AKRON -- The internet has become a first stop for many car buyers. People can browse dealers' inventory, check pricing and zero in on a car they want to buy, rather than spending hours running from dealership to dealership, hoping to find what they want.
Ultimately, however, the visit to a dealer has to be made to test drive the car and make a purchase.
For about the last year, General Motors has experimented with a program called Shop-Click-Drive in eight states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Arizona.
GM hopes to make the program available to all of its 4,300 dealers across the country by the end of the year, according to General Motors Spokesperson Ryndee Carney.
It's not mandatory for dealers to participate.
VanDevere Chevrolet Sales Manager Don Brady says he would be interested in signing on.
"People go to an average of 1.2 dealers now to buy a car," said Brady. "And the reason they can do that is because they have been shopping online for a day, two days, a week, a month, two months, sometimes a year depending on how long they want to have their shopping process," he added.
Carney says Shop-Click-Drive actually redirects customers to a participating dealer's website where they can select a car, get estimated pricing, incentives, choose financing and insurance products, get information about trade-ins and apply for financing.
She says dealers can decide whether to make only their new car inventory available, or, as some have already done, let customers buy their used cars online as well.
The program can also have the car delivered directly to the customer.
"I guess I don't see this as a way to eliminate salespeople across the nation," said Brady.
"It's time consuming. Buying a car takes time, so if they can cut that time down by an hour or two hours, maybe it's an option that people who are busy at work can't get in; maybe it's an option for them," added Brady.
But Brady also believes there is still a need for the face-to-face interaction, particularly with as complex as cars have become.
Using the new 2014 Chevrolet Impala as an example, Brady explained that if the car was simply dropped off at someone's home, they might not even understand how to start it, since there is no place to put a key.
Brady says it can take an hour or more for a customer to learn the complex touchscreen system, program the garage door opener and understand other details of the car's electronic features that let the owner remotely operate it using their cell phone from anywhere.
"I've got to believe that personal customer service is not dead," said Brady. "I know the computer and the internet are big, but people still want to be treated fairly and have a relationship with people. I have got to believe that's the case."
Many people in the local area say they have used the internet to start their car-buying journey.
"I knew I wanted a used car. I wanted an SUV, so once I plugged in what I wanted and how much I was willing to spend, I could see what dealerships were charging for those cars, could immediately rule out dealerships that were overpricing cars and so, that made it easy," said Kim Howard of Akron.
"I'm fine with it," said Mike Kreighbaum of Cuyahoga Falls. "I mean, I'd like to test drive it somewhere, but I could pull that off, I think."