We have heard many arguments about the value of the Internet to automotive retail. We have also heard many industry figures (often those who feel they have the most to lose) dismiss the Internet as a fad - after all no one in their right mind would pay for such a high value item without seeing it first, would they?

Well it seems they will - as can be evidenced by the experiences of Vauxhall, Skoda and Volvo. Maybe not in huge numbers yet but it is just a beginning and people who focus purely on sales are, I feel, missing the point anyway.

I, and millions of others like me, use the Internet to research nearly all my major purchase decisions. Okay I may not always buy things online (contrary to the male stereotype I actually quite like shopping) but it is in the virtual mall where my bias towards one product or another is formed. The product I can find easily, and check the specifications and price of is more often than not the one I will end up buying when I visit my local store/high street/forecourt. Believe me, of the 4 people I know who have bought or chosen a new car recently only one of them did not use the Internet as part of their selection process

But that's the beauty of the net for the car buying public - for the first time we are able to conveniently arm ourselves with product knowledge before we enter the battleground of the sales floor. I have heard anecdotal evidence of dealers being unable to cope with the Internet savvy customer who often knows more about the car than the person trying to sell it.

In contrast to this of course are the dealerships and dealer groups who are actively using the Internet as a complimentary route to profit. Instead of dismissing e-commerce, companies like Marshall Motor Group and DC Cook are leveraging their websites, signing up with intermediaries like Autohit and FairCar in Germany and training their staff to interact with and ultimately sell to the Internet buyer.

Also stealing a march on the established players are the companies setting up Internet services totally with the e-consumer in mind. Broadspeed and Oneswoop are two companies taking advantage of the Internet and overseas pricing differentials to offer very attractive deals. By providing advanced functionality, vehicle sourcing and 'deliver to your door' customer service they are making the case for me never leaving my front room more and more convincing.

All of the companies I mention above and many others like them have realised that for an industry to survive it most respond to its customers wants and needs. The message is clear to established players: Private vehicle buyers are migrating towards this low cost, high convenience channel. If you do not address your customers' needs, the competition is only a click away.

IQPC's e-Auto summit in Brussels this September (20th - 22nd ) will feature senior executives from many of the companies leading the way in online automotive retail and will expand on the issues raised in this article. For more info please email chris.ray@iqpc.co.uk or visit www.iqpc.com/templates/9605335208309936523400002/genevent.html?topic=12&event=631