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Online, Potential Car Buyers Can Kick Virtual Tires

No matter how good the sales force is on the floor of your auto showroom, you may be missing out on potential sales if your dealership website doesn't deliver as good a sales pitch, a new study says. Even for big-ticket products such as and new and used cars, the Internet has increasingly become key for sales.

Today, 71 percent of consumers use the Internet when shopping for new and used vehicles — more than double the usage of any other information source , according to a survey of car buyers by the automotive researchers at Polk and AutoTrader.com. The majority of buyers also said the Internet was the most influential source leading to their purchase decision, beating out referrals from friends and family.

Used car buyers spend about 18 total hours shopping, while new car buyers spend roughly 19 hours searching for a new car or truck, the survey found. Roughly 60 percent of that time is spent online, with the remainder spent visiting dealerships and engaging in other offline activities.

The study has a number of implications for dealers, Polk and AutoTrader.com said. Dealers need to leverage the Internet to influence shoppers' considerations and create greater visibility for their brand and dealership.

Dealer websites should give shoppers what they’re looking for in terms of detailed vehicle information, accurate pricing, relevant content and the ability to compare vehicles. Websites should also allow dealers to promote their inventory and brand throughout the shopping process.

Most shoppers use Internet search to locate dealers, the survey found. To this end, dealers need to have effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies to make it easier for shoppers to find them. A majority of buyers establish initial contact with a dealer by walking into their showroom, which indicates that dealers need to look beyond the number of phone calls and e-mails they receive to assess which advertising sources were driving the most traffic into the dealership, the survey said.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.