Dealers who only pay attention to the number of Internet leads that are converted to sales may be losing sight of the 'stealth customer.'
That is the shopper who uses the Web to research a vehicle purchase but may not actually submit a lead through an online buying service or a dealer Web site. Dealers should be using Internet technology to reach these stealthy shoppers, said James Maguire, director of marketing for cars.com.
'If you're just focused on leads, you're missing the boat,' he said. 'You're building a brand. So when consumers are in a market, you can use the Web to reach them.'
New research from the Chicago-based cars.com shows that use of Web tools actually may be increasing customers' car-buying satisfaction.
In a telephone survey of more than 200 Web shoppers completed this fall, 60 percent said the Internet had improved their buying experience. That compares with 49 percent who reported a year ago that the Web raised satisfaction levels.
Cars.com is owned by Classified Ventures Inc., a group of newspaper publishers that has banded together to compete online with other auto sites. Cars.com, which offers new- and used-car ads, is developing new tools to make its service more useful to the dealer.
The company is developing lead-management software that dealers will be able to use for managing cars.com and other Internet leads. The new tool, expected to be introduced early next year, also can double as a sales management tool to handle showroom leads, Maguire said.
Also in the works is a personal service page that dealers may offer to their customers. The Web page can be used by a vehicle owner to schedule service visits and receive electronic coupons, and can even be used by a dealer to offer promotions by other local businesses. Testing for the page is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of next year.