A Better User Experience Is the Foundation of Trust

In the past decade, a car shopper’s journey has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when families would spend a full day on the lot, crawling through cars to find the best fit. Today, car buying is built on a handful of vital moments, and few of those actually take place at the dealership.

Rather than exploring cars across dealer lots, shoppers turn to online resources to discover new vehicles, research financing, and gather expert and peer recommendations. Before customers ever step foot in your dealership, they’ve formed strong opinions and made dozens of decisions about their purchase.

While the majority of the car buyer’s journey has shifted to digital, the automotive industry has largely failed to keep pace with that shift. Although national OEM sites often deliver valuable experiences, dealership group websites tend to fail to connect with shoppers.

In fact, according to a Cars.com report, most shoppers say local and regional dealership websites are only slightly more trustworthy than car commercials. For dealers on the front line of car sales, that can’t be comforting to hear.

Here’s the reality: Dealerships will always remain an integral part of the car-buying process. By investing in their digital properties and the user experience they offer, dealerships can capture customers during the shopping moments that truly matter, instead of waiting for them to step on a lot with their minds already set.

User experience is king

Building better digital experiences is one of the most effective ways for dealerships to reclaim their place in the car-buying process. Rather than being a destination for a buyer who’s already decided, dealership websites can be vital stops along the way.

According to Autotrader’s 2015 Car Buyer of the Future report, 66% of consumers say they’d be much more likely to buy from a dealership that delivers an improved customer experience—not too shabby, right?

Recently, my agency worked with one of the largest dealership groups in the Southeast to build a top-flight experience for its customers. It has a popular local brand presence, but group management believed its websites lacked the sleek sophistication and polish of the national manufacturers they represent.

To some extent, manufacturers have it easy—they can simply show off a vehicle without needing to worry about selling it off the lot. But dealers’ websites don’t resonate with customers, despite the fact that consumers are more educated than ever. Local sites typically lack the emotional punch, finesse, and style of their national counterparts, offering confusing, difficult shopping experiences.

Here’s a fun exercise: Go ahead and count the number of calls to action on your dealership’s website. Dealers often lose their way by focusing too heavily on sales when customers just want guidance and advice. We shouldn’t compete with ourselves for the consumer’s attention.

Design drives trust

Web design and performance play a huge role in consumer trust. In fact, 94% of consumers say Web design is a signal of whether they can trust a brand. Most users will start to leave a site if a page takes more than two seconds to load. Improving site design and removing distractions has a two-fold benefit: Beyond just looking good, well-built websites deliver the performance that users expect.

Improving website usability and design can help keep shoppers on your site, rather than going to third-party research sites. For our client, we stripped the distracting calls for financing and incentives, simply offering what visitors want: the vehicle and its specifications.

Meeting customers on mobile

Increasingly, shopping moments happen on mobile devices. Simply put, dealer websites must be mobile-friendly. More than 50% of millennial buyers use a mobile device to shop, and that will only increase.

Companies without a responsive website are already behind the curve, and they’ll only fall further if they fail to invest in mobile. We built our client a site focused on converting mobile traffic—we streamlined vehicle searches to just three clicks and focused content to drive action.

Studies show that the average car shopper now only sets foot on a lot twice. That doesn’t mean dealers have to sit on their hands until a customer walks in. Rather, it’s time for dealerships to reinsert themselves into the process. Customers need information to guide them, and dealerships have a golden opportunity to reclaim the trust of shoppers.

Make every experience count

Car buying is a numbers game. Get enough people to visit your site, and eventually you’ll back into a conversion goal. Well, what if you could spend the same amount of money and convert more users to customers? Rather than expanding leads, many dealerships are trying to do more with the leads they already have. A compelling website, built to meet user needs, is the first step to turn visitors into prospective buyers.

Robert Berris is the VP of Digital Strategy at 352 Inc. 352 is a digital product development agency specializing in product strategy, user experience design, custom Web development, and digital marketing. 352 turns ideas into successful digital products for companies like Cox Automotive, Microsoft, and YouCaring.

Robert Berris


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