Photos are a must in today’s digital retailing landscape. Mediocre-quality photos make a vehicle less appealing to a buyer, prolong the sales process, and can lead to dissatisfied customers who show up to see a vehicle and find it’s not what they thought it was.
“You wouldn’t put your worst photos on a dating app because you wouldn’t get the date you want. It’s the same with vehicles,” says Peter Duffy, founder and CEO of Dealer Image Pro. “But I’ve spent the better part of my career convincing auto dealers that better photos sell more vehicles. An impressive set of photos gives you clicks, enhances the customer experience, and speeds the sales process.”
Vehicles may sit unpurchased without great photos. But the longer vehicles sit on dealership lots, the more money they cost. “The faster you can get photos of a nice, clean vehicle online, the faster you can sell it and the less money you’re using to underwrite a depreciating asset,” he says.
In a recent online survey by Dealer Image Pro, dealers reported spending a significant amount of money on digital advertising. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they spend $30,000-$40,000 per month in digital advertising, while another 24% reported spending over $40,000 a month. Still, over 75% reported bringing their vehicles to market with photos just three days a week or less.
“These figures show automotive dealerships are missing crucial time to bring their vehicles to market each week. If you’re only photographing vehicles three days a week, conservatively you are missing bringing vehicles to market 150 days a year,” Duffy says. “The lost time posting new inventory costs dealers thousands of additional revenue each month.”
The survey also found 60% of dealers report a desire to improve their vehicle photography to compete with conglomerates like Vroom or Carvana. But found dealers still have a ways to go. The survey of 3,000 automotive dealers discovered most are not maximizing time to market and losing out on their advertising spend.
• 12% said they use a software application to take and upload their own vehicles.
• 20% said it took a day or two to load their website.
• 53% said they use a photo vendor service to get photos.
Duffy began traveling to dealers to take photos over a decade ago. But the pandemic accelerated the need for great digital photos, making this method too cumbersome to continue. Duffy sought a faster solution that allowed dealers to take photos in-house while outsourcing photo editing and uploads.
The ROI of great photos should sell itself, but dealers still experience challenges.
Dealership lots often have limited room for a studio and have “yet to find that magic bullet,” for images, Duffy says. “But good GMs know quality merchandising is good for their customers and their brands.”
He adds studios are not required; often dealers can get excellent imagery using natural light. But, if a dealer wants a studio, Duffy says a 24-foot by 30-foot area works best. A simple tile floor with decent, even lighting is also needed. “A turntable is nice but isn’t a necessity,” he says. “Studios don’t have to be complicated.”
Without a studio, dealers need to put vehicles against a clean background. For instance, in front of a tree line or brick wall versus a busy street. With natural light, photographers must keep the sun at their backs.
“These things seem obvious. But I cannot tell you how many times people shoot into the sun or against a busy background,” he says. “A few extra steps can clear up your website and sell more vehicles. Best of all they are free.”
The faster you can get photos of a nice, clean vehicle online, the faster you can sell it and the less money you’re using to underwrite a depreciating asset.
Dealers also must know what makes a great photo. Here, Duffy uses photographing a toaster oven as an example. When photographing a toaster oven, the photographer takes images from all the angles a customer might want to see. He also would photograph the inside and get detail shots of buttons and other features.
“A vehicle is nothing more than a giant product. You take six or so exterior shots, a few profile shots, and then close ups of the interior,” he says. “If it’s an old work truck with tears on the seats, we need to show an image of those. If it’s a higher end sports sedan, take close ups of the console cockpit features, the steering wheel, the door panels, the engine compartment, and other details of the car. It takes about 35 photos to cover a car completely.”
Consistency also matters with images. If a dealer has three Toyota Camrys in the same price range, image sets should be the same so consumers can compare the vehicles and base their purchase on price, mileage and condition.
Videos and 360 walk arounds can supplement still images, Duffy adds. “360 walk arounds are really fun and give people something to interact with. They are great ways to keep people on site.”
Videos work well if they are less than a minute and a half long. “The wonderful thing about video is it can be repurposed,” he says. “It can go on your website, but you can also put it on YouTube and put keywords in it. It’s great organic SEO because Google owns YouTube and puts video at the top of every search. The more videos you have on your YouTube page connected to your website URL, the more traffic you’ll get.”
Keeping People Trained
Keeping people trained to take photos also challenges dealers. Dealers solve this in one of two ways: either they get on a traveling photo vendor’s schedule who visits one day a week and photographs all vehicles needing photographs, or they do photos in-house.
“Doing photos in-house works best because you can do them seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he says.
But training someone to take quality photos in-house challenges dealerships. About 30% of dealers responding to Dealer Image Pro’s survey reported training someone new to take photos every week.