"These buyers are looking for a nonthreatening Internet relationship with a dealer," Berry says, "not someone asking them for personal information."
Megadealer Robert Rosenthal, whose Rosenthal Automotive Organization in suburban Washington owns Jaguar and other luxury dealerships, counters that good salespeople trump a good Web site.
"You do have to provide a lot of specific vehicle details on your site," Rosenthal says. "But what really makes the site work is a talented Web sales manager. You want to get the customer on the phone."
Berry says the next opportunity for luxury dealerships may be to bring to the Web their ability to pamper customers. JM Lexus, the nation's largest Lexus dealership, is addressing that issue.
In January, the Margate, Fla., dealership launched an Internet service called Ready Upon Arrival. For $249, a JM customer can get purchase forms and contract documents online, without setting foot in the dealership's finance and insurance office.
The service gives customers the added luxury of quick vehicle delivery, says Jim Dunn, general manager of JM Lexus.
Forms that are normally filled out in the finance and insurance office can be e-mailed to the dealership, he says. When a customer arrives to pick up the vehicle, Dunn says, he or she signs the contract, gets a walk-around and can drive away.
Says Dunn: "Our customers value their time. That's one reason they shop online. They're looking for information — very detailed information — and service. Our mission is to give them everything they want on our Web site."