It doesn't seem that long ago that the Internet was going to put the retailer out of business.
It wasn't just cars that people would buy online. It was everything. We were all going to spend our days and nights clicking for everything from automobiles to groceries.
Well, it's probably a disappointment to some, but the retail community is alive and well. And so is the Internet. Sometimes it feels as though only Amazon.com is alive and well, although its losses since startup are staggering.
So what happened to another revolution in the automobile business?
Once again, customers realized that the car dealer serves a useful purpose in the car-ownership experience - and that's a lot more than just selling a car at the cheapest price.
I've always thought that the Internet's best function, among several, is providing information. It sure looks like car buyers think that way, too.
Former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Bob Eaton once said that the last dumb car buyer walked into a dealership about 1998. By that time customers had become an army of well-informed consumers who often know more than the salesperson.
Today, with the help of the Internet, the shopper is armed with all sorts of information from several sources. So it's even more important that salespeople become better informed.
I've often been disappointed by salespersons' lack of knowledge about the cars and trucks they sell - to say nothing about competitors' models.
Decades ago, a guy named Ross Roy showed up in Detroit and made a career out of putting together a book for salespeople that compared one make with all the competition. He ended up with a large ad agency, but I'm told that he really thought the key was to educate salespeople.
That still needs to be done.
There was an old wives' tale that import-dealership salespeople were better informed than domestics' salespeople. Based on a mother-in-law survey, I'd say that's true. Maybe customers of imports demand more technical data.
With the Internet, however, there is no excuse for any salesperson, domestic or import, not to know as much as any customer.
Even in the era of the Internet, dealers are still very much needed. So are informed salespeople.