Internet shopping is often touted as the future of auto buying. But there is a problem: Internet car shoppers receive lousy treatment.
Only 20 percent of respondents in a recent J.D. Power study said dealer Web sites were useful.
Some dealers who get e-mail requests from Internet car shoppers take too long to respond or do not respond at all, said Chris Denove, director of consulting operations at J.D. Power and Associates of Agoura Hills, Calif. And when dealers do respond, Denove said, many refuse to give price quotes.
Moreover, dealership salespeople designated to handle Internet shoppers often are not authorized to cut deals, said David Green, vice president of dealer operations and customer support at Autoweb.com, an online vehicle-buying service.
'Internet shoppers want speed and convenience. Dealers are not used to that medium,' said Liz Magarity, marketing director at Magarity Chevrolet in Flourtown, Pa.
She added, 'If there are people in the showroom, that is the customer you deal with right away. Online car-buying services are trying to change that mindset.'
Ultimately, dealers must deliver on the online car-buying services' marketing promise: quick, easy, no-hassle transactions.
So the buying services have stepped up efforts to train their dealers in how to handle Internet car shoppers successfully.
By next March, Autobytel.com of Irvine, Calif., plans to have district managers in the top 25 U.S. car markets.
'Their sole purpose is to help dealers up their close ratios, reduce Autobytel.com in-house costs and train dealers on how to handle Internet shoppers coming through the door,' said Mark Lorimer, CEO of Autobytel.com.
Autobytel.com will spend about $8 million on dealer training during the next several years.
Contrary to what most observers believe, 'We're not selling success in a box,' said Autoweb.com's Green.
Autoweb.com, based in Santa Clara, Calif., holds about 50 training sessions a year for its subscriber dealers.
Autoweb.com is training its dealers to:
Make a powerful first impression with an engaging e-mail.
Follow up promptly with a phone call.
Provide the lowest price and avoid haggling.
Empower their Internet sales designees to make the deal.
Emphasize ease of doing business.
Most online car-buying services require that their client dealers respond to an Internet lead within 24 hours. That is not fast enough.
Microsoft CarPoint has found that when its dealers respond to an Internet lead within five hours, their closing rate is 30 percent.
'Respond within 24 hours, and the closing rate is 16 percent,' said Robyn Gorman, product manager at CarPoint in Redmond, Wash. 'Wait three days, and it drops to 8 percent.'
CarPoint tells its dealers to respond to Internet shoppers within five hours. Internet shoppers have a different expectation from normal car shoppers, said Autobytel.com's Lorimer.