Everything seems to have moved to the Internet. You can get your notes for school, concoct a conspiracy — why, even this publication is available on the Web. At first the transition was slow, but now it's either get on board or be left behind. Such is the same with all things automobile-related. It is possible to find out everything about anything these days, but how can we as consumers use that to our advantage? As the Internet becomes more of a force in the consumer world, it has left some folks speculating about how businesses will survive outside the virtual realm.

One Web site that is embracing this complex relation to business in and out of cyberspace is Edmunds.com. The idea of Edmunds is to give consumers all the information they need about nearly any new or used cars on the market, affording them the power to research and shop from the comfort of their own homes. How does this make business at a local car dealership better? If a consumer is able to find out the majority of what they're looking for off of the lot and come into a dealership ready to make a deal, that's a good thing. It cuts down on the time salespeople are answering questions and it allows buyers to make educated decisions about their purchases — and after a successful transaction, a given buyer just might become a life-long customer.

All this sounds like Internet euphoria, but it does translate over to the real world. Take Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, Idaho, for example. This company has been able to grow and maintain a business in a less than profitable location, and the majority of the reason is the Internet. Smith boasts the incredible feat of being the world's largest Internet dealer. The company got on board with the Web early in the development of the technology and it has paid off. The dealership's Web site, USautosales.com, is similar to Edmunds in that it contains a cornucopia of information that's easy to navigate. You can arrange appointments and test-drives as well as access all the information you need to make a buy. It is user-friendly and has proved a valuable tool for the Dave Smith Motors.

The immensity of Edmunds can only be felt by experiencing the Web site for yourself. Consumers can swim through thousands upon thousands of vehicle profiles and even make purchases online. I know, buying a car over the Internet is too progressive even for this self-proclaimed techie, but it does happen. In fact, the Japanese auto market is recovering millions of dollars through used vehicle sales on the Internet and with video-auction technology. Edmunds offers reviews of vehicles in all their aspects: safety, performance, price and how vehicles stack up to others in their class. It even includes virtual tours of the interior and exterior of vehicles, along with dealership listings (both local and nationwide). The Web site is a fully functional buying tool but offers more than just browsing, clicking and buying. There are editorials by contributing writers from many genres, all centered on the automobile industry. For example, one writer disguised himself as a car salesman and did an undercover story on the fast-paced business of selling cars. There is so much information here that it may be sensory overload, but it also may be your next tool for buying a new or used vehicle.

Publication date: 1/06/04

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