I attended an Internet tradeshow for dealerships a few months ago. In one of the sessions, the speaker was discussing effective ways to migrate your offline processes, replicating how you do business offline to your online presence. I tend to disagree with that approach when considering how you are spending your marketing dollars online. There’s a fundamental difference when comparing offline and online consumer behavior. An online consumer is usually an INFORMED consumer. The vast amount of information on the Internet, coupled with the search engines’ ability to organize that information changes just about every consumer buying decision and buying process.
Think about it. The patient/doctor relationship has changed. When someone is ha diagnosed today with a chronic or serious disease, one of their first stops is at a search engine to search for information on the disease and better understand their condition. The doctor/patient relationship today is much more collaborative than dictatorial. Do you remember the role a travel agent used to play in the selling of airline tickets? How many travel agents still sell tickets primarily from a brick and mortar location today? For that matter, how many travel agents still exist today? In the world of the automotive industry and the Internet, when looking at how a product moves from manufacturer (GM, Ford, Toyota) to distributor (local dealership) to end-user (consumer), the distributor (dealership) is the most disrupted and threatened by powerful online search tools. Manufacturers will continue to produce cars and people will continue to buy them. How and from whom is up for grabs in the coming years.
What it means to be an automobile dealership may change in the next 5 to 10 years. Certainly dealership Internet sales will become more and more important as dealerships work to stay relevant in the future. You already hear about car manufacturers consolidating their dealership network. Consumers can bypass dealerships and effectively negotiate their own deal through a few clicks of their mouse as individuals buying from other individuals is easier than ever before. More and more car buyers are comfortable with buying a car on ebay from another location and having it shipped to them. The consumer in 2008 would prefer to buy a car differently from how most are being sold today. The popularity of online vehicle listings demonstrates increasing consumer confidence on the Internet. As indicated above, the best word to describe the new car buyer today is INFORMED. Before they step foot on your lot, they have done initial research about the car, and perhaps your dealership. They come armed with an understanding of what you paid for the car, what their trade-in is worth, and the service history of the model they are considering. They’ve looked at Consumer Reports, researched at kbb.com and edmunds.com, and will probably purchase a Carfax report prior to closing a deal. Dealerships have done a pretty good job in the last several years of putting information about their vehicles on their dealer website and at various online vehicle listing sites. And there’s plenty more they could be doing to separate their dealership from their local competition. I describe two ways to differentiate the car buyer’s experience and increase the profile of your dealership and your inventory. The first strategy is to enhance the visibility of your vehicle listings.
Enhancing the visibility of the dealership online is a second strategy, often ignored at many dealerships.Enhancing the visibility of your online vehicle listingGive them the information they seek before making a buying decision. Inform them. Get them to trust you. Make your listings stand out compared to your competition. Let’s take a look at each one of these ideas separately.When considering the online listing of your inventory, it is important to remember that your customers like online vehicle listings that are visually appealing and give them lots of information about the vehicle. Some effective ways to enhance your vehicle listings include:
1. Pictures, pictures, pictures – that showcase exterior, interior, and special accessories. High quality pictures of car inventory can attract a consumer’s attention and showcase an individual vehicle. You can also include “canned images” in your picture directory that give prospects information about your dealership, such as awards, and local notoriety.
2. A detailed description of the car, listing those things that differentiate the car first. In general, most people today expect AC, power steering, power windows and locks. What is it about your particular vehicle that is unique, or interesting, or can differentiate it from other vehicles?
3. Vehicle Videos – Showcase the vehicle with a video that provides details that cannot be captured with pictures. Again, you are increasing the user’s comfort level with the vehicle. Most online vehicle listing sites accept video descriptions of the vehicle.
4. Text Descriptions on the Vehicle Photos – Some dealers help their vehicle pictures come to life by using text annotation tools in Paint or Photoshop. This capability has been automated for the automotive industry by at least one software provider in the market.
5. Graphical Vehicle Report – A visual illustration of the car with capability to document details about the exterior, interior and mechanical condition of the car. Convenient point and click reporting simplifies the complete online listing and provides comprehensive vehicle condition report to prospective buyers.
6. Guarantees – Give the online buyer confidence in the vehicle and trust with you. Do you certify your pre-owned vehicles or offer other warranties from your dealership, or offer car history reports from CARFAX?
Enhancing the visibility of your dealership onlineThe second strategy, enhancing the visibility of your dealership, is many times an overlooked opportunity to enhance your online presence. Your success increases dramatically when you have a website that is compelling, strategically structured, and designed to be another sales channel for your dealership.
Innovative dealers are finding their dealer website to be the MOST IMPORTANT sales channel for their dealership. Beyond a compelling website, maintaining high visibility and ranking on the major search engines can absolutely redefine the overall success of your Internet presence. When your customers use a search tool, they are in the mode that they WANT to see what you are offering and what you have to say. You want to improve your visibility on google and yahoo, and ensure that people find you before they find your competition. Strong visibility can translate to getting on the first page of a Google search and can be very effective in helping car shoppers find your website online. As Internet sales for dealerships become increasingly important, maximizing the local visibility of your dealership will matter more and more.
And the rest is up to you! Good selling!