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Dealer websites getting better: study

December 18, 2015
Dealer websites are getting better. And they’re getting more car-shopper visits as a result, says a market researcher who tracks such online activity.
Visits to dealer websites have increased 73 percent in the past decade, a time during which those sites visually and functionally have improved, said Arianne Walker, J.D. Power’s senior director-automotive media and marketing solutions.
At first, typical dealer websites were nothing more than electronic brochures with little or no functionality. Modern versions offer the likes of real-time inventory, pricing, trade-in estimators, credit scoring, photo galleries and videos.  
"Dealer websites have become more robust and easier to navigate," said Walker, adding that 83 percent of new-car buyers go to them before visiting a dealership itself.
Consumers go to various websites during their online car shopping. They mainly use third-party sites for reviews and product information, then go to dealer sites for pricing, inventory information, and any potential specials and incentives, according to J.D. Power.
Good dealership website content is in synch with the content and brand messages of respective automakers’ websites. But strong dealer sites also stand out on their own.
"The one thing you have control over is your own website," Walker said. "It’s important to continue developing those."
About a quarter of consumers who visit a dealer’s website also visit an automaker’s. "But that means three-quarters aren’t," Walker said, and she urges automakers to, among other things, post information about certified-pre-owned vehicles. 
Consumers are spending more time online shopping for cars, J.D. Power reports. In 2005, they spent five hours doing that. Now, they’re up to 13.5 hours.
More and more of them use smartphones and computer tablets to shop. That activity has nearly doubled in recent years. But online car shoppers still widely use traditional computers.
"Ninety-three percent of new-car buyers use PCs in the shopping process," Walker said.
"Yes, they’ll use them in conjunction with mobile devices."
At home, shoppers tend to turn to the PC, she said. "Often, they are using what’s handy."
Away from home is when they reach for their mobile devices. That occurs at various locations, including the dealership. 
There, some shoppers use smartphones for various things, including vehicle negotiations.