Automotive Management 24/09/99
Not yet is probably the answer. But it probably will, even if it is just to keep in contact with long lost friends through e-mail.
What is certain, on the other hand, is that the growth of the Internet is set to continue, and we underestimate it at our peril.
A number of very intelligent people, people who are considered to be good judges, have ignored the Internet until now. Take Bill Gates for example – it is only in the past five years that he has embraced the technology, before that he considered it too shambolic, too nerdy to succeed. How times have changed.
What will undoubtedly change, however, will be the uses the Internet is put to. Time was when it was predicted to change everything from recruitment to the way we do our grocery shopping.
The fact is that it hasn’t, although it does seem to be causing a major change in the way the public buys records and books. Now we are wondering whether it will change the way we buy cars.
If the recruitment industry’s experience is anything to go by then the answer will be a cautious yes. A cautious yes, because the internet seems to be good at delivering products that are homogenous, identical goods that do not need to be selected by the buyer. It does not seem to be so good at delivering anything that requires interaction or an informed choice to be made.
For this reason, recruitment companies can advertise on the Internet, and receive hoards of CVs, but the medium is no better than the post at separating the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. It still needs the face-to-face interview, the in-depth examination of a person’s capabilities to finish the job properly.
Buying your groceries through he Net causes major problems – supposing the potatoes aren’t as good as you would have picked, if they are out of single pints of milk, do they give you two instead? Or would you prefer a pint of semi-skimmed instead? Such decisions are personal, and can only be made at the time of shopping – however good the system, relying on it may cause disappointment.
Which brings us to cars – will the Internet change the way dealers do business? Will it supersede dealers in a few years time?
Sales will inevitably be made through the Net, but not perhaps as many as are being predicted. Cars are still very difficult things to sell, and people only part with their cash reluctantly, and rarely before they have tried the end product. The Internet is establishing itself as a useful way of gathering information, and the best dealers maximise upon the leads it generates. A percentage will always buy on price, but if everybody did so, then no one could try before they bought, as all dealers would go out of existence.
So, given that dealers are not yet prepared to declare themselves non-profit making organisations (asides from many operating in the late 90’s that is), dealers will not disappear. Internet dealing will not become all-powerfull, just as brokers have never succeeded in selling cars in big numbers through the post.
But it will become increasingly important, simply because it is becoming so easy to access sophisticated information. Advertising will also become inter-reactive in a way that current media simply cannot compete with. E-mail and voice mail will revolutionise the way we communicate.
When the telephone, the video or the mobile phone first started it was a trickle that turned into a flood. They are now parts of our life, as indispensable as the car itself. But they haven’t changed us, our doubts, our insecurities or our need to trust the person we are dealing with.
Although other factors may well be changing the way dealers operate, the future of the dealer is safe. I am convinced that just as people will always be happiest working with people, they will also always want to buy from people.