Within five years, more than half of sales for Zangara Dodge in Albuquerque, N.M., will be a result of customers shopping on the Internet. That's the prediction of Rob Reddish, general manager of the dealership.
'We can track 40 to 45 units a month that we have sold as a result of our Web site,' he says, 'and a lot more come about as a result of people getting information on other Internet sites that we aren't even aware of.'
The dealership, which sells only Dodge, has had a Web site since 1995. It was one of the first dealerships in the state to link up with the Internet.
The Web site was launched when Jim Zangara, brother of owner Ken Zangara, began pushing the idea. A new Web site, launched in late 1999, offers more information than the old site and has links not only to the manufacturer's Web site but to the local cable company's Web site and from the Web site of Digitalcity.
Reddish says the sales staff has been 'positive' about Internet sales: 'We've all welcomed and embraced the idea of the Internet. I see continued growth in this area. It could, potentially, replace other forms of advertising, and I can see the possibility that within five years, more than half of our sales will be as a result of the Internet.'
There is no doubt in Reddish's mind, however, that the advent of car sales via the Internet has made an already competitive atmosphere even more competitive.
'The Internet could put some dealers out of business. It will be survival of the fittest,' he says. 'We just have to learn to compete in a new way, and we'll have to work to stay ahead.'
One way to do that will be the old-fashioned practice of offering more and better service to customers, Reddish believes. But, he predicts that in the future, more customers will be increasingly likely to set up service appointments and order parts on the Internet.
'People don't have time to go to the dealership anymore, but they can get on the computer at 10 o'clock at night and have an e-mail the next morning telling them when their appointment is scheduled or that their part has been ordered,' he says.
But some things are still done best in person. 'A computer can't sell a car,' Reddish says. 'Someone has to show it to the customer, and I don't see a computer with that ability yet. It's a good way to start a deal, but you still need a salesman.'
A few sales are consummated via e-mail at Zangara Dodge, but in the vast majority of the cases, the customer comes in to test drive the car and finalize the deal.
The Internet may provide new opportunities, but it also presents new challenges, Reddish says.
'There is so much information available on the Internet that sometimes customers' expectations exceed what a dealership can offer at a good price. That's what I mean by the Internet making everything more competitive.'