There must be something in the water in Atlanta, as dealer chat provider Contact At Once! was selected this week by two more major automotive websites to power their respective dealer live chat features.
The timing of separate announcements by Edmunds.com and UsedCars.com (part of Dealix and owned by ADP) was coincidental. But the fact remains that they have joined Cars.com, Autotrader.com, CarsDirect.com, CarSoup.com, EveryCarListed.com and many other regional and local automotive websites, all of which have selected Contact At Once!, is clearly indicative of a major industry trend. Chat software is positioned to become as commonplace in dealerships as have phone systems and dealer websites.
Edmunds.com is enabling chat free-of-charge to dealers in their premier dealer program, a subscription-based advertising program. The stated intent is to allow consumers to connect immediately with dealers to ask specific questions about inventory, pricing and other important facts about their next new or used vehicle, and to gain relevant answers in real-time.
Donna Sechrist, Sr. VP for Dealer Initiatives at Edmunds.com, emphasized this point in a recently issued press release, stating that “(Contact At Once!) chat capabilities offer Edmunds.com users an immediate, real-time response to their questions that a traditional lead form simply cannot provide. It also offers our participating dealers the opportunity to efficiently interact with the proven high quality of buyers that only Edmunds.com can deliver.”
UsedCars.com, on the other hand, is breaking new ground by enabling dealers to pay on a per-chat basis.
“UsedCars.com is the first to offer chat as part of our advertising service on a per-qualified-chat lead basis,” said Dealix Vice President, Egon Smola. “As with our phone and email lead features, dealers who list their pre-owned inventory on UsedCars.com will only pay for the highest quality leads generated from live dealer chat. Many of our dealer clients already use Contact At Once! to power dealer chat on their own dealership websites. Selecting Contact At Once! to also power live chat on UsedCars.com will allow our combined customers to leverage their existing investment in live dealer chat.”
Despite its power, dealer chat has only gained traction in the automotive industry over the past several years. Data from website DealerChatMarketShare.com shows that the adoption of chat by auto dealers has only recently accelerated and even so, just 20% of dealers presently have chat on their websites. The research site predicts that adoption will continue accelerating based, in part, on the fact that major automotive websites (such as Edmunds.com and UsedCars.com) are popularizing chat among consumers. We asked Ed Parkinson, VP of Sales for Contact At Once!, for his views on dealer chat adoption.
"Early attempts by dealerships to utilize chat failed for two reasons: The first was that so few consumers had embraced chat at the time. That has changed now. Nearly every car shopper between the ages of 18 and 50 has used chat and, in many cases, prefers it over submitting form leads,” said Parkinson. “The few that have not used (chat) will soon because chat is becoming a commonly found feature on virtually every major automotive website.
“The second problem was that early generation chat solutions were kind of limited,” Parkinson continued. “Dealerships merchandise their inventory and branding across multiple websites in an attempt to reach more car shoppers, so it only makes sense that their chat solution should be able to go to those places as well. But those early chat solutions couldn’t scale like that.
“The fact that the chat solution on so many major automotive sites, like Edmunds.com, UsedCars.com and AutoTrader.com, and all are powered by Contact At Once! means we can connect our dealer customers with car shoppers across the Internet. Of course we also can and do provide chat on a dealer’s own website, which means a higher return on investment than a dealer can achieve with any other chat solution. The more the dealer chat network grows, the greater the value found by Contact At Once! dealer customers."
Will chat software actually become as commonplace in dealerships as phone systems? That remains to be seen, but the trends and the momentum behind dealer chat and companies like Contact At Once! seems to be undeniable. It will be interesting to follow the success of the dealerships leveraging chat to make themselves more accessible to today's online car shoppers.
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