Online vehicle shoppers, accustomed to the ease of using sites such as Amazon.com, balk at completing a form on a third-party Web site to request a price quote, says Jeremy Anwyl, president of the automotive site Edmunds.com. Shoppers also want dealers to respond more rapidly to their requests, Anwyl says.
Almost 14 percent of dealers who took part in a recent National Automobile Dealers Association (nada.org) survey on Internet issues said their stores respond to customer inquiries within 20 minutes. Nearly 36 percent said they get back to customers within an hour.
"Dealers have improved, but they are not immediate like Amazon," Anwyl says. The average dealer response time is slightly more than a day, Edmunds estimates.
Prospective vehicle buyers are interested in matters other than price, Anwyl adds. They also may want to know whether a model is available in a certain color or has a sunroof.
"We need to get rid of the mind-set about price quotes," Anwyl says.
Prospects want a variety of options for communicating with dealers, he says. Edmunds.com plans to offer shoppers an instant-messaging option to contact local dealers, as well as the opportunity to call or send e-mail to those dealers. More dealer Web sites are becoming sophisticated enough to send and receive instant messages, he says.
Mark Garms, senior vice president of dealer operations for the online automotive marketing company Autobytel Inc., a major lead generator, says his company also is testing ways to link consumers with dealers.
In a pilot program in several states, Autobytel (autobytel.com) is providing toll-free numbers to dealers it works with. It posts the dealership's name and toll-free number online as an alternative to soliciting a request for a price quote.
About a year ago, Garms says, the company revamped the format it uses to respond to shoppers who seek price quotes. Autobytel's instant e-mail confirmation now provides a link to the dealership's Web site, the store's phone number and address, the name of a dealership contact, and information about incentives and test drives.
"We are looking at a lot of different tests, to make the connection between consumer and dealer more streamlined and a better experience for both," Garms says.