WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CAAutoTrader.com ranks highest in used-vehicle lead services, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Dealer Satisfaction with Online Buying Services Study.

The study, which measures dealer satisfaction with online buying services, ranks vehicle lead services in two segments: independent new vehicle and independent used vehicle. Within those segments, five factors are measured to determine overall dealership satisfaction: business generation, dealer support/service, fees, transmission of leads, and advertising, which is not included in the independent new lead service segment. The business generation factor is the most important driver of dealer satisfaction in all of the segments, accounting for nearly one-half of the overall index score. AutoTrader.com received the highest ratings from dealers in this factor.

The study finds that online buying services can help dealers become more successful with closing leads they receive through their Web sites by providing more information about the customer to the dealer. When customers shop for vehicles on the Internet, online buying sites will generally match them up with the right vehicle, demonstrate that the vehicle is right for them, and then transfer the shopper to the dealership where the deal is closed. However, when the customer is transferred to the dealership, the salesperson generally knows little or nothing about the customer's overall shopping experience and the shopper may know little or nothing about the dealership.

"Customers, on average, spend five hours researching vehicle models, features and options online," said Min Cho, senior analyst of digital marketing solutions at J.D. Power and Associates. "This is valuable information for dealers as it helps them to more effectively tailor their sales presentation to meet the needs and wants of the customer. However, online buying services generally do not keep track of this information, so the customer ends up starting from scratch again once they are connected with the salesperson. The more information a salesperson has about the customer, the easier it will be for the salesperson to close the deal."

Additionally, training on how to handle leads through the online service site is a component in dealer success. Dealers who receive training generally experience higher closing ratios for leads and report higher satisfaction with the service than those who do not.