For David Abatsis, online vehicle-buying services just don't move the metal as well as they used to.
Abatsis, owner of Acton Ford in Acton, Mass., says when he signed with Autobytel.com four years ago, consumers who used the online vehicle-buying service to get price quotes were serious buyers.
But now, he says, more online buying service users are just browsing, and his dealership's closing rate on Internet prospects has decreased.
'What we're finding is that consumers are using online car-buying services to get invoice and service information from specific dealerships as a starting point,' Abatsis said. His dealership often gets several purchase requests from the same shopper using different online vehicle-buying services.
With the proliferation of online buying services and manufacturer and dealer Web sites, Internet car shoppers have a lot more places to look for a vehicle. Add to that cheaper computers, more awareness and easier availability, and it means more people are surfing the World Wide Web to buy vehicles.
But for every dealer who is not happy with an online car-buying service, one can be found who is, says Chris Denove, director of consulting at J.D. Power and Associates. Still, Denove says more people are using automotive Web sites, and they are visiting more than one - sometimes as many as three. 'This has the effect of potentially lowering closing rates,' he said.
Ann Delligatta, Autobytel.com COO, says the company emphasizes that it is a vehicle-buying service, not a vehicle-shopping service. Autobytel.com gets 100,000 purchase requests - price queries for specific models - a month.
Acton Ford sells about 1,400 new and used cars annually. The store's purchase requests from Autobytel.com have remained constant the past two years at about 80 a month. But Abatsis says his dealership's closing rate on those requests has dropped by half, from 16 a month to eight.
So to get more productivity out of his store's Web site, Actonford.com, Abatsis expanded the site's services last month.
With Acton Ford's new Web site, consumers can qualify for financing. Using bank debit cards or a credit card, they can make down payments on new or used vehicles.
Using codes, Abatsis says, his Web site now can put different prices for fleet buyers and preferred customers on the same vehicle.
Acton Ford is mounting a direct-mail campaign to tell its current owners that they are preferred customers and give them special passwords for the new site. Abatsis says he expects this to generate more use of his Web site and more Internet sales.
'While we may not be selling many cars (online) today,' Abatsis says, 'the new Web site enables us to interact with customers, which ultimately leads to getting them to the dealership.'