TORONTO - The much-touted 1990s notion that auto dealerships would be eliminated by the Internet has been debunked by a Canadian survey showing advice obtained on the showroom floor affects more purchase decisions than all other information sources.
But the survey also reveals that Internet information is increasingly important, while TV and radio advertising are less relevant.
"A few years ago, there was speculation the Internet would take over the car-buying scene, and the franchised automobile dealer would become a dinosaur and go away," says John Kalsbeek, director of the Automotive Group at Maritz Canada Inc. "That has certainly not proven to be the case."
The national survey, which polled 25,000 Canadian vehicle purchasers, shows 53 percent rated personal contact with and advice from dealership sales staff as most influencing their decision to buy a vehicle in 2002. It was 22 percent in 2000.
Kalsbeek says the quality of a salesperson's interaction with a customer is critical in making or breaking a sale. He says manufacturers and dealers are focusing more energy and resources on selling and raising the level of professionalism to improve the buying experience.
"Now, after getting advice from friends, relatives, magazines and the Internet, car buyers are looking to an informed salesperson to clear up any confusion and help them finalize the purchase," he says.
The survey shows that 77 percent of first-time car buyers who used the Internet in 2002 visited vehicle manufacturer Web sites, and 65 percent obtained vehicle product and pricing information online. Both numbers were higher than in 2000, as was the number of first-time buyers visiting a dealership Web site.
Maritz Canada Vice President Chris Travell says the increase in information available on the Internet and from a growing list of publications appears to be reducing the influence of TV and radio.
Travell says the number of Canadians influenced by targeted marketing and alternative forms of media - magazine and newspaper articles as well as reviews, awards and consumer car guides - increased from 56.0 percent in 2000 to 62.6 percent in 2002.