Are you a dealer with an Internet department or an Internet dealer?

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News.
The average car buyer today visits just one or two dealerships before buying a vehicle.

The information came from a published interview with Pat Ryan Jr., CEO of Chicago used-car software supplier Incisent Technologies, and I found it startling.

When I began writing about new-car dealers more than 20 years ago, auto shoppers visited an average of three dealerships before buying. But that was before people could do their research online.

There are many implications for car dealers. The first one that comes to mind is that many dealers likely will need to consider spending more on their Web sites and on Internet advertising.

Ryan said 54 percent of consumers choose a dealership based on what they learn about the store online. He asks dealers: “Are you spending 54 percent of your time and money on online vehicle ads to match consumer traffic?”

The vast majority of dealers have Web sites and Internet departments. But Ryan is talking about a fundamental change in methods. He believes auto retailers must shift from a dealership with an Internet department to an Internet dealership.

The bricks-and-mortar store is still supremely important for such a high-ticket, sophisticated product as a car. But the statistics suggest dealers need to be sure they’re adapting to the increase in online commerce.