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Dealer Impact targets online consumers through dealership Web sites


As car dealerships are becoming increasingly aware of the Internet’s importance in today’s business world, Dealer Impact Systems found its niche, creating custom Web sites for dealerships to attract potential customers.

“Our market, our industry, is really starting to come alive,” said Brian Cox, president of Dealer Impact. “Dealerships are finally starting to realize that everybody’s on the Internet. It’s not going away, so they might as well learn it and get accustomed to what’s going on or they’re going to be left behind.

More than a dozen Greater Des Moines car dealerships and 41 nationwide have listened to Cox’s advice and worked with Dealer Impact, which touts itself as a “custom design shop” catering to dealerships’ brand identity.

Cox started the company in 1998, conducting general Web site development for clients in various industries. He tapped more thoroughly into the automotive industry, creating the Web Auto Manager computer program to streamline the process of updating online information for dealerships. The program continued to evolve as the company added printable window stickers and other features to the program, developing a “foundation” for dealership Web sites.

“The rest of the market came in and gave a template solution,” Cox said. “We came in and looked at it from more of a consumer standpoint. Every dealership in Des Moines is different. We tried to figure out ‘how can we train them to be doing the things they need to do to build that basic foundation?’”

Though Cox does provide dealer information to listing services such as Cars.com, he said dealerships should be more focused on developing their own online identities, rather than relying upon those national sites.

“They’re sending their brand away to someone else,” he said.

Betts Auto Campus began working with Dealer Impact four years ago and is currently redesigning its Web site to include additional features aimed at attracting the growing number of car buyers who head to the Internet before visiting the dealership. Lori Mooney, Internet sales coordinator at Betts, said the dealership’s user-friendly site allows consumers the chance to browse through all makes and models of cars in its inventory, with the help of Web Auto Manager.

“It’s easy to find all of the information they need in a one-stop shop,” she said.

The redesigned site which will likely be unveiled next month, features 360-degree views of cars and more information on dealer- and manufacturer-sponsored sales and incentives.

Though many dealerships such as Betts have bought into the notion that an online presence is an essential sales tool, Cox said some are still holding out despite consumer data emphasizing its importance. Information recently released in the J.D. Power and Associates Autoshopper.com study for 2004 shows that a growing number of car shoppers, 64 percent, begin their vehicle shopping process online.

However, he said one of the Dealer Impact’s biggest hurdles is getting dealerships to make effective use of their Web tools, primarily with online inventory, the importance of which he continues to stress in order for dealerships to cater to the online consumer.

“The real philosophy behind dealerships having a successful Web site is keeping the information fresh and updated, and quite frankly, the majority of the market doesn’t,” he said. “If [dealerships] are paying to have a service to come in and update your cars once a week, that’s not enough for the online shopper.”

Dealer Impact’s Portable Auto Manager, an extension of Web Auto Manager, attempts to make inventory updates a bit easier, enabling dealerships to conduct mobile inventory with a personal digital assistant. Mooney said Betts will not switch to the Portable Auto Manager, however, primarily because of the ever-changing technology associated with PDAs.

Cox said dealerships such as Betts, in which one person oversees the Web site and online sales inquiries, show a commitment to the Internet shopper. When sales leads originate from visits to Betts’ site, Mooney receives partial commission on the sale.

“What they get is directly reflected on their focus,” said Cox.


The J.D. Power and Associates Autoshopper.com study for 2004 is providing evidence to car dealers owners that the Internet is a strong selling tool, as a growing number of consumers are going online before visiting dealer lots.

The study, based on responses from nearly 27,000 consumers who leased or purchased a new registered vehicle in January or February, found that 64 percent of respondents used the Internet in their vehicle shopping process. And among all new-vehicle buyers, approximately 50 percent said their decision on vehicle make and model and the price paid or offered were influenced by automotive information found on the Internet, up from 40 percent in 2002. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed found independent dealership sites most useful, which was, a three percentage point drop from 2003.

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