LAS VEGAS — Most modern car buyers undergo two distinctly different shopping experiences, says dealer Ash Zaki, who thinks he has found a way to bridge the two.

The first experience is digital, where people go online to research car models, check out dealer inventory and seek answers to preliminary questions.

“It's an early experience, but when they ultimately come to the dealership the process is different,” says Zaki, chief operating officer at Mercedes-Benz of San Francisco. “They are asking different questions.”

At the dealership, Zaki uses an iPad to help answer those queries, provide additional information on models and show visuals on how particular automotive systems work.

“The iPad marries those two experiences,” Zaki says at the 2011 Finance and Insurance Management and Technology conference here. “We use the technology to make our lives easier and make our customers' lives easier.”

Mercedes was the first auto maker to provide all 350 of its dealers with iPads to expedite selling cars and F&I products. BMW dealers now use computer tablets as well.

Other brands will follow, predicts Brian Reed of Intersection Technologies. “A lot of interacting with customers will be done on a computer tablet,” he says. “They allow mobility throughout the dealership, rather than taking customer into an office or leaving them standing somewhere while you go retrieve a piece of information.”

After Mercedes Financial provided each of its dealerships with an iPad, many Mercedes stores bought more on their own, such as RBM of Atlanta.

“Now, all of our sales people have them,” Internet Manager Bethany Johnson tells WardsAuto at the DrivingSales Executive Summit presented with WardsAuto.

Today, many dealers use multimedia technology, while others simply think it is cool, says Michael Kanzleither of Mercedes-Benz Financial. “We need to get from coolness to business by taking those technologies out of the box.”

But Mercedes dealers became quick adapters after the captive-finance firm passed out the iPads, he says.

Beyond the functionality, computer-tablet use at dealerships provides a positive image, Zaki says. “At the very least, it shows we are not behind the times.”