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Brightest future awaits dealers with best Internet sites

November 16, 2010
DriveChicago 'best practices' seminar

Traditional showroom traffic at dealerships continues to decline. But traffic via telephones and the Internet continues to grow. "How well are we addressing this except to complain that showroom traffic is down?" asked Lee Eddy.

Eddy, who directs CATA Learning University, was one of eight speakers at an Internet "best practices" seminar hosted by, May 28 at the CATA office. The CATA owns and operates the DriveChicago Web portal.

Eddy noted that dealership Internet managers often have shoddy cubicles erected as afterthoughts, and sometimes earn their position simply because they helped the dealer access his e-mail remotely.

"The general sales manager should say ‘I am the Internet manager, not that guy tucked in the corner with a 386 processor,’ " Eddy said. "The showroom now oversees 12 percent of our customer traffic; the Web oversees 88 percent of the traffic. If I am the GSM, then I must oversee the whole process."

"And if you don’t have your game covered," said Mark Bilek, the CATA’s Internet director, "you don’t get 88 percent; you get 10 percent."

Bilek noted that traffic is up 40 percent since the portal’s redesign six months ago. All CATA dealer members—and only CATA dealer members—are represented on the portal free, as a member benefit.

Bilek said when he joined the CATA in 2006, only about 10 percent of portal visitors were converted to dealer leads. That figure now is approaching 45 percent, and Bilek said his goal is a conversion rate of at least 75 percent.

Jim Miller of Dealerskins, which designs Internet sites, said a dealership’s Web site must be "visually captivating" to hold a consumer’s interest.

"Would you watch "Boston Legal" if it was black-and-white? I don’t think so," Miller said.

He said "hot buttons"—to access telephone numbers, new- and used-vehicle inventories, and financing information, among other things—should appear on every page of a Web site, so the viewer is never more than one click away from reaching the information.

"You should never have to back-arrow to find what you’re looking for," Miller said.

The group debated listing used-vehicle prices online. Bilek said the top complaint he hears about DriveChicago is dealers who instead instruct the consumer to "call for price."

Representatives of nearly 40 dealerships attended the seminar. Other DriveChicago technology partners who spoke included Experian Automotive, BlackBookOnline, Dealer Specialties, DataOne Software, and