Digital RetailingBest Practices

Digital Retailing
The Big Buzz in Digital Retailing: Dealer Ultimate Milestones

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Everyone in the car business is talking, writing, and podcasting about digital retailing. The list of related virtual events is exhaustive. The popularity momentum is depicted when planning a Google Ads campaign with keywords such as "automotive digital retailing," "digital retailing," and "modern retailing." Google's Keyword Planner shows a month-over-month increase of these keyword searches for the past 24 months. When forecasting your Google Ads budget, you can expect to pay upwards of $35 per click for an average 1.5 ad position. Automotive digital retailing is absolutely on everyone's mind. Transparency, Trust, & Time Savings As you weed through the mass content, several ideals are dominant: Transparency Building trust A streamlined sales process A seamless online to in-showroom experience First and foremost is giving consumers more control of the car buying experience. The ability to search on a dealer's website for vehicles by year, make, model, and type and to explore different configurations is a given. It's essential to accurately display vehicle pricing, factory rebates and incentives, special offers, dealer fees, financing options, a credit estimator and application, and a tool to formulate payment scenarios. Multi-channel options for requesting information, getting a guaranteed cash offer on a trade, and scheduling a test drive while enabling consumers to complete their entire car purchase online with flexible pick-up and delivery options – are all must-have components of any digital retailing strategy. It makes sense that this level of transparency builds trust with shoppers, leads to significant time savings, reduces friction, and results in a more favorable car buying experience. Why Achieving FULL Transparency Is the Ultimate Milestone for Dealers Let's think about what "transparency" really means... total visibility, crystal clear, open to observation, without concealment.  While digital retailing components play a critical role in creating a transparent online shopping environment,  full transparency is achieved when dealers openly display ALL vehicle and dealership information within the digital retailing framework , which saves shoppers even more time and builds a greater level of trust. As consumers move through the car buying journey, there are hundreds of digital interactions across social channels, video platforms, search engines, industry portals, manufacturer websites, and online review sites. Digital Air Strike's 8th Annual Automotive Digital Retailing Consumer Trends Study revealed the following about 7,500+ car buyers and service customers: 60%+ selected a dealership based on online reviews alone 54% said that community involvement influenced their decision to buy from a dealership 51% used Google to find dealership reviews Only 5% of dealerships shopped sent videos in response to customer inquiries 27% preferred to select vehicle warranty and add-ons online 93% of car buyers spent a few days or more researching which dealership to buy from When it comes to achieving transparency in automotive digital retailing, there's more to it than simply integrating a digital retailing solution into dealership vehicle details pages (VDPs).  Imagine car shoppers landing on VDPs that contain all the information they are looking for – not just vehicle photos and specs, financial tools, contact forms, and pricing. What if shoppers could watch videos introducing the service department and the General Manager, explore Google and DealerRater reviews, read about a VIP program, and learn about the dealership's community involvement. Why are shoppers forced to hunt for reviews on search engines and to browse through website pages to learn about the service department, community work, or special programs that are offered? Since most of a dealer's digital budget is spent driving traffic to VDPs, having car shoppers leave to find the information they need – is the last thing a dealer should want. Start Here Think about the process that you would go through to purchase a used vehicle. Before you get to the point of needing financial tools to build payment scenarios or obtain financing, you would spend time figuring out if a particular vehicle is the right choice by looking at vehicle photos and specifications AND by asking questions: Is the vehicle factory certified? What are the results of the inspection? What repairs or maintenance did the dealership perform? Does it need repairs?  Is the history report clean? What info is on the OEM window sticker? What kind of warranty does it have?  Is there a return policy? Is there a live video walkaround? How difficult would it be for an online car shopper to get the answers to these questions? How many phone calls would need to be made? How many forms filled out? How long would the consumer have to wait in the dealership for a salesperson to gather this information? A truly transparent website VDP contains ALL the information that shoppers need in one place - not just vehicle photos, specs, and financial tools. A high-impact VDP contains a vehicle's reconditioning records, inspection report, factory window sticker, vehicle history report, dealership reviews, video walkaround, ebrochure, and videos and documents that illustrate the dealership's reputation. Providing online shoppers with a "portfolio" of the dealership, the vehicle, and digital retailing components is the ultimate milestone in transparency and trust. Doing so saves shoppers hours of research, reduces painful price negotiations, streamlines the process, and makes the transition to the dealership seamless.  The Value Benefits Full transparency offers enormous benefits for dealers as well, such as building value in a vehicle by openly discussing the dealership's reconditioning investment or an inspection performed by a master certified technician. Value-based conversations with shoppers about vehicle quality and safety, and a lower cost-of-ownership over time helps to justify pricing and demonstrates that the dealer is truly interested in helping the shopper make a smart purchase decision.  In the end, it's a win-win situation for both the dealership and the car buyer – by focusing on selling value, the dealership retains its gross profit. At the same time, full transparency earns trust and drives customer loyalty.
Digital Retail: 4 Steps for Setting Your Dealership up for Success

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Chances are, your dealership has been leaning into digital and contactless services more than ever in order to sell more cars during the ongoing Covid crisis. Online financing, virtual walkarounds, home delivery, and more — resilient dealers have adopted many of these digital retail tactics in order to keep business going. It makes sense because the majority of buyers are used to leveraging online resources:  78% of car shoppers say online tools and resources make them a smarter shopper .  Ultimately, digital retail is about giving shoppers the transparency and control they want, when they want it. So, how do you build a successful strategy? Use these steps as a guide.  #1 Get buy-in from your entire staff The idea might start with you, but your digital retail efforts won't be successful without buy-in from your entire team. From the sales staff working the leads to the marketing team advertising your services, to the GM signing the contract, everyone at your dealership needs to be on board. A bit of self-interest is key to getting people on board, so focus on:   Educating your team . Don't assume a few nods from staff members mean they understand exactly how digital retail works and what's expected. Offer information, answer questions, and provide real-life examples of success at other dealerships. Emphasizing how it will make their jobs easier . There might be some growing pains as you get started, but a little extra effort and training upfront will make things easier in the long run. A streamlined buying process for shoppers will lead to customer loyalty and repeat buyers down the road.  Recognizing wins . Whether it's a shoutout at your next team meeting or a small financial incentive, highlighting successful digital retail efforts, such as a salesperson's first virtual appointment or home delivery, is a great way to gain buy-in and drive adoption.  #2 Map out what success looks like for your dealership Once your team is committed, map out your dealership's path to digital retail success. This includes everything from setting priorities and assessing existing processes to creating goals and establishing benchmarks. But don't stop there: make sure you provide a clear picture of what specific actions and behaviors are needed to achieve success. Once your roadmap is defined, you'll be ready to start your dealership's journey into digital retail.  #3 Start by mastering one digital retail component first Digital retail is about giving shoppers the transparency and control they want. (Image source: Automotive Ventures) Digital retail isn't an all-or-nothing proposition that means a shopper can click a buy button on your website and have a car show up in their driveway. In fact, it's best to start small, then expand your offerings as your comfort increases. According to our recent Consumer Sentiment study,  shoppers are more likely to prefer online financing  (52%) than completing the full transaction online (41%), so enabling online financing might be a good starting point. This could be as simple as providing a calculator for those who just want to know what their payments will be before going to the dealership, or it could mean letting buyers complete all of the financing paperwork online before they come into the dealership to complete the sale.   Enabling online financing is relatively easy to implement with the help of your existing lenders and third-party sites, and you can do it without giving up any of your backend profits. Additional benefits for your dealership include:  Ready-to-buy shoppers . Shoppers who go through the pre-qualification process are further down the buying cycle and more ready to buy.  Close with confidence . Your team will know more about shoppers' buying power and can close the sale quickly and with confidence. Better customer experience . It brings transparency to the process, which ultimately creates a smoother, faster, and more enjoyable experience for your shoppers.  #4 Take your digital retail efforts to the next level with external partners There are many vendors, including us at CarGurus as well as AutoFi, DealerSocket, Modal, and more, that can help you expand your digital retail offerings and take your efforts to the next level. Not only will using a vendor allow you to add digital sales components more quickly – for example, instant trade valuations or home delivery – but it will also provide a partner to help you with processes. As you try vendors out, look for one that offers things like training for sales staff or reporting and tracking tools to see how digital retail is impacting your bottom line. Keep in mind, you don't have to do everything at once. Your digital retail strategy will probably look different from another dealership's — and that's okay.   It's the connected dealer who will win the sale Doing what you've always done is no longer enough. By laying the groundwork now, you'll avoid future disruption down the road and set your dealership up for success. If you enjoyed this article, take some time to listen to the latest podcast episode on Experimarketing  with  Colin Carrasquillo
Are We There Yet? Actionable Steps For Digital Retailing Success in Automotive

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Move made in 2020 were critical, but are they complete? Digital Retailing has been a buzzword in the industry for a few years. What they mean in reality is as vast as the Grand Canyon. When the pandemic hit us in March, and many dealers found themselves unable to open their doors and consumers everywhere were resisting coming to the showroom, these words carried new weight and meaning.  Dealers did what they do best. They moved quickly and got creative. Many have seen record years as the changes they have made were able to meet their shoppers where they were comfortable and ready to buy; even with the economic challenges that many faces and still face, shoppers are buying.  Which Dealerships are Winning? Within our conversations with shoppers, their focus has been on the current special offer for financing or rebates. They are more conversational than before COVID but still directed toward a purchase. When lockdowns were at the peak, a common question was about delivery. It was not unusual to have shoppers from New York and other impacted states shopping out of state dealers and asking about shipping. Dealers who are prepared to meet and help these determined shoppers online are winning.  Questions Every Dealer Should Ask Themselves Shoppers are ready to move forward with their purchase. How prepared are you to help them? Are you there yet? Do they have the ability to get their credit application going? Can they get a decision before coming into the dealership? Are you able to get a valid trade form completed online?  What type of interaction online are your shoppers experiencing? Are they leaving a message? Are they able to communicate through their chosen channel? If the conversation turns to the next step of credit or trade, can you get it going within that conversation? Or are you risking losing a deal by interrupting that continuity and moving the interaction to the phone or in-person?  Set Yourself Up For Success Everyone has felt the frustration of 2020 and all it has brought. No one has escaped the loss of freedom of movement and limitation of choices in nearly every aspect of life. Dealers who have set up their dealership and their teams with the tools that allow consumers to take control of their journey are the ones reaping the benefits — benefits that include higher grossing deals, increased volume, and more satisfied customers.  The move to digital retailing before 2020 seemed inevitable while also being ill-defined. Now, the successful dealers understand digital retailing involves making it possible for your shopper to do business with you in whatever way they choose. Just as dealerships go through redesigns, sales processes are designed and measured to achieve both dollars and satisfaction scores, so our websites need to be scrutinized. What Does Digital Retailing Mean To You? What does it look like on your site? What are your shoppers able to do, and how is your online team a part of that? The tools and people need to work together to achieve real success. Now is the perfect time to look at steps taken in March toward digital retailing and see what progress has been made. Assess the tools and processes that were put into place. Determine what should stay, change, or be tweaked. Are you there yet? Have you put the plan together that marries what happens in-store with what can take place online? Shoppers adjusting to the freedom of buying online, whether partially or totally, will not want to go backward. Let's leverage the giant leap we made and complete the moves needed for retailing online. Actionable Steps For Digital Retailing Success: 1. Listen Listen to your customers and your staff. Poll them. Find out exactly where the kinks in your chain are and are sure the product you chose addresses those concerns. 2. Research Do your due diligence. Don't assume that all providers or services are the same because that's not the case. Please do your research, test multiple products, compare and contrast them so you understand what makes each of them unique. 3. Implement Don't skimp on this step. Make sure your customers and staff are ready and capable of using the new tools. 4. Refine Observe and tweak the process as you go. Rome wasn't built in a day, and things will come up that you didn't expect. Be agile and vigilant to make sure your staff and customers are getting what they need to succeed. 5. Repeat Customer expectations are always evolving. You should be going through these steps (or at least the first two) regularly to make sure you're as successful as possible.
Why Now is the Time to Revisit Your SEO Strategy

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Your Customers Attitudes, Behaviors, and Expectations Are Changing I’ve chosen to look at COVID 19 as a ‘great reset’. It’s been said that problems are opportunities-so then what exactly  is  the opportunity for the Tier 3 dealerships in this new normal? Kantar, a leading worldwide research firm, canvassed over 100,000 people’s opinions in over 60 markets and published a “COVID 19 Barometer” designed to help marketers understand some of the key short and long-term changes in consumer attitudes, behaviors, and expectations - and their implications. The Kantar study identified three significant changes that are predicted to remain sticky in our post-pandemic world, and to which consumer products and brands will need to adapt. In abbreviated form, they are (1) a new wave of digital shoppers will emerge, (2) An extended period of value-consciousness, (3) Localism as a mainstream movement. Using the foundation of these three core trends, particularly the acknowledgment that online shopping will continue to develop, dealerships that position themselves as most responsive to these evolving consumer needs and inquiries are most likely to survive and thrive. The world of automotive online search has changed significantly over the recent period and today involves many more paths to purchase. When was the last time you reviewed how your dealership is ranking regarding these new types of searches? Updated automotive Search Engine Optimization SEO is vital, and the time to revisit it is now. Where to Begin A significant first step is to analyze your website yourself through a service like SEOmoz or your website provider. What you should see is a report card for things like site loading time, broken links, missing headers, how well your site is optimized for mobile, and other contributing factors as to how Google ranks your site. Next, interview several potential SEO providers and ask specific questions about the actual deliverables they intend to provide. Some firms focus on keyword optimization, others on content creation, still others are broader-based. SEO consists of both on-page (things like site structure, site speed, and UX user experience) and off-page (earning links, improving the popularity of your site and content) and requires a balanced strategic approach.  Some automotive SEO providers require you to pre-select from a “menu” of services. Because the success of your SEO program depends directly on how it relates to your business goals, with this approach, it’s critical to be sure whatever package you choose matches the true needs of your dealership. Remember, SEO is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Be sure your team can move between the various disciplines as circumstances dictate. Beyond goal alignment, it’s essential to understand the time frame required to start seeing your SEO program results and what factors influence this timeline. In general, you can expect to see results from legitimate SEO techniques within six months.  As your program progresses, your SEO team should be ready and able to show you performance metrics monthly. These should include how your defined universe of search terms and phrases are gaining (or losing) ground in overall rankings, competitive market share reports on how you are doing relative to competitors, as well as what it would cost in google or BING pay-per-click to achieve the same relative rank or position. Long Term Benefits Remember, one of the great things about SEO is that it’s an investment in your long-term position. Research shows that over 80% of clicks come from organic results. Unlike paid AdWords, organic results don’t stop when you quit paying the bill. It has also been shown repeatedly that more robust organic results work in concert with your paid campaigns and improve the effectiveness of both.   Your website, and how you attract buyers to it, are more critical than ever before. It’s time to get back to basics and re-tool for the new now. To read more on COVID-19 Barometer research click here.
4 Best Dealership Practices to Navigate an Uncertain Market

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The automotive industry is no stranger to change, but COVID-19 cast us into a situation we’ve yet to experience. With stay-at-home orders and tight business restrictions over the first few months, the market saw an immediate impact. But now, as those orders and restrictions begin to loosen, many are preparing to resume business activity. However, the rules and processes you’ve implemented pre-pandemic likely need to be adjusted. COVID-19 has created a new market environment — one that will require dealers to adapt. The same can be said for consumers. Lives have been upended in numerous ways, such as a sudden loss or reduction of income. And, the impact will continue to be felt for months to come. As a result, consumers’ appetite and sentiment around certain topics, including buying a car, have shifted and you need to adapt to these changes. The situation will remain very fluid in the months ahead, and while the long-term impact of the pandemic remains unknown, here are a few best practices you can implement to navigate the new environment.  1. Use local market trends to inform strategies The pandemic has impacted everyone differently, which means that people’s priorities have shifted, and dealer strategies also need to shift. While buying a car may have been on someone’s radar prior to the start of the pandemic, it may not be top of mind anymore. As a result, simply reengaging your pre-pandemic marketing plans likely isn’t the most effective strategy. Instead, use consumer sentiment data to understand how consumers are feeling, and leverage these insights to inform new marketing strategies. Since sentiment varies across generations and geographies, it’s important to look not only at a national level, but to understand the implications of sentiment in local markets.  For example, Experian research found that as of May 21, 2020, 29 percent of consumers in urban areas were considering purchasing a vehicle in the next few months, compared to only 10 percent in rural areas. Of consumers in urban areas looking to purchase a vehicle, 33 percent are looking to purchase something less expensive than originally planned, and 22 percent are considering leasing. Insights such as these can help you nuance your marketing messages to ensure you’re leading with empathy and showing customers a willingness to help by presenting them options that best fit their needs.  2. While adjusting business strategies, focus on other areas that can grow Depending on their situation, some consumers may be hesitant to re-enter the car-buying market. And that’s okay, everyone’s circumstance is different. Many of these consumers will still need their current vehicles serviced; some may even have open recalls. Canvass the vehicles on the road within your market to identify which may need service in the near future. The more you understand about vehicles in your local markets — current customers and beyond — the better positioned you will be to create revenue opportunity within the service drive.  3. Use vehicle history reports to bring context to online listings While you may be looking for ways to trim costs, there are some areas, like vehicle history reports, that are more important than ever. Given the significant financial investment a vehicle represents, we know consumers seek to make an informed purchase decision – especially now. That’s why when listing used vehicles online, it’s vital to provide more information than vehicle make, model, and odometer reading, since these metrics can’t provide the full context of a vehicle’s value.  Vehicle history reports can answer key consumer questions, such as the number of previous owners, the number of incidents, open recalls, the presence of title brands, etc. Including vehicle history in online listings makes this information easily accessible for the consumer researching the vehicle. Ultimately, including vehicle history reports in online listings creates a level of transparency that consumers appreciate. While an online experience will never truly replicate an in-person experience, ensuring streamlined information is available online will help dealers connect with customers on their preferred medium.  4. Understand the implication of increased digital transactions With the increase in digital transactions in the automotive industry, there is a corresponding potential increase in fraud attacks. To best mitigate these risks and protect customers, you need to move beyond sole reliance on basic identifiers like name, date of birth and social security number — many of these basic identifiers have been compromised over the years. Instead, new technologies allow dealers and lenders alike to employ a multi-layer fraud strategy that more accurately identifies consumers. This could include techniques such as device intelligence, biometrics, and document verification.  COVID-19 has created a new market environment that is truly unprecedented. The automotive industry is resilient and will remain so as long as it recognizes the need to adapt. By understanding consumer sentiment and responding to consumer needs, dealers will build relationships with new and existing customers that will position them for success today and in the post-pandemic world.  
Preparing Your Dealership for Post-Pandemic Operation

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The 2020 coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have forced the automotive sales industry to get creative to keep the — frequently proverbial — doors open. From video calls to solo test drives at a customer’s home to complementary service appointment vehicle pickups, the customer experience looks much different now than it did just a few months ago. For most dealers, moving some parts of the sales experience online will be the new normal for at least the rest of the year. Whether you haven’t had the capacity, bandwidth, or the know-how to create these new contactless customer experiences, here’s how you can create the groundwork to run them smoothly.  Social distancing dealership appointments Depending upon the regulations in their region or state, many dealerships have had to deal with permanently closed salesrooms, while some have been able to sell cars by appointment only. When setting up private dealership appointments, treat the appointment like you would any other business meeting — it has a start time and an end time. It’s not a great experience if your first appointment is running behind, and the next customer arrives to find that there are a lot more people in the dealership than they’re comfortable with. Also, schedule a gap of time in between your appointments for sanitization practices. Wipe down surfaces and door handles. Offer masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to your customers as a courtesy, especially if the customer will be touching cars on the showroom floor. Virtual appointments If you can’t open your doors for customers, you can schedule virtual video calls and record walk-around videos of vehicles the customer is interested in. This is our most popular contactless solution dealers are adding to their vehicles on CarGurus. You can run these on your smartphone or set up a computer with a webcam on your showroom floor.  It sounds painfully obvious, but make sure the car is clean. Vacuum the floors and fabric surfaces, wipe down the dashboard and clean the windows. If you’re recording a video walk-around to send to a customer, make sure your dealership’s contact details — such as phone numbers, email address, and website — are clearly displayed next to the video in the email or on your website if it is hosted there. Limit the video length to no more than two minutes to hold their attention and cover all the details and condition of the vehicle in the commentary. If you already know some details about the potential buyer, such as having three kids or a dog, make sure you personalize your description to match their needs. It will help them see themselves in the vehicle, even if they can’t actually get in the driver’s seat yet.  Free test drive at home Test drives are the bread the butter of car sales, and you can still do them if your dealership doors are closed with free test drives at home. Like private dealership appointments, you need to schedule the appointment with a start and end time. Set a limit on how long and how far a customer can test drive the vehicle. Make sure to calculate the time it takes for you to drive the vehicle to their home, the test drive duration, and the drive back to the dealership in the total appointment time.  Help your customers feel safer by wearing gloves, a face mask, and using hand sanitizer and offer these items to the customer when they’re in the vehicle. You can also use plastic steering wheel covers, floor, and seat covers, and plastic on the center console to keep contamination to a minimum. Contactless purchase Of all the contactless services dealers are offering right now, contactless purchasing will most likely stick around longer than the others. Buyers are open to it: according to an April 2020 CarGurus survey of 722 car buyers in the U.S., the percentage of car buyers open to buying online jumped up from 32% before the pandemic to 61% in April 2020.  Before you get started moving offline paperwork online, check with your state regulations. Some states require physical signatures for automotive sales if that’s the case, overnight the contract to the customer with a prepaid return envelope so that they can mail you the signed documents right back at no cost to them.  Free home drop-off Many dealerships were offering vehicle delivery even before the coronavirus pandemic started. To run a smooth home drop-off, many of the same rules that apply to home test drives apply here. Schedule a delivery window with the customer, come prepared with personal protective equipment for yourself and the customer, and designate an assistant to follow you in another vehicle so that you have a ride back to the dealership. If you can, have the customer sign the paperwork in advance through contactless purchasing or try to limit your physical contact with the customer when handling the paperwork.  Regardless of which new customer experience you’re putting in place at your dealership, the most important thing is to communicate these changes to your customers early and often. Explain the precautionary steps you’re taking to keep them safe in detail. They’ll thank you with their repeated business and brand loyalty when they need servicing or another vehicle in the future.