Under-developed levels of customer care from dealers, suppliers and retailers using the Internet are hampering the growth of online car sales in the United Kingdom, the online monitor Car Price Check says.

Citing a recent survey of online car buyers, CarPriceCheck said that three-quarters of 8,350 respondents who used the Internet for car buying research over the last 12 months encountered a lack of empathy and concern about their enquiry from online retailers and franchised dealers using the medium. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they had had no "meaningful response" from the supplier following an initial on-line contact.

"These are real consumers and they are demonstrating that whichever way you cut it, you sell cars one at a time," CarPriceCheck CEO Steve Evans said. "The car buyer has embraced the benefits of the web, but too many dealers and retailers have not yet managed to implement effectively the basic rules of customer relationship management when dealing with them."

"In part, this is down to a lack of resource amongst some dealers, but there is a worrying trend of retailers dropping red-hot leads. Too many are acting as if Internet-generated enquiries are immediate order opportunities to be cherry-picked, when in reality this is, more often than not, the start of a negotiating period which can last anything from 25 minutes to a couple of months."

Compared to last year's survey, which showed that 76 percent of consumers using the web eventually bought from a conventional franchised dealer without any Internet 'connectivity', only 58 percent did so in 2001. Typically, 67 percent of those buyers purchased a vehicle from a dealer less than 20 miles from their home address. Even so, 89 percent of those said they had originally intended to buy online but cited a lack of response to their initial email enquiry as the reason why they reverted back to a traditional showroom purchase.

CarPriceCheck estimates that pure-play Internet suppliers like Oneswoop, Showroom4cars, Virgin, Car Partnership and JamJar, together with importers like Broadspeed, accounted for almost one in 20 new cars sold in the UK in 2001, with nearly 350,000 dealer and Internet retailer sales initiated online during the year.

The strongest online manufacturer brands are Audi, BMW, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Porsche, Seat, Renault, Toyota and Volvo, CarPriceCheck says.