Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Car Dealers: eCommerce Doesn’t have to be Their Enemy

There is one word that car sales managers try to embed into their salespeople.


Control the deal, the customer, the situation, the tempo – everything.

During the glory days of car sales before the Internet destroyed everything, dealers were able to take advantage of an uninformed public. It was good to sell cars.

This reason, above all, is why the auto industry hasn’t bought in on “Buy it Online”. The car dealer has no control over deals that happen from home or office. They know they need to have an internet presence, but they want that presence to bring people onto the lot, nothing more.

The handful who allow people to buy vehicles online and on the phone will eventually pave the way. Vehicle quality, warranty length, and available knowledge are all helping customers get an edge. Customers can decide which car, truck, or SUV most likely meets their needs before they step foot at a dealership.


It doesn’t take a webmaster to find dozens of informative sites to help consumers buy a new car. Reviews, virtual test drives, comparisons and pricing are all available a few clicks down most Google searches.

Pre-owned cars offer different challenges, but it’s very easy to get enough information to make good choices. Car listing search websites like Las Vegas Used Cars offer consumers a way to find something good.

The challenge happens at the crossing between the customer and the car dealership. In many cases, both parties lie. Not all, but enough on both sides to reduce the trust factor considerably.

Facing the Challenges

Internet Coordinator Nick Umbs from Ted Britt Ford in Virginia uses eBay and other methods to bring his dealership in contact with the internet shopper.

“We start out by posting 35-50 detailed photos along with a highly detailed description of the vehicle,” said Umbs. “We want the customer to feel like they are actually at the dealership with the vehicle. We don’t want them to have any unexpected surprises upon delivery.

“The whole process is very painless with great results.”

Another challenge is the trade-in. Most consumers want their trade value site-unseen from telling the dealer make, model, miles, and that it is in excellent condition.

Oklahoma City Lincoln Dealers in El Reno, OK, handles distant trades with their online buying process. They use Black Book online to help customers determine their trade value.

“We have been able to sell dozens of vehicles to out-of-state customers because of 100% disclosure on both ends,” said Dandy O’Connor, Customer Resource Manager. “We don’t expect them to buy ours if it isn’t what we described, just as we wouldn’t take theirs if we were misled. Since we started the program, we haven’t had any of these deals go south.”

eCommerce and the Auto Dealer

Whether consumers are trying to buy from local dealers or from across the country, it is possible to buy a car online. It’s difficult, but definitely not impossible.

First, consumers must locate a dealer that will do business in this manner. There aren’t many yet, but a dozen email inquiries should yield 1 or 2.

Once an e-friendly dealer is found, consumers should get right to the point. Find a vehicle that fits and make an offer. Tell them everything about your trade, finance situation, timeframe – the works.

Pick up the phone and make the call. Search online, but discuss the details over the phone after the ideal vehicle is located.

There are millions of sites that offer financing options, but it is best to let the dealer try first. Almost all have a secure online application. Use it.

Finally, arrange ask them to arrange transportation. Then, look for some of your own, just to make sure you’re getting a fair price. Talk to the finance director to discuss any extras, then have the paperwork mailed or sent via courier.

It sounds easy. It isn’t. Still, it is probably less trouble than doing everything face-to-face where the dealership has more control.

The Future

Being able to perform a vehicle transaction online is on its way to becoming reality. Those dealerships who have the forward thought enough to start implementing now are the ones who will most likely survive these rough times in the car business.

Until they all come around, be diligent. There are a few “good guys” out there.


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