Thanks to the Internet, customers of Wickstrom Ford in Barrington, Ill., can do almost everything to buy a vehicle - except take delivery - without leaving home.
Colin Wickstrom, general manager of the dealership, plans to provide even more services in the next 18 months - from setting up service appointments online to sending out maintenance reminders
by e-mail and selling parts.
'Our Web site is far ahead of those of other dealerships, but far behind in its potential,' says Wickstrom, 30, whose father, Tim Wickstrom, is dealer principal at the suburban Chicago store. 'We need to do a lot more cutting-edge stuff ... to be more `wowing' to customers when they hit our site.'
The Web site, www.wickstrom ford.com, lets browsers look through the used-car inventory or put in a purchase request for a new vehicle.
In 1999, the dealership sold about 450 vehicles through purchase requests on the Internet. About 18 percent of leads are generated through its Web sources, including its own site, Ford Motor Co.'s Web site, and several online buying services to which it subscribes, including Autobytel, CarSmart, World Wide Wheels and Cars.com. Half the leads are from Autobytel, fewer than 10 percent from its own site.
'Very few dealers get enough sources off their own Web site,' Wickstrom says. 'The brokers can spend more on advertising to generate leads. It's not my opinion it will always be that way.'
World Wide Wheels, a Chicago-based service, also hosts and maintains the Wickstrom Web site. The monthly charge for generating e-commerce leads is about $6,000, in addition to the expense of three full-time salespeople who handle leads.
Most of the 200 to 400 monthly leads are people within 30 miles of the dealership, which Wickstrom says is a sizable radius for an urban area.
While the entire used-car inventory can be viewed on the site - complete with photos and details - the new-car inventory is not yet available. However, customers can request a specific vehicle and Wickstrom Ford will advise of its availability or order it.
Wickstrom and World Wide Wheels are conscious of keeping the site user-friendly and easy to navigate. At a minimum, Wickstrom says, a dealer Web site should offer a home page with basic information about the dealership, from location to phone numbers; its operating hours and a brief history or statement of philosophy. It also should provide information about products with a link to a manufacturer site, offer a way to contact the dealer by e-mail and enable the customer to start the purchase process. Ideally, a site also should introduce the dealership's service and parts department.
Wickstrom's goal is to answer e-mail inquiries as quickly as they arrive. 'We contact the customers immediately via e-mail confirming their request, then we call them immediately,' he says. 'Sometimes verbal communication is pretty important to have clear understandings.'
All leads are managed in a central database so any of the e-commerce sales staff can be informed when they talk with customers.
Wickstrom Ford promotes its site by placing its Web address in all communications and ads.
The site is linked to the Ford Web site so customers can get complete new-vehicle product information. A number of sites link to the Wickstrom page, including local cable and radio stations on which the dealership advertises.
Many parts of the purchase process can be completed online - including full disclosure of terms and approval of financing. Yet sales and leases often will not be finalized until the dealer can inspect the buyer's trade-in to set an offering price or until the buyer test drives the car of interest.
However, Wickstrom says more purchases are being handled online up to the point of delivery without the customer ever coming into the dealership.