Adaptive Web sites make their way to dealerships

Technology adjusts to match interests of potential buyers

"The way the Web sites customize the content for the customer is perfect. One of the challenges of getting more conversions is that consumers too often can't find what they're looking for because the information is not easily found." -- Tony Rhoades, Gunn Automotive Group

NEW ORLEANS -- Tony Rhoades says smart Web sites have been a long time coming to auto retailing.

Other retailers, including Amazon, have had them for years. They are smart because they automatically adjust the screen depending on whether a visitor is searching by mobile device or personal computer.

And the latest technology can track what a shopper previously was looking for on the site and serve up photos and specials of those products when the shopper returns.

But those smart Web sites are just starting to filter to dealerships, and Rhoades, executive director for information and consumer strategy for Gunn Automotive Group of San Antonio, wants them for all six Gunn stores.

"The way the Web sites customize the content for the customer is perfect," Rhoades said in an interview here last month at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention. "One of the challenges of getting more conversions is that consumers too often can't find what they're looking for because the information is not easily found."

Rhoades said he plans to install the new smart Web sites launched by Haystak Digital Marketing, a company that has diversified into Web site development, and expects the installation to occur over the next couple of months. Gunn sells Honda, Acura, Nissan, Infiniti, Buick, GMC and Chevrolet vehicles.

Haystak's Web sites can identify the type of device a visitor is using and can track visitor shopping behavior, said Duncan Scarry, Haystak's general manager and founder.

That technology is rapidly replacing the antiquated way dealers tried to appease mobile shoppers, with one Web site for desktop visitors and another for mobile users, Rhoades said.

The more advanced behavioral or adaptive Web sites use cookie tracking to see which vehicles shoppers viewed, then automatically send the shoppers photos and information for those vehicles.

For example, a shopper who researched a Chrysler 200 sedan on a dealership's Web site -- or even on other sites -- would see photos of the Chrysler 200 and current incentives on it upon returning to the dealership's site.

Cookies are bits of software code that Web sites and online advertising services leave on a user's computer to track a Web browser's digital footprint.

Last summer, General Motors paid about $5 million so its 4,300 dealerships could do a 60-day test of behavioral Web site software from vendor Cobalt.

About half of GM dealers stayed with the technology that provides the custom experience, said Paul Nagy, Cobalt vice president of core products.

GM requires its dealers to have a Cobalt Web site for communication with the factory.

As a unit of AutoTrader Group, Haystak can expect to give dealers Web sites with visibility into shopper behavior on giant shopping sites and Kelley Blue Book, as well as other group holdings, Rhoades said.

Cobalt also is capable of tracking the shopping behavior of anonymous individuals at its thousands of dealer Web sites, as well as those of several carmakers.

Dominion Dealer Solutions, another major Web site developer and digital marketing company, expects to launch sites this year that adjust to shopping behavior, said Sean Stansell, Dominion products manager for Web sites.

Stansell said Dominion is converting all of its Web site customers to the responsive technology that provides content in a consistent format, whether it's accessed on desktop, mobile phone or tablet.

You can reach David Barkholz at -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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