A now-common feature of e-retailing is the website shopping-cart icon into which Internet users put their selected purchases before “checking out.”

Dealer.com wanted to bring that idea to car shopping, but deemed a tweak or two was in order. The company, which provides website and other Internet-based services to dealers, wanted to avoid an incongruous cyber-image of placing a vehicle in a presumably giant cart.

“So we came up with something more appropriate: ‘save this car,’” says Joe Pistell, senior director-product innovation for Dealer.com, a firm that provides website and online services to auto retailers.  

Save-this-car is intended to help people stay organized during online car shopping that can become a complicated, information-packed process. “It allows them to keep track of vehicles they have looked at and are interested in,” Pistell says.

The feature is part of Dealer.com’s new website enhancement called MyCars. The goal is to make it easier for online customers to shop and ultimately engage with dealerships.

“The car-buying experience has evolved,” says Alison von Puschendorf, Dealer.com’s director-corporate communications. “So many people shop online today. The average person spends six to eight months researching cars.”

MyCars doesn’t require shoppers to provide personal information. Many people are reluctant to do that until the end of their online shopping.

They are offered the option of registering by providing identities and contact information. As an incentive to do so, “they get email notifications on new incentives, price changes on cars they are interested in and information on whether the vehicle has been sold or if a similar vehicle has arrived,” says Pistell, former marketing director for the Sun Auto Group in Syracuse, NY.

At the early stages of their Internet car shopping, most consumers want to operate in stealth mode, he says. “They are not ready to talk to a salesman. The average car buyer will visit 23 websites. Their progress isn’t linear. They are here and there.”   

In the course of that winding journey, they are drawn to navigation-friendly websites. Dealers want similar facility in their customer relationship management systems, says John Quinn, Dealer.com’s CRM process architect.

“You can have the best system in the world but if no one is using it because it’s too complicated, there’s a problem,” he says.

Dealer.com’s CRM system includes “Salesperson Dashboard” built for quick navigation of daily follow-ups, appointment tracking, scheduling and comparison with peers.

In designing it, “I imagined someone using a paper log,” Quinn says. “That is kind of what I was looking for with the dashboard.”

The CRM system also tracks telephone calls, contents of calls and “what phone numbers called what phone numbers,” he says.

Another feature is a spam alert that tells a dealer if a prospective e-mail marketing campaign contains “spammy language,” particularly in the subject line, that might cause a filter to stop a message from reaching intended recipients, Quinn says.    

Dealer.com also offers CarFlix, patented video technology that creates a video for every vehicle in a dealer’s inventory. A separate company makes the videos which are posted as blogs to increase the chances showing up on search-engine results.

Various marketing studies indicate vehicle inventory listings that include videos and several photos increase customer interest and the number of clicks.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com