If Rothrock Chevrolet’s Andre Johnson questioned whether online chat could help him sell more cars, he’s a convert now.

“It was amazing,” he says, noting his Philadelphia-area dealership sold six cars in its first week of chatting with Internet prospects. “They’re now buyers. If they’re going to chat, they want to know, ‘Do you have that car now?’ You have a greater chance of selling them the car – and not losing them – than when you’re emailing them information about the car when they already have that in front of them.”

Johnson began using online chat in December as part of a Cars.com pilot program to rollout its new DealerChat application.

Dennis Galbraith, vice president of advertising products and training at Cars.com, says other stores participating in the trial have reported similar success. The company formally launched DealerChat, which is available for no additional cost, at the NADA annual convention in New Orleans.

“There is a significant segment of consumers who are reluctant to send an email or make a phone call after going online, “Galbraith says. “The addition of this channel provides dealers with a new means to identify and communicate with these in-market buyers while they are actively engaged in the shopping process. These additional leads, combined with the deeper engagement of chat over email, will result in more appointments and showroom traffic for participating dealers.”

Shoppers reviewing a dealer’s listing on Cars.com can initiate a chat directly from the vehicle details page. Links appear in several prominent locations, including at the top of the listing beside the dealer’s toll-free phone number, above the “Email the Dealer” form and within the “About the Dealer” section. DealerChat links are active only when a salesperson is available. When no one at the store can respond, the system automatically takes the application offline.

“Every chat inquiry represents a potential deal and gives our dealers a new opportunity to build a relationship with the prospect and win their business,” Galbraith says. “By adding chat functionality to their listings, dealers are able to communicate with in-market shoppers who are still on their listings and interested in learning more about their vehicles and their dealership.”