Most car dealership Internet customers focus on price but don't fixate on it, according to a study on consumer buying habits.

Price is a hurdle that needs to be cleared, with 74% of survey respondents citing it as important.

But after that, whether a store offers quality customer service is a big factor in most buying decisions, says the study by Outsell LCC, an Internet sales and marketing firm.

“You've got to be in the game with price and payments, but then customer service is the key,” Outsell CEO Mike Wethington tells Ward's.

The study says most customers are willing to pay extra for high levels of customer service, and dealers who offer it can increase profit margins on vehicle sales.

“Once the price barrier is crossed, a consumer who experiences a high level of service will be more inclined to buy a vehicle at that dealership and pay more,” says Sahill Merchant, an Outsell researcher who oversaw the study.

Nearly 67% of survey respondents showed a willingness to pay an additional $100-$500 if they receive excellent service at the dealership. Leading that group were shoppers at high-end dealerships.

High-line shoppers are more determined to buy a particular vehicle. In contrast, most average Internet shoppers purchase a different vehicle than the one they initially shopped for, the study says.

High-line vehicle buyers are much more specific about the model and options on a vehicle. Other customers often are still inclined to purchase a similar vehicle at a dealership that offers them a good experience, says the study.

Men and women car shoppers are different, but not that much, says Merchant.

“Men and women pretty much want the same thing, but women fear they are at a disadvantage at a dealership,” he tells Ward's. “The greatest pain point for women is the feeling that the salesperson isn't treating them fairly. Men feel that too, but not as great.”

Exceptional dealerships understand customers' individual needs and recognize differences, Wethington says. “They view every customer as unique.”

Excelling at that are many dealerships in the 51-store Hendrick Automotive Group based in Charlotte, NC, he says.

“Regardless of race, gender and economic standing, a good dealership is customer-centric,” Wethington says. “Everyone is treated with respect. It's understanding differences, but treating people equally.”