The days have all but disappeared when a customer’s car buying experience centred on magazines, brochures and newspapers for gathering information. The advent of the Internet with search engines like Google means no one is far away from all the facts when making a car purchasing decision.
Real time information at a customer’s fingertips means even less need to make a trip to the dealership until it’s absolutely necessary.
If you don’t believe me check out these facts from the Google Gearshift Report in 2010:
Over half of all customers start their purchase journey online.
8 out of 10 people use the internet for research at some point
Of the 78% who research online – 63% use manufacturers websites, 56% dealer’s websites and 21% blogs.
Showroom visits are declining rapidly – in 2010 25% of all customers only went to one dealership.
Hands up who’s got a blog? No? Why not? One fifth of all customers have read an automotive blog before visiting a dealership.
Okay, so you don’t have a blog. But many dealers recognise that they need to deliver ‘an online experience’ of some description in order to engage with new customers. With many this stops at translating the rows of cars on the forecourt to rows of cars in a used car database.
But make sure that used car stock is really easy to find. A recent survey by I Perceptions concluded that customer satisfaction levels are highest when they can easily find the information they’re seeking.
“Making it easier to access detailed information online, such as inventory visibility, is paramount in order to secure additional visits to dealers, more requests for quotes and ultimately, a greater number of vehicle sales,” said Claude Guay, President and CEO of iPerceptions.
Easily accessible information is a great start, but it doesn’t stop there.
Live Chat is a sharper tool that encourages engagement with customers. So when a customer is browsing, there is now an opportunity to strike up a conversation if they’re ready.
This Honda example illustrates what can pop-up when a customer has been browsing a web page for a certain period of time. I don’t think this is too intrusive, the customer can simply dismiss it by closing the window, similar to an irritating web advertisement. Of course there’s a fine line between being available and therefore helpful and scaring the customer away, never to return.
We work with one dealer group that consistently generates 35% of their business from live chat enquiries. Chat gives the opportunity to nudge someone from ‘just browsing’ to ‘actively engaged’.
Given that most dealers don’t have a blog and have no aspirations to become content machines, there is a very real need for most to drive a consistent volume of traffic and leads from somewhere else. This has led to the growing importance of advertising portals such as AutoTrader, Pistonheads and many more which now consume a significant percentage of a dealers advertising budget.
The money is simply following the eyeballs. Online search continues to grow unabated at the expense of offline advertising.
The future success for all dealers is in part about rekindling the customer engagement that has disappeared, as the opportunity has risen for us to become anonymous researchers and shoppers.
Tools like C It Now that allow dealer’s to present cars remotely to customers is an ideal way to re-build trust and the all important customer relationship.
Car dealer software is also becoming steadily available for social media marketing.
The marriage between dealers and social media platforms like Facebook has, to date, not been a particularly happy one. Dealer investment is traditionally driven by short term results not long term strategy.
Facebook applications like StockBook (an inventory listing service) allow dealers to extend their used car marketing to another distribution channel outside their web site at little additional cost.
A useful article on Dealer Geek shows how to do this manually at no cost at all.
The change in consumer behaviour as a result of the internet does provide a great opportunity for dealers to think beyond their local market. I’m still surprised at the number of dealers who are satisfied with exclusively ‘thinking local’. Of course this is an important foundation on which to build a business but any dealer marketing strategy worth its salt in today’s market must include a share of remote inbound enquiries and sales.
As briefly demonstrated here, the tools are now available to make this transition a relatively seamless one.