MONTEREY, Calif. -

A recent auto dealership study looked at the question, “How often did the brand’s dealerships email or text an answer to a website customer’s question within 30 minutes?”

Infiniti, Volvo, Subaru, Acura and Jaguar accomplished that feat more than 45% of the time on average.

Overall, the 2021 Pied Piper PSI Internet Lead Effectiveness Benchmarking Study sought to answer the question, “What happens when customers visit a dealer website and inquire about a vehicle?” Ranking highest were Infiniti dealerships, followed by Subaru and Acura.

Infiniti, Subaru, Acura, BMW and Land Rover were the brands showing the greatest improvement from 2020 to 2021.

Also from 2020 to 2021, a dozen brands improved their performance.

Performance for 18 brands, however, and the industry overall, declined.

Pied Piper said COVID-19 has generated much more interest in digital retail tools.

With those tools, website customers can complete more of their purchase path from home.

Pied Piper said dealer feedback shows that customers using the digital retail process still benefit from “assisted selling,” in which dealership personnel are easy to reach throughout the process.

But dealers whose websites featured a “buy now” button failed to quickly respond to customer attempts to “chat” 44% of the time on average, according to the study.

For the study, Pied Piper submitted customer inquiries through the individual websites of 4,356 dealerships. Pied Piper, which said it helps brands and manufacturers improve the omnichannel performance of their retail networks, asked a question about a vehicle in inventory. Pied Piper then provided a customer name, e-mail address and local telephone number.

Pied Piper went on to evaluate how the dealerships responded by e-mail, telephone and text message over the next 24 hours.

Regarding the question on how often the brand’s dealerships emailed or texted an answer to a website customer’s question within 30 minutes, Buick, Genesis, Ford, Mitsubishi, and GMC accomplished that less than 25% of the time on average.

How often did the brand’s dealerships send a text message reply to a website customer’s inquiry? Kia, Toyota, Nissan, Ram, Hyundai, Mitsubishi accomplished that more than 57% of the time on average, while Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, MINI, Porsche, and Alfa Romeo accomplished that less than 35% of the time on average.

The study also looked at how often the brand’s dealership reply e-mails landed in the customer’s junk/spam folder. For Porsche, Lincoln, Volkswagen, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, that happened less than 16% of the time on average.

However, for Mitsubishi, Fiat, Kia and Genesis, that happened more than 33% of the time on average.

Pied Piper said digital retail tools have become much more common on auto dealer websites. The 2021 ILE study measured whether dealership websites for each brand featured the following digital retail tools:

— Did the website have a “buy now” or “buy from home” button?

For Cadillac, Buick, GMC, and Genesis, more than 40% of the websites on average had that feature.

For Fiat, Porsche, Mitsubishi, and Ford, fewer than 12% of the websites on average had the feature.

— Did the website offer to provide a trade-in value?

More than 95% of the websites on average for Ram, BMW, Kia, Chrysler, Dodge, and Lincoln provided that, while fewer than 75% of the websites on average for Cadillac, Mitsubishi, GMC, Buick, and Porsche provided it.

— Did the website provide a financing/payment estimator, and/or credit application?

Ram, Dodge, Jeep, Ford, Lincoln accomplished that for more than 95% of the websites on average, but for Land Rover, GMC, MINI, Porsche, and Lexus, that was provided on fewer than 82% of the websites on average.

Pied Piper conducted the 2021 Pied Piper PSI-ILE Benchmarking Study (U.S.A. Auto) between April 2020 and January of this year by submitting website inquiries directly to a sample of 4,356 dealerships nationwide representing all major brands.

“Digital retail technology promises to improve the car shopping experience,” said Fran O’Hagan, president and CEO of Pied Piper, in a news release. “On the other hand, we can’t allow the presence of digital retail tools to excuse ignoring website customers who reach out for help.”

Auto brands ranked by Pied Piper PSI — Internet lead effectiveness

Infiniti +14 (change from 2020) 71
Subaru +6 67
Acura +5 65
BMW +5 62
Volvo +4 62
Mazda +1 60
Land Rover +5 59
Mercedes-Benz +1 59
MINI +2 59
Porsche +1 59
Lexus +0 58
Toyota -6 58
Alfa Romeo +1 56
Cadillac -6 56
Chrysler -1 56
Volkswagen +0 56
Audi -2 55
Fiat +4 55
Jaguar +3 55
Nissan -0 55
Industry Average -2 55
Honda -6 54
Hyundai +1 54
Jeep -2 54
Kia -3 54
Ram -2 54
Mitsubishi -1 53
Buick -2 51
Dodge -7 51
GMC -2 50
Chevrolet -2 50
Lincoln -10 50
Ford -6 48
Genesis -5 48