|In the past few years, a transformation has been occurring in the independent auto dealer business. Although most of the press coverage about the Internet has surrounded the new car business, much of the real action has been in the independent dealer market. Last year, three out of five used-vehicle buyers utilized the Internet at some point during their purchases, J.D. Power and Associates reported.|
Although independent dealers don’t have all of the Internet advantages of franchise dealers, most are vigilant when new tools are developed that can grow their business. Independent dealers who are advertising on the Internet effectively are finding it can help them sell 10 to 20 and sometimes even up to 50 cars per month, at an advertising cost that is usually well under $100 per car. Even better, they are finding they can increase their market share and sell cars to people who live well outside their normal trading area. Some of the best performing online dealers are independents.
The influence of the Internet has changed the media spending habits of all dealers and continues to do so. The percentage of independent dealers using the Internet as an advertising medium has increased from 30 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2008, according to NIADA, and dealers today who realize the value of the Internet retain Internet managers and/or entire departments devoted to the medium.
After observing independent dealers who have used AutoTrader.com’s Internet classified advertising products in the past few years, I have witnessed key factors in online marketing and merchandising that are instrumental to a dealer’s success:
Vehicle Attributes: Don’t just list the basic equipment of the vehicle. Include “tell them what will sell them” comments that make each vehicle special. Shoppers not only need thorough and clear information about each vehicle, but the more you customize your online vehicle advertisements, the more your customers will form a visual and emotional connection.
Price: Research shows pricing information is the number one item shoppers search when looking for a vehicle online. However, it’s not always about having the lowest price; rather, it is more important to be within the market range to be competitive or consumers will take you off their shopping list.
Proximity: Include a map and consider tracking the number of map views as a way to measure your online advertising success. It is crucial to determine what your goals are, and then work to meet those goals.
Dealer Attributes: Online dealership information is an extension of your physical dealership. Tell shoppers why they should buy from you and be sure to express your values and your history, as well as accurately represent what you have to offer on your lot. Include customer testimonials for consumers to reference, and if possible list awards and community service projects.
Video: More and more, video will become essential to your online advertising success. Research shows that video helps to engage shoppers and keeps their attention longer. Nearly half of all Web users watched online videos last year, a 45 percent growth over 2006, and according to the Kelsey Group, 59 percent of all auto dealers plan to use video within the next 12 months. If you are looking to make the biggest impact, add video to your online dealership and vehicle advertisements.
Some independent dealers rely more on brick-and-mortar merchandising than Internet merchandising but the truth is, the Internet is the first chance a dealership has to impress the customer. A dealership’s Web site, or as I like to call it, “virtual showroom,” needs to differentiate both the dealership and its vehicles from the competition. It is important how dealers position cars on third-party sites as well as their own dealer Web site. Dealers need to treat these opportunities as if the customer were in the showroom. If dealers don’t sell the customer at this stage, they will never get the shopper to walk on their dealership lot. J.D. Power Research shows more Internet users are led to the car they purchase via classified sites than via dealer drive-bys, thus confirming the sheer power the Internet has on dealership foot traffic.
There is a tremendous opportunity to sell used cars via the Internet, and simply being present isn’t enough. It is strong merchandising that creates significant value for the consumer, as well as making sure your dealership has an Internet-savvy culture throughout the entire process of moving that consumer from your virtual showroom to your dealership lot. I am totally confident dealers who embrace these critical factors will receive success in terms of growth in sales and profits.
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