by Megan E. Bucher on May 19, 2009 at 11:28am
Ever walk in to buy a video camera and ask what the invoice price is? It's a tough racket, no doubt, and there's a lot lost in translation. Example: I run my department to get a competitive quote and similar vehicles in stock to what was requested out in 20 minutes or less. Even with that goal in mind, I still have customers tell me we never responded. Usually, we're stuck in their spam folder. It'd be cool if, when customers requested information, they made sure we were on their 'safe' E-mail list. Good post!

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