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More car shoppers start with Internet

BY MICHELLE BORYCA | JUNE 18, 2009 7:21 AM

Buying a new car may be just a click away, but a local dealership doesn’t think of this as a dead end.

Drew McEleney, the Internet manager at McEleney Autoplex, said his company is well aware their clients are going online before coming to their dealership.

“We believe that somewhere near 80 percent of customers do some sort of online research [before coming in],” McEleney said.

That’s why McEleney Autoplex is continually revamping its dealership website, has its own blog with video and photo, and even has a Facebook account, he said.

“Companies use the web to cut costs, increase profits, and get more measurable results,” said Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media — an Internet consulting company in Atlanta.

The company develops Internet strategies used to help companies better market themselves online.

Harpointner forecasts that the closing of GM and Chrysler dealerships nationwide will accelerate the trend of online car buying — he predicts that in the next five to seven years, 50 percent of car buying will move online.

McEleney also foresees a change, though he doesn’t believe a full 50 percent of car buying will shift to the Internet. Despite the bad reputation of sales associates, he said, they are valuable to the car buying process.

More than half of the Internet leads McEleney Autoplex receives end up purchasing a different vehicle than they were interested in while researching online, he said.

“Salespeople are acting as consultants rather than salespeople,” McEleney said.

Sales associates ask questions, determine what buyers need in cars, and ultimately pick out a group of vehicles that would fit their needs, said McEleney.

Both McEleney and Harpointner agreed that buying a vehicle is the second largest purchase most American will make.

Harpointner believes consumers still care about “smelling the leather and kicking the tires.” And McElenry think this will keep them coming into the dealerships to make their car purchases.

But with fewer dealerships in neighborhoods — and 1,889 combined GM and Chrysler dealerships closing nationwide — Harpointner said consumers are left with no other choice than to go online.

Car buyers can visit 20 different dealerships online and “let our fingers do the walking,” said Harpointner. Consumers can customize their cars online, he noted.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm for the Internet and the auto industry,” said Harpointner about the forced adjustment for car manufacturers and dealers.

The online purchasing is a trend that pertains to more than just the auto industry. Trends in retail are a fair comparison to what he suspects will happen to dealership car buying, Harpointner said.

“It’s the same customer,” he added. “The person who shops for a car is the same person who shops for a camera and the same person who shops for shoes [online].”

Nonetheless, the Internet is a new communication platform and it’s extremely convenient says Harpointner.

Then again, maybe buying a new car in your underwear only appeals to a select few.


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