What Sells Cars Online

December 9, 2016

Everyone’s looking for the secret sauce in digital retailing. There are many different thoughts and approaches. Do I post price or not? How cheap should my price be? How many pictures should I post? Article after article in automotive magazines describe the same strategy: it’s not the cheapest price that sells cars online. The race to the bottom does nothing for dealerships but kill gross profit. Just because you are the cheapest date in town doesn’t mean you are going to get all the calls. Instead, let’s talk about the three standards for a successful digital retail strategy.

1)      Quality of photos. Some dealerships still use a lot service that comes once or twice a week to take photos, post a buyer’s guide plus a window sticker, and in some cases, syndicate that data to all of the internet sources they advertise with. Dealers have tried to distinguish themselves over the years by purchasing high-dollar cameras and photo booths. I was visiting a dealer in Florida in late September that was installing a $40,000 photo booth that rotates and has six or seven cameras take photos automatically. It was shocking to hear how much he was spending. Personally, I think that’s overkill. The newest iPads and iPhones take unbelievable photos. There are inventory management solutions on the market that have the technology built right into the platform. It’s also much more efficient to be able to point, click, and instantly syndicate.

Now imagine this: Dealers can take photos in-house with their choice of background, such as the 18th green at Augusta National, the 50 yard-line of Lambo Field, or right in the middle of their own showroom. No need to spend a ton of dollars. You need the right digital strategy and the right process to have the best quality photos on the net.

Another flaw I see is distractions in the background of the car being advertised. Your car should stand alone. The picture should have one car and one car only. Take the time to make sure the car you are highlighting is the only car in the shot. No bumpers of other cars, restaurant signs in the background, shadows of the cameraman: nothing else but what you want your buyer to see. Dealerships are bringing all merchandising needs in-house because of the efficiency of today’s technology. If you are unsure what you look like online, just sign on to your site and see for yourself.

2)      Quantity of photos. The first thing I do before I walk into a consulting opportunity is scan the dealer’s website. Locking in on the pre-owned vehicles and drilling down to a few vehicle details pages tells me just about everything I need to know. Most dealers post between 12 and 20 photos, about half of what successful digital retailers post. Normally that’s based on the agreement they have with their lot service. In most cases, providers charge between $12 to $15 per car for 15 photos or so. Don’t limit yourself to that. Potential buyers want to view more than 12 photos before they actually drive to see the car. Pictures of the key fobs and the owner’s manual are a must. Forty to 45 photos will keep a potential buyer engaged. Twenty will not. Too many dealers have figured that out. There are certain angles to start and end with when taking photos. I have a best-practice manual that I would be happy to email you.

3)      Quality of descriptions. There are many automated description builders on the market — some good, some not so much. Writing descriptions isn’t about convenience anymore. There are some description builders that still try to add humor to their descriptions. Don’t invest in those. It’s all about search engine optimization (SEO) these days. Your description builder needs to be a lead-generation tool.

When shopping for items online, most of us start a search from a search engine and wait for the page to load with choices we can view. A pre-owned car search is no different. I needed to purchase a car for my daughter recently. With my 30 years of experience in the auto industry, I have a ton of contacts I could have reached out to. I didn’t. I found a search engine, put in specific details, and hit enter. I can promise you that as crazy as I am about a clean car, I never got past the third page of choices. Guess what? Your potential customers don’t either. A description builder without an SEO strategy is probably not worth having anymore. Your car needs to be found and found quickly. If not, all you can do is compete in the race to the bottom.

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