It took a little fine-tuning, but Miller Automotive Group's page on the World Wide Web is humming along nicely.
'We had kind of a mediocre page for a while,' says Fred Miller, CEO of the eight-store operation in Southern California. 'It didn't
really do anything for us.'
But after a few changes, the page has become a more effective selling tool, he says.
The biggest changes are in how the dealership monitors the Web site and responds to inquiries from potential customers.
'We had it running through our marketing department for the first month,' Miller says. 'That didn't work well. You really have to respond quickly. So we have people in sales at each dealership who monitor it three or four times a day.'
The site is updated at least once a week, and special deals are highlighted.
When sales leads arrive through the Web site, Miller is one of the first to know. 'In my e-mail, I get a copy of every inquiry,' he noted. 'They also go into the general manager's e-mail and to the fleet department.'
Miller was un-able to provide figures on how many visits the page gets because those numbers are recorded at each dealership.
When visits are logged, the potential buyer gets a response as soon as possible, either by e-mail or telephone if the person included a number with the inquiry.
ATTENTION PAYS OFF
Along with its Web page, Miller Automotive uses online buying services to generate sales.
While Miller could not provide exact figures on Internet sales, he gave a rough idea of how much business the site and the online buying services generate.
The buying services - Autobytel.com Inc. and AutoVantage - produce about 100 to 125 sales a month, says Miller. During the last two months of 1998, when Miller Automotive began to pay more attention to leads generated by the Web site, the page was responsible for another 25 or 30 sales, he says.
At Miller Automotive's Honda and Mitsubishi dealerships, salespeople are closing about 35 percent of the inquiries they get from the Web page and buying services. Nissan inquiries lead to closings of 20 to 25 percent, and Infiniti sales are slightly lower.
'We have a lot of inquiries on used cars' at Miller Automotive's Toyota dealership, Miller says. That interest has led to closings of about 35 percent of the inquiries at that store.
He stresses that the Web site is good for much more than generating sales leads.
'We've had people apply for jobs' and for credit to make purchases, he says. 'We're getting comments from people who have bought cars from us,' letting the dealership know what was good and not so good about the transaction. Many people prefer to make such comments over the Internet rather than by telephone, he says.
IT'S WORTH THE PRICE
The site enables prospects to search the dealership's inventory and also tells them about service specials and special financing arrangements.
Miller says the popularity of the site is growing as Miller Automotive touts its Internet location in newspaper ads, direct-mail campaigns and on employees' business cards. A link from the America Online Digital City site for the area also draws visits.
The effort is well worth the cost, he says. Getting the site built, monitoring it and following up on leads is not exorbitantly expensive, Miller notes.
'It's a reasonable cost, but it's not outrageous,' he says, adding that the cost-per-sale is 'quite low' compared with traditional advertising costs.
Internet sales may never make up the largest portion of sales for Miller Automotive, 'but I think it will be a significant factor,' Miller says. 'That part will be fairly significant at some point.'
A major advantage of Internet marketing is that the customers do much of the legwork on a vehicle before they arrive at the showroom, he says. 'People are loaded with knowledge when they come in, so that speeds up the process.'
Internet marketing may not make sense for dealers in small, rural markets where computer users are not as abundant, Miller points out. 'But if you are in a major metropolitan area, it makes sense.'