It's confusing being a dealer today - especially when it comes to e-commerce and the seemingly endless array of Internet-based systems and services.
The only sure thing is that the Internet is fundamentally changing the automotive retail business. But nobody really knows what that means for the future; e-business is still evolving.
That was the consensus of a panel of e-business practitioners promoting their services to dealers at NADA's annual convention.
'This is an interim stage,' said James McQuivey, research director for Forrester Research, Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. McQuivey moderated the panel, which included senior executives from five online services representing various levels of dealer involvement, expense and results.
The panelists themselves reflected the cacophony of Internet voices in today's market.
Michael Kravitz of DriveOff.com and Todd Collins of Greenlight. com promoted their vision of a seamless transaction from vehicle selection to after-sale servicing. But even they differed somewhat. Collins said his service was developed 'by dealers for dealers.' Kravitz said consumers would perceive DriveOff.com to be independently owned. He called that a plus because of negative consumer perceptions about dealers
Dean DeBiase of Autoweb.com said consumers will always want a local brick-and-mortar dealership. But he predicted the industry could one day become 'bifurcated.' Some customers might be satisfied with online deal-making and delivery through a bare-bones store. Others might want to work with a more traditional store.
Brian Stafford of carOrder.com wants to buy rural dealerships and turn them into Internet-based businesses. Ken Elias of Priceline. com said there always will be consumers who want to haggle for the lowest price.
Whether any of these models will emerge as a favored alternative to conventional showroom sales remains to be seen. But being customer-focussed will be key to any successful business model, the panelists said. And the shift away from one-size-fits-all selling will continue.