Mazda North American Operations is introducing personal shoppers to the online buying experience.

Two weeks or so after Fiat’s UK unit announced live contact with customer service personnel online (though just-auto hasn’t found that some of the new features such as the car configurator are not working yet), the US Mazda Shopping Assistant programme has claimed to be the first in the industry to provide potential buyers with an actual quote – from the customer’s choice of dealer – of the vehicle they’ve chosen, as distinct from other manufacturers’ programs that simply offer the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

During specified opening hours (there is an email get-back-to-me feature otherwise), links on the website connect buyers with ‘Mazda Personal Shoppers’ who can answer specific product questions and provide personalized shopping experiences through live web-chat sessions.  With help from these in-house Mazda employees, buyers can configure a vehicle, select a dealership, search vehicle inventory, acquire an actual dealer quote, schedule a sales appointment and get information about financing for the vehicle of their choice.

Once a price is agreed between customer and dealer, the personal shopper arranges an appointment at the dealership for final paperwork to be signed and the vehicle to be delivered.

“We want to make the vehicle purchase process as easy and comfortable as possible for our customers,” said Mike Ray, director, customer satisfaction and loyalty, MNAO. “On average, a typical car buyer spends four hours at most dealerships buying a new car. In a day and age when every hour counts in our busy schedules, we believe the new MSA programme is the perfect tool to help Mazda customers spend less time shopping and more time driving.”

The programme accelerates the purchase process by streamlining three of the steps involved when buying a vehicle – model selection, price and financing.

More than 1.5m unique visitors log onto the website each month to gather product information, build vehicles or locate dealerships. With this as proof that buyers increasingly turn to the internet as a valuable resource, the company believes the MSA programme will be a huge hit among its youthful demographic, the second-youngest in the industry.

Dealer enrolments are already encouraging and Mazda expects the majority of its dealers to sign up for the MSA programme.