CommentaryJan 1st, 2014

Google: Online Car Shopping is Now the Norm


Google’s recent “Digital Drives Auto Shopping” study could have been named “Of Course People Use the Internet to Shop for Cars.” The stats all show that drivers’ shopping habits have come to reflect our society at large; shopping for a car is an increasingly digital experience, customers are making choices faster than before, and they expect to have their questions answered quickly.

We are fast approaching a desire for nigh-instant gratification amongst car shoppers (who isn’t nowadays?), with 82% of them in the market for three months or less. And because shoppers are searching for information online and comparing brands more than ever before, a prestigious brand name is not enough carry the day…especially when they’re checking out 17 or more websites. So what’s a dealership to do?

Get ready for those digital guests

Since more than 90% of all shoppers go online for their information, we better start treating everybody like digital guests. From the right digital marketing to the best, fastest customer service, we’ve got to engage them the right way at the right time. After all, Google’s study even pointed to the massive number of shoppers who take previous ownership experiences — from customer service to dealership communication — into account when shopping for a vehicle!

More than ever before, dealers are brand ambassadors online and off. So even if your website metrics seem perfect, remember that mishandling those digital guests probably means their purchasing decisions will be made at another dealership.

Connect the right way to bring them “home”

How can you match the dealership visit to your awesome online presence? Think instant online engagement. Think live chat to answer their questions. And think video. For example, video’s effectiveness in getting bodies in the door is stunning. According to the Google study, online video is the top advertising format for driving brand consideration, outdoing many old standbys like direct mail, billboards and newspaper ads. More than half of auto shoppers watch a half-hour or more of pertinent online video before choosing a vehicle, while one in four watches at least an hour.

More importantly, shoppers tend to take action after watching such vehicle video ads — Google says 61% of people looked for more information online, and a whopping 49% actually visited a dealership. (And did you know that you can often embed a live chat option in your video or near it…allowing even more instant conversations after shoppers watch said video?)

It seems that seeing a vehicle in action is the next-best thing to actually driving it. These videos help connect drivers with a vehicle and give them a sense of why they might choose that model. An effective video can get shoppers to visit a dealership in person, which increases the likelihood that they’ll take a test drive, which, in turn, increases the likelihood that they’ll make a purchase…for the simple fact that they made a positive connection at the dealership. Because of the impressive video-to-visit ratio, having video content on a dealership’s website is critical.

Video is just a piece of a larger digital strategy

As effective as it can be, video alone is not the answer — it’s also important to consider how to get shoppers to view video content in the first place and how to answer their questions when they do. A comprehensive online strategy is key to this, including having a website that’s both pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate, leveraging SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) techniques, using display ads and remarketing with live dealer chat photo drop-ins, social media (yep, I said that), mobile advertising, review sites and other strategies to effectively draw web traffic.

After all, the Google study reflects the new world where the customer has access to nearly unlimited resources, especially on the showroom floor as they negotiate on your car and shop the competitor down the street via their iPhone. In this world, dealerships have to provide quality online content and ease of communication as part of a broad online strategy. It’s all to ensure you’re present at every moment of truth, which itself must be part of your comprehensive marketing plan.

Oh, and that online presence, communication and engagement? It’s also part of your customer service now. So treat the customer — your digital guests — the way they want to be treated. Kick-ass customer service wins every time.

CJ Romig is general sales manager at Motor Werks of Barrington in Barrington, Illinois. An avid golf player, car guy, High 5 enthusiast, hands-on dad and loving husband, CJ enjoys “werking” in the high-line segment of the automobile industry because he’s able to share the joys of driving, experiencing and owning a luxury vehicle.

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