Great Sites: GM BuyPower

Thousands of auto dealers are selling more cars because of GM's BuyPower site.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 23, 2001

4 Min Read

Longtime car dealer Marie Brooks uses only one metric in measuring the success of the GM BuyPower Web site: sales.

Brooks, who has sold Chevrolets on San Francisco's Auto Row since the early 1960s, has nothing but praise for the General Motors Corp. dealer-referral site that's been directing customers to her showroom since its launch in 1999. "We sell on more leads from GM BuyPower than any of our other Internet sources," says Brooks. She estimates that four of 10 BuyPower visitors end up buying vehicles--a considerably higher ratio than the leads from her own site or from the independent dealer-referral site Cars.com.

Helping Brooks and the tens of thousands of other GM dealers increase sales is BuyPower's primary goal. The second is luring people driving competitors' vehicles into the driver's seats of GM cars--"conquest sales," in industry talk. Between March 2000 and March 2001, 446,000 vehicles were sold through BuyPower, with 46,000 listed as conquest sales, says Leo Drew, director of operations and alliances for e-GM. The company is projecting a 10% increase by next March.

BuyPower attracted an average of 558,000 unique visitors a month between May 2000 and May of this year, according to research firm Jupiter Media Metrix. In comparison, No. 2 automaker Ford Motor Co.'s site, FordDirect, doesn't meet the minimum standard of 200,000 unique visitors a month in order to be tracked by Jupiter. BuyPower is "doing the best job right now in terms of attracting shoppers and keeping them there," Jupiter analyst Jenna Pelaez says. People surfing car sites spend on average about a quarter of their time on all GM sites, though they spend less than 10% with other car manufacturers.

GM BuyPower

Traffic: 558,000 unique visitors a month (average)

2000 Revenue: Not applicable

Business goals: To generate dealer sales of GM vehicles

Competitors: Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota Motor

Strengths: Generates sales leads; maintains partnerships with independent auto sites

Weaknesses: Doesn't list vehicles' actual prices; produces imprecise inventory-search results

While consumers can go to independent sites such as Autobytel.com to find GM dealers, BuyPower's advantage is in showing a shopper whether the car he or she wants is on the lot of a nearby dealership. Independents often lack dealer-inventory data. Even so, Jupiter says consumers still prefer shopping on independent sites by a 3-to-1 margin, mainly because they can see vehicles from all automakers and they view independents' information on vehicle quality as unbiased. To combat that preference, GM has placed links on BuyPower to the Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com Inc. consumer-information sites.

GM also tries to bolster consumer confidence through its strict privacy policy. The company aggregates data from visitors' surfing to improve the site's design, but won't share any customer's personal information with dealers or business partners without permission.

For all its strengths, BuyPower still fails to address one of consumers' biggest complaints--haggling with dealers over price. Market research firm Gartner says 83% of consumers would prefer to buy cars directly from the manufacturer if that would give them the best prices. But, since nearly every U.S. state bars automakers from selling directly to consumers, BuyPower favors the dealer at the expense of the consumer, says Jennifer Cardello, director of customer experience at Internet research firm Gomez Inc.

In searching for a 2001 Corvette convertible from the home page, Cardello found that clicking on "Search Dealer Inventory" produced a list of dealerships in the region she specified--even those that didn't have the car in stock. She had to link to each dealer to find out whether it had the vehicle. While it's laudable from a business perspective to push users to dealerships, "it gets in the users' way of conducting the task that GM BuyPower promises to do--in this case, finding my Corvette," Cardello says. "I'm looking for a car, not a dealership." Cardello also was disappointed with the Great Deals page, which gave her only the manufacturer's suggested retail price and financing and leasing options.

Cardello liked the site's comparison tool, which compares the features of a chosen GM vehicle alongside those of competing makes from other automakers. "It gave me good information," she says.

While GM officials say they'd prefer to list the lowest possible prices on BuyPower, dealerships prefer negotiating with consumers in hopes of getting more for cars. Says Cardello: "Bargain hunters who aren't willing to negotiate are not good customers in general. You end up spending a significant amount of time trying to turn that prospect into a customer at a much lower margin."

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