Selling Cars in a Microwave Society

December 6, 2017

Featured in NIADA Used Car Dealer Magazine APR 2016

We are in the middle of a momentous shift in the automotive world.

Convenience is king, and consumers demand fast and easy when it comes to vehicle purchases — not exactly what the car buying process is known for.

It’s no surprise, then, that a major manufacturer recently launched an online used car portal on which visitors can access a nationwide inventory of more than 40,000 vehicles. The user reserves his or her car of choice and seals the deal with a local franchise dealership, where the customer ultimately takes delivery.

That is just one of what likely will be many more instances of the franchise world investing big money to market used vehicles.

You can’t blame them. According to J.D. Power, franchise dealers now realize a 617 percent higher yield in gross profits selling used cars over new.

You’ve likely also noticed that today’s used vehicle shoppers want a shorter buying cycle while still receiving the same amount of information to help them make a decision.

Determined to tap into that profit gold mine, franchise dealers are redirecting their high-tech tools and sophisticated digital marketing strategies to your customer base.

How should an independent dealer respond?

Treat Your Website as Your First Showroom

Fifteen years ago, dealers spent big money jazzing up their showrooms. It was a car buyer’s first impression of the dealership, and it needed to shine.

Today, physical showrooms enter the picture much further down the line, after the buyer has already researched the dealership and the specific car he or she wants online. Your website now leaves the first impression and often determines whether the buyer even visits your physical store.

So ask yourself: Is your home page crowded and confusing, or clean and easy to understand? Information overload will only frustrate users and increase the chances they will leave your site before submitting a lead.

Move Brand Awareness to the Top of Your List

Maybe you track the number of customers whose deals close after visiting your dealership or how many internet leads you get per day, but are you actively expanding the number of people who know about your store?

With so much of the sales process occurring before a customer ever sets foot in the dealership, you must manage your brand from the beginning.

In addition to your normal advertising, consider sponsoring several local community events to boost name recognition. Also, double-check that your business has a Google+ page, which pays huge dividends for your online visibility.

Boost Your Customer Loyalty and Engagement

This one is simple. Speak to customers where they want to be reached, and make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need, when they need it.

Customers who are able to learn about the cars in which they are interested — from the comfort of their home or while on the go using a mobile device — are likely to return again and again. Create a seamless process that meets the customer’s desires (not just the dealership’s), and your sales numbers will follow.

Become a Secret Shopper

Start with your website. Make a list of all the tasks a customer might do online, such as search inventory, submit a lead, or look for your phone number. Then, walk through those steps as an unbiased shopper.

What does the thank-you message say after the customer hits “submit” on your contact form? Are the correct details available on your inventory pages? Do you receive any error messages? Is your phone number correct and easy to find?

Don’t limit the audit process to your website, either. Go ahead and make an appointment and then send an unrecognized “customer” — a family member, friend, or professional secret shopper — to your store. You might be surprised at the areas of opportunity you uncover.

Make Friends With the Search Engines

Even if your website is reasonably user-friendly, it might not be so friendly to Google.

“Plain English URLs,” “alt image tags,” and other technical jargon really do matter when it comes to your website’s ranking on Google. As a result, most dealerships would benefit from consulting an expert on search engine optimization.

You also need to perform well for more than just generic search terms, such as “car dealer in Oklahoma.” Most buyers take it a step further and search for the type of vehicle they want along with the city, “Honda Civic in Tulsa” for example.

To capture that traffic, you must professionally optimize all of your inventory pages.

As an industry, the franchise market has already adopted these practices. Only a handful of independents, however, are pushing forward to compete with the franchise big boys.

The next several years will be crucial in determining which dealers dominate. Will you be among them?

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