Dealer Ops

Know The Five Steps Online Shoppers Take

To capture the ever-increasing Internet market, it helps to have a thorough understanding of the online car shopping experience. Consumers typically go through five steps before making a final decision about the type of vehicle they want to purchase, including where they plan to purchase it.

With a good understanding of the Internet shopping experience, dealers can ensure their online presence throughout the process. Reaching out to the car buyer at each stage exponentially increases the chance your dealership’s name will be remembered, and ultimately contacted by the consumer when they are ready to buy.

Step #1: Research
The impetus to buy a new car usually starts slowly, as an idea or desire. The consumer begins browsing online, conducting searches, visiting automobile research Web sites or visiting an OEM site. According to a recent Jupiter Research study, the majority of online car buyers don’t know the exact make, model or car they want when beginning their research. However, more than half the people know the approximate price range, which is typically the driving force in the initial search. Ensuring all vehicle listings contain a price is critical during this phase if dealerships want to be considered.

One way for dealers to have visibility during the initial research phase is to advertise on many of the third party Web sites such as,, eBay,,,, etc. In 2006, consumers were just as likely to visit a third party site or manufacturer Web site as they were to visit a dealership in person.

Additionally, dealers need to have their Web sites optimized. Complement search engine optimization (SEO) with paid listings, or search engine marketing (SEM), to capture their share of automotive shoppers. Dealers should track which engines are driving leads and resulting in the most qualified leads to more effectively optimize their site.

Step #2: Results
If a car buyer enters a specific price range, many results will be linked to actual inventory on third-party sites or dealer Web sites. If a dealer wants to be found, they should be sure to have updated inventory available not only on their own Web sites, but on as many third party sites as possible as well.

Additionally, the more information included in the results, such as detailed photos, accurate listing information and a creative marketing message, will increase chances of vehicles being selected for further consideration and continuing through the consumer purchase process funnel.

Step #3: Evaluation
This is perhaps one of the most critical stages of the car buying process. At this stage, the consumer begins to narrow the make and model they desire based on search results found during Step #2. Although their search started with a dozen or more Web sites, the car buyer now feels comfortable with the information they found on perhaps two to three sites. At this stage, they also begin identifying local dealers who match their criteria.

Since this stage is most critical, it is understandably also the most time consuming. The consumer is further eliminating options and dealers based on what’s most important to them including gas mileage, colors, body styles and specials or rebates dealers are offering. Most importantly, consumers will choose to do business with dealers with whom they’ve had a good previous buying experience. Dealers will continue to be in a consumer’s selection process based on inventory selection, convenience, specials and financing.

During this particular stage, the more information a dealer has online about their inventory, the better. Dealers who list only vehicle basic details and use stock photos will probably not fare as well during the evaluation phase as dealers that list every option, along with multiple photos and perhaps even a video of the car. The addition of evaluation tools on a dealer Web site are also a nice touch, enticing consumers to spend time on the site, increasing the chances of contact.

Also, dealers should keep Web site content updated and list any specials or rebates available for vehicles. Web sites without these updated features may be included on the consumer’s elimination list.

Step #4: Contacting Dealers
It’s difficult to track where all contacts originate, as many consumers who spend the first three stages online may decide at this point, to pick up the phone or even visit the dealership in person. Whether a consumer contacts the dealer via a Web site, or the dealer purchases the lead from a third party site, the dealership should be ready to follow up on the lead immediately.

Here is where internal process plays an important part of being included in the online car-buying experience. Dealers who respond quickly with the information that a consumer requested, including price, are more likely to receive additional communications than dealers who delay their response or refuse to give out prices or other requested information. The goal is to create interest, provide a good user experience and give them a reason to come to the dealership.

Step #5: Final Decision
This decision is made when the consumer finds a vehicle he or she wants, has a good experience getting to the final stage and is ready to buy. When these three things come together, the likelihood of a consumer purchasing a vehicle through your dealership increases dramatically.

Vol 4, Issue 10

About the author
Brian Page

Brian Page

General Manager

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