As the Internet hits critical mass as a sales venue, it's clear that it is a powerful tool that can be used in a variety of ways that can be good, bad or ugly - depending upon your perspective.
Honda Division has adopted a sensible plan for sharing sales leads from the corporate Web site. It is based on merit, not location. To get a Web referral, dealers will have to have a dedicated Internet sales department, a specific process for dealing with Internet customers and the ability to respond quickly to e-mail. Why waste a sales lead on a dealer who would probably lose it?
It forms a partnership with dealers to attract and keep Internet customers. What could be better?
Meanwhile, a Ford experiment in Arizona has angered some dealers. Ford tells Web shoppers the average transaction price for a model, which makes it easier for the customer to negotiate price with the dealer.
Critics say it cuts dealer profits because it starts the negotiation process below sticker price. They're right. It does change the ground rules. However, the Internet has made secrets obsolete. Price information is available all over the Web, including wholesale prices, dealer discounts and incentives. So why make a savvy shopper leave your site - for any reason - at the risk of losing a sale?
In Texas, Ford is recruiting consumers and Web users in its fight with the state. When the motor vehicle division challenged Ford's online used-car lot, Ford closed the site temporarily. It also blasted the state and invited Web surfers to complain to the state.
The message is clear. You can run from the Internet, but you can't hide. Find a way to make it work for you instead of against you.