Car shoppers often start their buying process online, and many don’t even step foot in the dealership until they are ready to purchase.

As important as it is to get a customer onto the lot to make that final sale, their experience on the internet is crucial.

Luca de Meo, the global head of marketing for the Volkswagen Group, said:

“We continue to rely on direct contact with the authorized dealer for the sale of individual new cars to consumers. But the Internet is naturally evolving into the No. 1 communications channel. In the future, our customers won’t just experience our models interactively. There will increasingly be an expansion of the services and accessories offered online.”

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Pew internet, a project of the Pew Research Center, reported in their article “Trends in Cell Phone Usage and Ownership” that 82% of Americans have mobile phones, and 35% of those are smartphones. People use smartphones for the data plans, accessing their email and the internet on the go almost as much if not more than the amount they use their laptops or desktop computers. Online shoppers often access dealership websites and offers right from the convenience of their phones.

“Smartphones cannot replace the test drive,” said Professor Willi Diez in a recent interview with automotiveIT. The internet cannot replace the test drive, either, because nothing virtual—at least not yet—can replace the experience of actually being behind the wheel of a vehicle. But devices like a smartphone can add incentive for a test drive if the consumer experience with a dealership online is worthwhile. That initial content is vital for getting to the test drive at all.

If consumers are focusing more and more of their shopping experience on the internet, whether at home or on their cell phones, then retailers need to focus more there too.