Car sales hum to throb of Internet

As e-commerce becomes the norm and infiltrates the behaviour of everyday organisations, and businesses, IT departments must evolve to stay competitive.

That warning came from Gartner Group at last weeks' e-commerce '99 forum in Sydney and was backed up by some of the largest players in Australia's automotive industry.

Joe Sweeney, Gartner's Asia-Pacific research director, said the Internet presented an "emerging challenge for marketers".

"In the online world, marketing will become a bigger part of a business," Sweeney said.

He said e-commerce was more than technology but would drive "massive restructuring" of information-intensive industries. Sweeney said business-to-business e-commerce overshadowed business-to-consumer e-commerce by almost threefold in 1997.

And while some industries have embraced e-commerce with gusto, Sweeney warned the federal government was a major "bottleneck" to its success in Australia.

David Star, information systems manager for automotive distributor Inchcape Motors, said the company had taken a customer-centric approach to its business since the Internet had become a common business medium.

Inchcape, a billion-dollar business that distributes Subaru, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Jaguars in Australia, recently upgraded its systems to drive the business into the online world, Starr said. Key to the project was increasing the marketing focus of Inchcape's IT department, Starr said.

The new system went live on April 1 and Starr said Inchcape has tripled the number of transactions it previously processed.

Inchcape is focusing now on populating the database with customer information and better analysing that information, Starr said.

That analysis would be used for more effective and more specific marketing campaigns, with Inchcape launching one-to-one campaigns next year.

Eventually, Inchcape will sell vehicles over the Internet, cutting the sales cycle in half to four weeks, Starr said. That alone would have a huge impact on existing car yards and their business practices, Starr said.

"Customers will go to the dealers to touch cars, but will then negotiate and select them via the Web," he said.

Starr predicted the effect of that practice would see car dealerships becoming larger but fewer in number.

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