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Dealerships, do you even CPO? A Simple & Beneficial Approach

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One of my favorite calls receive are from former customers or friends who know I am in the car business. They call asking me how they should buy their next vehicle. I no longer work at the dealership, but it is so much fun for me to help my family, friends, and former customers to purchase a vehicle as an independent third-party voice.   Recently, a friend of mind that was looking for a new truck called and asked if I could help. As we talked about some of the features he wanted, I started thinking that taking advantage of a manufacture or dealer certified pre-owned vehicle might be a great way for him to buy his next truck. The certified pre-owned programs that he could take advantage of would allow him to get a better interest rate, more vehicle warranty, and an overall lower payment than buying a new truck.   After discussing his options, I started researching the best truck to meet his needs. However, I was 400 miles away and could not physically be there in person. Therefore, all of the leg work had to be done on the computer. This created a major hurdle for us finding a certified pre-owned vehicle that was a good fit for my friend. If I had been closer, I could have gone in person to dealerships and looked at trucks. I would have been able to see the point of purchase materials that are often displayed by the dealer to show off the certified pre-owned vehicle on the lot. In fact, most OEMs have stringent requirements for signs, stickers and decals that must be placed on a vehicle on the lot if it is certified.   My first couple of searches on third-party sites was very frustrating. I was able to enable the certified pre-owned search filter; however, I noticed that some dealers were not even correctly classifying their certified vehicles. I could find a truck that would likely work for my friend, but I could not tell if the unit had any OEM or Dealer certified programs attached to it.   I began to think how unfortunate the situation was for the dealership. Dealerships are spending thousands of dollars in additional money for the certified program on their vehicle and no one can see it online. Dealer expenses that include: more reconditioning of the unit, additional time with paperwork and merchandising, and additional cost of the warranty coverage.    Luxury vehicle lines like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lincoln all have certified pre-owned programs, which can cost the store over $1,000 just for the certified warranty. This does not include all the additional money that has to be spent to bring all maintenance up to date and additional higher level recondition requirement costs. In some instances, the vehicle could have incurred the dealership an additional $3,000 or more to certified than a non-certified competing unit.  After a long exhausting search that spanned over the course of two weeks, I was finally able to find a dealer that had the right truck for my friend. How did I find it? Firstly, the vehicle had an image overlay on the truck with the dealer information, and most importantly, the certified pre-owned logo. Secondly, the vehicle was correctly listed in the certified pre-owned listings category of the third-party listing site. Lastly, the description of the vehicle clearly identified the unit as a certified pre-owned vehicle with the benefits of the program.  If you are reading this thinking that your certified pre-owned cars could use a facelift, the good news is that most of the merchandising can be automated through your vehicle export providers. It just takes a little bit of work and time to get it going. Here are the items that I recommend every dealer do to help bring their offline message to their online shoppers.  Properly classify your units as certified in your vehicle inventory tool. This helps to identify the units on the dealer website as well as third-party listing sites.  Get a professionally designed image overlay with the dealer logo and certified pre-owned logos. Do not try to make one yourself unless you are graphic artists. Too many times I see terrible overlays that were designed with a pour image editor and the dealership's credibility immediacy is negatively affected. Add a placeholder image in the vehicle picture set that clearly outlines the advantages of the certified pre-owned program for the consumer. This slide is imperative as consumers often cross shop your certified unit versus a non-certified unit.   Lastly, Add the certified pre-owned benefits to the top of the vehicle description. It is crucial that this information goes right on the top as most consumers will spend little time viewing all the descriptions. This should be automated or templated in your export tool to make sure that it is attached to every certified unit every time. Here are some examples of good certified pre-owned merchandising: Vehicle Overlay Vehicle Placeholder A little bit of effort can go a long way in bringing the same offline experience to your online shopper. The great news is that most of this is easy to setup and automate.  
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.
Making the Most of Web Traffic During COVID-19

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Amid the COVID-19 situation, we’re seeing a downturn in key metrics across the automotive retailing industry. Leads generated, vehicles sold, and everything in between is suffering as customers and dealers alike adhere to social distancing guidelines and best practices for disease prevention. One area that has proven resilient, however, is website traffic. The “quarantine life” has forced most of us to live more of our lives in the digital space than ever before, and that includes time spent researching long-term needs, such as a new vehicle or vehicle maintenance. Our current economic and social lockdown won’t last forever, and when restrictions do lift, customers want to be prepared for important purchasing decisions. That means now is a critical time to make the most of your web traffic. Now, you may think you’ve already optimized your site to perform like the virtual showroom it ought to be. Still, it’s always worth revisiting some fundamental concepts to make sure you’re not making easily preventable mistakes or missing out on critical revenue opportunities. Understand Customer Intent Before you can leverage site traffic into something more, it pays to understand what’s bringing potential customers to your site to begin with. What are they searching for? However web traffic reaches you (paid ads, organic search, targeted marketing, etc.), understanding intent provides a foundation for every subsequent interaction. Why? Because once you understand customer intent, you can strategically customize your website with a response that will move visitors toward a desired action. In the age of COVID-19, that response starts simply: Are you open? Specifically, are your service and sales departments operating? For the potential buyers who are out there, are you putting current incentives and promotional offers front and center? For those looking for service work, are your most up-to-date hours clearly communicated in the heavy traffic areas of your site? In fact, it’s generally a good practice to be as informative and transparent as possible wherever feasible on your site. Under COVID-19, that includes stating how you’re implementing social distancing and how your staff has been trained to maximize customer safety in every interaction. There are more spots where the current circumstances will affect your operation in ways that must be communicated ahead of time, such as pickup and delivery in service or remote delivery in sales. A thorough review of your site’s content is the only way to ensure there are no outstanding problem areas. Audit Your Vehicle Details Pages I mentioned that vehicle sales are down across the board, but the fact remains that there are still people out there looking to buy, either because they’re in desperate need of a vehicle or because they’re aware that this may be the time to get a favorable deal. If someone makes it as far as the vehicle details page on your site, it’s imperative to make it crystal clear what incentives are available to induce them to buy. In fact, now’s the perfect time to review your vehicle details pages to make sure you’re always presenting desired information as clearly and concisely as possible. Specifically, no vehicle details page should be without the following six points: Pictures Videos Basic vehicle information, emphasizing the five or six most noteworthy technology or safety features Price Incentives or promotional offers ( do not redirect customers to another page with any “click here to see offer” links) Tools that make it simple to interact with your dealership, such as a chat feature Finally, remember that crisp, clear, high-level information is what converts site visitors into customers. Use Your Site to Connect with People One thing COVID-19 has done a good job of is reminding us all of the importance of human connection. That applies to your relationship with your customers, as well. Even if it’s as simple as making a short video to share your concerns and talk in-depth about how your business is faring, what steps you’re taking to help ensure public safety, or how you’re giving back to the community, the point is establishing that human connection. That type of content is a natural fit for your business’s social feeds as well, providing another avenue to direct potential customers to your site. There’s an old saying that success comes to those who can make the most out of a bad situation, and in no time in recent history has that been truer for dealers than now. One action you can take to offset depressed revenue is to make the most out of web traffic and leverage your site as the top-tier virtual showroom you know it can be.
8 Tips to Consider Before You Drop the Price...

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Have we forgotten, or worse, have we failed to teach new sales managers some of the methods in selling aged inventory outside of having to discount the price? The perspective in our industry over the past ten years is that the only way to sell an aged used car is to drop the price until it sells. While it can be an effective strategy; it costs the store gross profit, and is not the only strategy that a sales or inventory manager can use to help sell aged inventory. Situations like this require managers to step back in time–before the power of the mighty internet–and remember the methods used to move aged inventory without dropping the price. Here are a couple of offline and online tips that I use when trying to move an aged piece of inventory other than dropping the price. Drive the car. While a simple tip; it is often overlooked or not executed due to all the tasks and stressors Sales Managers encounter during the business day. With all those daily tasks and management duties rarely does the aged inventory get driven to see if something is wrong with the unit. Does the vehicle need tires? Is it dirty from sitting on the lot over 60 days? Did the reconditioning team miss something? Whatever the issue may be, take personal responsibility for getting it fixed. Put the aged inventory piece on one of your lot's "hot spots." A good sales manager should know the best drive-by spots on the physical lot. Make sure to park aged inventory pieces on the "hot spots" to ensure drive-by traffic gets a good look at the unit. Merchandise the unit with stickers and signs to help increase interest from drive-by customers. Make sure to use bright colors. Also, it is a good time to reprint the vehicle window stickers and buyers guides to make sure they are clean and professional. Pay salespeople spiffs on aged inventory units. It is pathetic that some stores pay a measly $50 mini to a salesperson who spends hours with a customer to move an aged piece of inventory. More likely than not, commission-based salespeople are going to attempt to move a customer off an aged inventory vehicle to increase their gross. Salespeople might also conclude that aged inventory might have something potentially wrong with the vehicle. Therefore, why would they want to spend hours of their time for a mini and know that the inventory has the potential for a dissatisfied customer in the future? One way to combat this inherent problem is to reward salespeople with a rolling top 5 aged inventory list. If the unit is aged, allow a 50% paid commission or, if the vehicle is being sold below cost, reward the salesperson with a large minimum commission of $500 for each aged sold inventory piece. Make it worth the salespeople's time to sell aged inventory and it will help. Use banners and photo overlays to make the unit stand out online. A simple highlighting of a special feature that isn't always easily seen from the first picture; this simple method can go a long way to increase clicks on a car. Re-photo the vehicle. So many times, the vehicle images are taken while it was snowing, or the leaves on the trees are changing. After 60-90 days the season has changed. Take time to go out and retake the photos and update the vehicle's images. Change the first image of the vehicle online from the exterior image to an interior image. The interior shot has shown to get more clicks as it sparks curiosity. Previous online viewers of the vehicles may see it with a fresh set of eyes. Re-write the vehicle description. Highlight the vehicle features, pricing, and also the work that was completed to make your unit stand out above the rest. Margin compression is a reality in the market today; however, as a dealer, you can take additional steps to market your vehicle inventory better and maintain more gross. It takes time and effort; nonetheless, in the long run, the gross profits are worth it.
How to use Dynamic Photo Overlays: Set Your Dealership Apart from the Competition

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‘Tis always the season for a sale. Most of us who work in the retail industry recognize that any time of year there is a reason to have a sales event centered around it. This month it might be the “December to Remember” or the “Red Tag Event”. Next month it is going to be “New Year, New Car” or “New Year’s Savings Event “. Whatever the sales event, most dealerships will have a multitude of creative print and point of sale material that brings the marketing message to television ads, radio ads, mailers, and billboards. Until recently, displaying the sales event brand message on dealer websites and updating the inventory online was overlooked or stopped because it took way too much time to complete. Imagine the time even a smaller dealer would have to spend to replace every vehicle overlay on every piece of online inventory every month with the new sales event message? Not to mention, that in the past the photo overlay had to be been permanently flattened onto the images. In order to put a new overlay on the photo, the overlay would have to be bigger or the dealer would have to take new pictures of all the inventory.   Due to the extra time that this additional online rebranding work requires, many dealers skip it altogether and just put all their emphasis on inventory and pricing because it is easier. In doing so, the dealership sales event branding message often is not promoted online resulting in less lead gen from the event. When the dealership is only competing on price alone online and not leveraging its marketing events to drive traffic, sales and gross will suffer. However, advancements in the way photo overlays are configured now allow dealers to quickly interchange their current sales event branding message onto their photo overlays any time they want.      Photo overlay: Method #1 One easy way that stores can tie in the current advertising theme to the online message is to change the photo overlay on a vehicle with the change of season sales event. By doing this simple change the store can quickly tie in the offline message with the online message with just a couple of clicks. This makes having the “Red Tag” or “December to Remember” sales event so much easier to promote across all of your marketing outlets simultaneously. Here is an example overlay with the sales event featured on the photo overlay.   Photo overlay: Method #2 A second easy way for the store to use dynamic photo overlays is to change the overlay based on the vehicle export location. For example, an overlay highlighting that a dealer is a “Certified Dealer” or a “5 Star Rated Dealer” could be set up to proudly display that on the appropriate 3 rd party website. What I really like about using the overlay tool this way, is that it allows a dealer to differentiate itself from its competitors on its own dealership site as well as third-party websites in many more effective ways than simply using internet price. Here is an example of a dealer using the dynamic overlay to highlight their dealer certification rating. In today’s competitive marketplace so much effort by vendors is being put into making vehicles line up in order like a commodity. When a dealer uses dynamic photo overlays it is a unique way that they can stand out above the rest of the crowd and attract more views to their inventory. Most inventory providers make this easy to do now and these compelling sales event overlays will draw more customers to your dealership, help increase gross and keep the marketing theme consistent across all platforms. 
Take the Headache out of OEM Rebates

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As Happy Gilmore says, “The price is wrong BOB!”. Factory rebates are one of the most aggravating aspects that inventory managers struggle with today. As I work with dealers across the country, dealership managers tell me time and time again about the many hours spent and the pain they endure from managing new car incentives for their dealership’s marketing sites. Every OEM is different, and almost every OEM has found a way to complicate the issue. I can point to three major challenges dealers face when managing their rebates online. Unfortunately, if the dealer claims the rebates incorrectly they are the only party in the transaction left with a financial loss when the rebates are not paid to the dealer by the OEM. #01 The first obstacle is that most OEMs have chosen only select website partners to share proprietary rebate information with. This information then is not shared with other websites or inventory providers.  Because of this, if you opt to use a separate website or inventory management tool to manage the rebates that the OEM has not chosen, then you will likely not have their correct rebate information. Historically, Ford’s OEM has made it extremely difficult for managers to efficiently track rebates. A new 2019 Ford F-150 can have over ten 15 different rebates based upon cab size, engine specs, and packaged equipment; there is no easy one-size-fits rebate for an F-150. OEMs need to be more flexible with allowing additional providers to access rebate information from their system so that their franchise stores can accurately price vehicles online. #02 Secondly, OEM’s have different ways of discounting vehicles. For instance, the marketing team at General Motors has decided that 12% off MSRP is a great way to advertise a discount with a consumer. This may look great to a consumer but can make managing those rebates even more difficult for a dealer. At a glance, how does 12% off even resonate with a customer? I am used to going to a big box store and getting 50% off the retail price, I don’t even notice 12% off. This week a new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 has 12% off the MSRP on select trucks. As the dealer, the math of how to get to the 12% off can include several different combinations of OEM rebate money and dealer discounts. Getting the 12% discount to display on a website correctly without showing the standard rebate can be a complex equation. Additionally, the dealer must ensure that the particular unit is eligible for the 12% off MSRP incentive which turns into an extremely tedious process. #03 Lastly, third-party websites like CarGurus, Cars.com and TrueCar only accept two price fields from a dealer’s data feed. Usually, third-party websites will allow for an MSRP and Final Price (Including dealer discounts and rebates). The only chance that a dealer has to properly break out what rebates they are using, is in the description field. This can mislead and create a lot of confusion on behalf of the consumer as to what all the price includes. Third-party providers need to be able to accurately map rebate incentives to the pricing on new cars in order to allow dealers to have consistent pricing online. Moving forward In these instances, a store needs a sophisticated inventory management tool that can decode the cab, engine, and vehicle package. Even then, for certain vehicles, the inventory manager may still have to manually specify the unit rebates. Unfortunately, no perfect solution currently exists to accurately display dealer’s rebates to consumers but here are some ways that a store can do it better. Manually process and update the rebates in the dealer’s inventory export tool. Depending on a dealer’s inventory size this can be a long and arduous process that needs to be done daily by the inventory manager. It risks data entry errors and attaching each rebate disclaimer would need to be updated at the beginning of every month.  I have observed inventory managers try to hopelessly keep up with processes like this. They have wasted countless hours of their month on a non-value add for the dealership. It is an option that is really only sustainable for dealerships with a smaller new car inventory size. Inventory management and export tools now have the ability to automate rebates within the tool. This allows new vehicle pricing to be done in one place and to manage the rebate disclaimers that can be included when exporting prices. While it is still a challenge on VIN-specific units most of the guaranteed rebates and finance cash can be used. On top of this, a dealer can use bulk pricing updates and conversion rules in the export tool to segment out individual units that receive the percentage discount or select aged inventory cash and quickly price each of those units. The dealer can request a “back feed” of new car pricing from website vendors like CDK, Dealer.com, DealerOn, and others to their inventory export tool. This will make sure that the final discounted price is displayed in the dealer’s inventory management tool and can be exported to other third-party providers. However, most website providers are unable to back feed the incentive breakdown that is required by most states to meet advertising regulations. There could be an additional charge for this from the website provider as well. Many states are starting to regulate dealer new car pricing and audit dealers across all dealer website platforms to ensure they display a consistent price with disclaimers. Therefore, it is imperative that franchise dealerships maintain accurate and consistent pricing across all online. How stores choose to manage their new car rebates will continue to be a challenge until OEMs decided to share their proprietary data with other providers and third-party websites allow more flexibility on pricing fields.