Online Car Shopping Experience
This Chevy dealer’s website tries to be helpful, but it really isn’t.

My wife and I might be in the market for a new vehicle sometime in the not-too-distant future. While my job as an auto critic gives me unique access to the industry’s latest and greatest, I will still need to get into the proverbial trenches to research not only the product but the dealerships who sell them.

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Based on my initial scouring of various Chicago-area dealership websites, I began to notice issues that made navigating these online showrooms as uncomfortable as the experience would likely be if I were to visit the brick-and-mortar location. At any moment, I felt like a guy in a zoot suit and gold tie would come up behind me and ask, “What can I do to get you into this car today?”

Fortunately, other dealerships selling the same brands of vehicles do the online thing right, providing me with plenty of tools to ensure a relaxed, yet thorough experience.

With this in mind, here are five things I believe dealerships can do to improve their virtual showrooms.


Flush the Flash, Pop the Pop-ups
Landing on the home pages of some dealerships results in being accosted by Adobe Flash-powered banners and slideshows. Some sites are so bogged down with these “features” that they take forever to load unless you have the world’s fastest broadband Internet connection.

Many sites add an annoying bar to the bottom of your web browser with embedded links to live chat, Facebook, directions to the dealers, and other useless junk. It’s provided by a company called ActivEngage, and they specialize in these nuisances. While the bar can be effectively minimized, some sites ignore your request for the bar to be hidden and put it back full force every time you click on a link. Not cool. The only upside to this “feature” is that some dealers embed Google Translate functionality to display information in a variety of languages.

In a final ironic twist, some dealer sites add pop-up or pop-under ads asking you to fill out your personal information so you can receive “No Nonsense Internet Pricing.”


I Don’t Want to Talk to You
Most online showrooms I visited tossed a live chat window on my screen without any warning. I understand their desire to be proactive, but what really chaps my backside is when that same window pops up again after I’ve already closed it once. If I want help, I’ll ask for it. Now leave me alone.


What You See Is What You Get
It really makes my online car-shopping experience more pleasant if a dealer includes photos of its actual inventory. Bonus points if you have multiple images, including different exterior angles, unique badging/trim, and interior details. Sadly, far too many stores simply rely on stock manufacturer pictures.

The same concept applies to pricing. Any dealership that makes a habit of posting “Contact us for pricing!” on its inventory without even having the courtesy to at the very least show the MSRP will not get my business.


Show Me the Monroney
Better known as the window sticker, a car’s Monroney provides all kinds of useful information. As a potential customer, I won’t penalize any automaker or dealership that does not provide an online-viewable copy of this document, but having it available is a really nice touch. This is one area where import nameplates could learn from their U.S.-brand rivals. Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors do the best job, by far, of making Monroneys available to their dealers—and by extension, their potential customers.


Consistency is King

When searching a dealer’s inventory, it would make things much easier for an online shopper if there was more consistency in terms of how vehicles are named. Call all your BMW X1 xDrive28i or Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD Laredo models just that. I’ve seen the former vehicle called the X1 28i and the latter any number of variants, sometimes on the same page. This can make narrowing your search results more complicated than it needs to be, not to mention making it way too easy to overlook a specific vehicle that might have the features I’m interested in.

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