For some dealers, it’s time to celebrate and explore digital reforms

David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News

U.S. auto dealers are enjoying a banner year.

Now let’s see if they’ll use this little respite from the recent downturn to upgrade store technology and experiment more with nontraditional forms of marketing, especially digital advertising.

Today, vendors such as Cobalt and VinSolutions offer products that enable dealers to see where shoppers are looking on their Web sites.

By viewing the habits of an individual shopper, salespeople can better anticipate the direction a sale might go or push a coupon to the shopper to help get him or her into the showroom.

If you don’t have a Web site enhanced for mobile users or computer software to let shoppers compare vehicles with competitors’, you may be eliminating your store from sales contention.

With 90 percent of car shoppers starting their journey online and visiting an average of 16 sites before buying, dealers have to bring their own selling processes in line with the new reality.

I was surprised recently, though I probably shouldn’t have been, to learn that one dealer had purchased his very first digital advertisement just six months earlier. At least he’s experimenting with Google search ads now and it’s resulting in additional sales.

There are many other dealers who think the old ways of advertising and ignoring the Internet are working just fine. They may be right -- for now.

Consultant Urban Science this week said the nation’s 17,770 dealers are on pace to average 805 vehicle sales in 2012, an all-time high and up from 719 in 2011. That’s on projected 2012 industry sales of between 14.1 million and 14.4 million.

The industry can breathe a sigh of relief for the rebound. Just don’t let that puffed out chest get in the way of needed reforms.

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