Here Are The Ways Dealerships Fail At Internet Sales

We’ve already told you how dealerships aren’t particulary good at using social media, but few people actually buy things based on Twitter or Facebook interactions, so you can understand why dealers might be slow to catch on. But practically everyone makes purchases online, so why can’t some dealerships get internet sales right?

A recent study said that 75% of car shoppers would prefer to complete their entire vehicle purchase online. This should be a golden opportunity for dealerships to capitalize on quick sales via the web. I communicate with dealers on a daily basis when I am shopping for cars on behalf of customers. I will say that most dealerships have an understanding of what it means to sell cars in the internet age, so this is definitely a case of #notalldealers. However, it’s alarming the number of stores that are essentially using their “internet sales” department simply as a way to get people into the dealership, only to spend hours buying their car the “old” way.


I had an eye-opening conversation with an “internet sales” director of a Florida Kia dealership that perfectly highlights the failures of many dealers’ online sales philosophy.

I asked the woman for her email so that I could send her the details regarding the vehicle my customer wanted. Her response... “I don’t really know my email address. I don’t really get emails from customers.”

This puzzled me, so I asked how she doesn’t send and receive emails if she’s in charge of the “internet department.” In what seemed like an odd moment of honesty, she said something along the lines of, “Well...we really just try to convince people to come in and buy a car. Of course some people won’t come in until we give them a number. But all are prices are on our website.” I had to remind her that while her dealership did have advertised prices on the website, they were all MSRP, and that no one expects to pay MSRP for a Kia.

Once you get passed this initial stage, there is the challenge of communicating your vehicle needs and pricing via email. It seems that some dealerships don’t really like communicating using email because they feel that once they put numbers down in writing it puts them at a disadvantage. Most of them know that a flat-out refusal to send quotes on the web pretty much guarantees the internet shopper will go elsewhere.


Here is some news for all you web-savvy car shoppers, a dealer that refuses to send you a quote doesn’t really want your business. Here’s why: they have a large enough customer base who are either uneducated on how to shop for a car and/or they cater to people who are “credit challenged” which makes them easy targets for market up loans, add-ons, and other back-end profits.


These dealers know they operate like a “stealership” and don’t want to waste their time with an internet shopper who will probably ask too many questions and walk away anyway. If you’re a dealer who doesn’t consider yourself a “stealership,” yet refuses to give quotes via email, know that this is how your customer is perceiving you. It might not be fair, but that’s the reality of car shopping in the 21st century.

So rather than just refuse to send emails, some dealers are just intentionally bad at it.


I was shopping for a Subaru last week, spoke with a dealer on the phone and requested they send me the price of a Forester via email. I was clear that I wanted to know the sale price of the car and an itemized tally of all taxes and fees with an out-the-door total. I also sent this salesperson an email detailing the specific car I was interested in, reiterating my request for the itemized quote. I received an email titled “Re:” with only the following sentence:

“The price is about 29k”

Obviously that’s not an out-the-door number. When I responded that “about 29k” was not sufficient given that the actual price cold be $28,500 or $29,300 and that I would need a link or a VIN to a specific car in their inventory and that I would need an “itemized” total, I got no response. Of course, I did receive about a half-dozen other automated emails from this dealer, that gave me no helpful information whatsoever, but did mention “huge savings” and a “hassle-free buying experience.”


Perhaps what’s most amusing about internet car shopping is the availability of “instant chat” with a “dealership representative.” The quotes around those last two words are especially important because you’re rarely chatting with someone at the dealership, but rather some third-party company whose only job is to generate leads for the dealer and provide little or no actual information for the car buyer. If you are shopping for a car, these chat windows are probably best to be avoided all together, as they usually just add time and frustration.

It would be great if car buying in the U.S. could be as easy as buying something from Amazon. In Europe, automakers such as Mercedes, Hyundai and Volvo are implementing a “click and buy” program for their cars. For example you can soon order a Hyundai i30 online and have it delivered directly to your home.


Of course, unlike the U.S., auto manufactures in Europe can sell their cars direct to consumers. Most American car buyers who can’t afford a Tesla are stuck navigating the franchise system whose primary online tools consist of outdated websites, useless instant chat functions, and pathetic grasp of how to communicate via email.

I would like to reiterate that many dealers are adapting and have trained their staff to effectively handle online car sales. They understand that an aggressive online quote will usually result in a quick sale and a happy customer. Those dealers that are stuck in the old way of doing things, usually have made that choice because their customer base hasn’t demanded it.


(Image, Getty)

If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at and be sure to include your Kinja handle.


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