Looking back, I don’t know what we did without the Internet years ago. Having worked in dealerships for years, advertising was such a big part of the business, but it was all basically based on speculation or what our advertising reps told us—newspaper circulation numbers, radio listener stats, TV viewership metrics. Nothing was ever specific enough to determine how many people were actually seeing, hearing or watching our ads (very expensive ads). Now, I anxiously await the latest Internet shopper statistics to come out, just as if I were waiting on my super spy x-ray glasses to come in the mail when I was a kid.

Well, happy day, these latest studies have been released and there are definitive answers to our questions, at least for our online initiatives. The latest study has revealed that 86 percent of all vehicle buyers were on the Internet at some point to research their purchase.

The great news in a nutshell is that dealer Web sites are getting more and more popular with shoppers. Mainly because dealers’ Web sites have become so much more rich and robust, we are giving shoppers fewer and fewer reasons to go to other sites when researching their next purchase.

Although OEM sites are still the most visited by online shoppers, third-party sites are no longer the second most visited sites. For the first time, dealership Web sites are the second most visited Web sites by online car shoppers! A reported 60 percent of these shoppers went to the OEM site, while 52 percent went to a specific dealer’s Web site. Third-party sites that used to be a shopper’s second stop now only attract about 25 percent of all the automotive Internet shoppers. (These numbers are from the latest Mintel 2008 shopper study). This is great news because we are capturing more people earlier in the buying cycle.

KBB.com and Edmunds.com are still the most-used third-party sites because they offer information – like independent vehicle reviews and user-generated content – not found on OEM or most dealer sites. In other words, shoppers want to hear what other shoppers have to say about vehicle choices. In fact, about 70 percent of them seek this non-biased user-generated content. They trust an independent opinion from a Consumer Reports study more than a marketing blurb on Ford.com.

We are seeing distinctive signs that those vehicles that get the best reviews from third parties and other owners are getting the most attention and more leads. In this economy, there is no margin of error for making a poor purchase, so shoppers are doing everything they can to eliminate that possibility. But having settled on a specific vehicle, consumers prefer to either look for that vehicle at a specific dealer’s Web site or go directly to the dealership when ready.

You’ve heard of cutting out the middleman? That’s exactly what’s happening. Only, the middlemen in this scenario are the third-party lead providers of the world. So, as you are looking closely at your advertising expenses these days, look closely at your ad dollar allocation and be sure it matches with the latest trends. Your most valuable online asset is your own Web site.

Vol 5, Issue 12