The future of wholesale buying is here. See for yourself >

If I want to purchase a book, my first stop these days is Amazon.com. If I want to buy a pair of shoes, I’ll scout Zappos.com. If I need a plane ticket, I’ll head to Orbitz.com or Kayak.com.

These websites are my current go-to choices for online shopping because they offer merchandise from a variety of sellers in a single place. In other words, the sites are marketplaces. They allow me to click around, compare products and sellers, and find the best deal that meets my needs.

The same is true for car-shopping sites like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com. For an increasingly large number of new and used vehicle shoppers, these are the go-to online destinations they use to determine the car and the dealership where they’ll take their business.

In virtually every U.S. market, one or both of these classified automotive websites is a household name. Both companies have spent a lot of money to raise brand awareness and trust among today’s vehicle shoppers.

Despite this dominant role as a conduit for potential buyers, some dealers decide they no longer want to participate in these online marketplaces. The decision is often due to frustration with the costs associated to market and merchandise their vehicles in these online venues, in addition to a belief that they’d be better off “going it alone” and using other online outlets to sell cars.

I believe these decisions do more harm than good for the majority of dealers — particularly for those who have made growth in dealership sales and profitability a priority in their business plans. Here are three key reasons that classified sites like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com should be part of every dealer’s online marketing and merchandising efforts:

1. They provide a pathway to your dealership.

I understand dealers want to directly measure the value of classified sites from the emails and phone calls they receive. In many cases, this is a too-narrow view of the return on investment (ROI) these sites provide. The advent of behavioral targeting and online shopper analytics shows that classified sites continue to play a significant role in consumers’ online shopping process — but only a small number of these shoppers actively raise their hands and call or email a dealership. Some industry analysts estimate as much as 40 percent of a dealer’s showroom and website traffic arrived there because of a prior visit on a classified site.

2. They offer a real-time gauge of demand and interest for specific vehicles.

The classified sites are like giant voting booths for cars. When consumers search for and click on search results pages (SRPs) and vehicle detail pages (VDPs), they are expressing interest — if not direct intent — in specific vehicles. An increasing number of dealers recognize this data is absolutely essential for the proper allocation of attention and resources for specific new and used vehicles. In used vehicles, the consumer-driven data from classified sites has become an increasingly important barometer dealers use to guide the acquisition, pricing and merchandising of their cars. They understand that SRP / VDP trends help them better identify and manage retailing opportunities and risks for specific vehicles and inventory segments.

3. They help you make good on your investment.

I used to get calls from dealers who complained about their local classified site reps. But those calls are now rare — a testament, I believe, to efforts AutoTrader.com and Cars.com have made in their sales organizations. Now, both companies approach dealers in a more consultative, let’s-help-you manner. The reps are better-trained. Their compensation is tied to dealer-customer performance. Their collective goal is to help dealers craft and execute an online merchandising plan that delivers more profitability and sells more cars.

As a former dealer and entrepreneur, I do not begrudge any dealer’s decision to “go it alone” and forgo the benefits that online classified sites offer their stores. But for the majority of dealers, classified sites are a necessity to connect their cars with buyers.

This quote from the e-commerce director at a large Midwestern dealer group is worth remembering the next time the “let’s ditch the classified sites” discussion occurs: “AutoTrader and Cars.com are household names. You fish where the fish are, right?”

Need some help?