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Online offerings shouldn't be too good to be true

Let's say you're in line at a fast-food joint, and you look up at the advertisement of what your sandwich is supposed to look like. It's the most delicious collection of ingredients imaginable: a sweltering cheeseburger with rich red tomatoes and crisp lettuce. It's mounted on the wall like a painting of a loved one -- a tribute to all a cheeseburger can be.

These days, no one believes the photo-edited image of the burger is what will arrive in the paper wrapper. Customers expect a trade-off for a $4 sandwich that's ready by the time they pull up to the next window.

However, most online car shoppers expect the information on the website to match exactly what is delivered in-store. Monthly payment amounts and F&I products featured on the website should fit the offers customers receive at the brick-and-mortar store. A lot more than $4 is on the line -- for both the dealership and the customer.

"Dealers need to consider the entire buying journey of their customers. Shoppers today go back and forth between online and in-store, so it is imperative that those two experiences are continuous and consistent," Andy Moss, CEO of Roadster, told Automotive News. "If a customer builds a deal on a dealership website and then comes into the store, they should be able to pick up where they left off and have the same efficient experience in the showroom as they would have had from home."

Customers don't like restarting the purchase process when they arrive at the dealership, let alone receiving an offer that differs from the deal they started online. Imagine if after the drive-through, you peel off the wrapper of your cheeseburger only to find a chicken sandwich instead? That disappointment obviously multiplies when it's a car on the line.

Researching before entering the dealership shouldn't be an exercise in futility. If customers pore over the dealership website to find the vehicle they want at a their price point, dealers should be prepared to deliver.

You can reach Jackie Charniga at jcharniga@crain.com -- Follow Jackie on Twitter: @jccharniga

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