“We are an Internet-centered store. The Internet is what made us successful.”

Those words from Mario Murgado, Jr., general manager of Brickell Mazda in Miami and former Internet sales and marketing manager at Brickell Motors, represent the spirit of the dealerships that make up the 2015 WardsAuto e-Dealer 100

That group is keyed into the fact customers demand more online car shopping options even though an A-to-Z car purchase on the Internet remains a rarity.

Dealers on the 15th-annual top 100 list posted 2014 Internet-based sales of 175,745 new vehicles and 122,455 used units for a total of 298,200. This is an increase of 4.2% over 2013’s total of 286,138 (167,496 new and 118,642 used vehicles.)

For the list, an Internet sale is defined as one in which the initial customer contact is online as a submitted lead and completed by a dedicated Internet salesperson.

While this a small part of overall vehicle sales of 16.5 million last year, it’s more than triple the 81,705 Internet sales reported on the 2002 WardsAuto eDealer 100.

There are almost as many dealer digital strategies as there are dealers, with varying opinions about third-party lead providers, how a dealership Internet department should be structured, and how advertising dollars should be allocated between digital and traditional media.

But the one constant is that the prospective buyers whom dealers want to reach are shopping online at some point in their shopping. 

Three-fourths of automotive research time is spent online, according to Polk’s latest Automotive Buyer Influence Study.

“Auto shoppers on average will consult 24 different research touchpoints, 21 of which are digital,” says Peter Leto, an automotive strategist for Google. “They also find these digital resources to be the most influential in the shopping process, with dealership websites, OEM websites, and search engines being among the most leveraged digital resources in the shopping process.”

Murgado bases his marketing strategy on his own shopping preferences.

“I look at myself and the way I like to be contacted and marketed to,” he says. “Whenever you’re going to make a shopping decision, not just automotive, you go to the Internet first to find out more about the product and make an informed decision. I try to be where the customer’s at and right now the customer’s on the Internet.

“Our job is to be there, to be relevant, to assist the customer and make it easy for them to come in and visit our store.”

Brickell Motors operates Honda, Buick-GMC, Mazda, Cadillac, Infiniti and Audi franchises and employs 13 business-development center employees that specialize in each brand.

Brickell Luxury Motors’ stable includes Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Porsche, BMW, Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Lotus. Customers can use the dealership’s mobile website to search new and used inventory, see special offers, get a trade-in value, do a “30-second credit application,” and schedule a service appointment.

The group ranks No.48 on the WardsAuto e-Dealer 100. “Sixty percent of all our sales, new and used, are trackable through a phone call or Internet lead,” Murgado says. “Ninety percent of all customers have visited one of our websites.

“We’re not afraid to disclose that information. Customers can go on our website and get a ballpark idea of what they’re looking for before they even come to the dealership. It’s about being transparent, giving the customer information and providing them with the content they’re looking for.”