CHICAGO — Several key audience statistics measured by online retailer show positive gains to start the New Year. The new data may be a sign that consumers who were taking a "wait-and-see" approach to car buying because of the economy might now be coming back to market.

"While we are looking at a relatively short period of data, we are seeing lifts in several key metrics that correlate with purchase behavior — an encouraging sign for dealers looking for a rebound after a tough close to 2008," said Mitch Golub, president of "Based on activity we saw in the first full business week of the year on, we are optimistic that automotive sales will pick up in the first quarter of 2009."

Measures of consumers entering the car-shopping process appear to be improving, based on key site metrics on for the first workweek of 2009:

• More consumers are going to; site visits are up 19 percent over the same time last year. Consumers are more engaged in the process: Time spent per visit is up 8 percent since December and 12 percent over a year ago; it's now 15 minutes for each visit.

• Searches conducted are up 19 percent since December, and searches for new cars are up 16 percent over a year ago.

• Leads submitted to dealers are up 18 percent over December and up 8 percent over a year ago.

In addition, also has had record visits to its mobile site, with vehicle searches via mobile devices up 30 percent over December. A recent survey conducted by showed that 39 percent of consumers who accessed through their mobile device were on a dealer lot shopping for a car when they did so.

"While it is still early to tell if this trend will continue, we are encouraged to see such solid year-over-year gains, especially since last January was a strong month. We see all of these measures as positive signs for the automotive business as we head into the New Year," Golub said.