New cars have all the signature marks of a commodity product: a 2020 black Corolla LE is the same regardless of the dealership you buy it from. While your experience at each dealership and the subsequent service may be different, the actual product is always the same. On the other hand, a 2016 pre-owned black Corolla LE is unique, as the mileage, condition, and history of that particular car makes it different from every other car out there.
So what does this mean in our stores? Whenever a new car is sold, our GSM would look through the inventory list to find the oldest VIN in stock, of cars that matched the customer’s requested trim and color. This ensured we were moving our old inventory off the lot, but didn’t change the value of the vehicle for the customer. This practice is not possible with used cars: if the customer found a used car on the lot that matched their needs, that was the car they got. Rarely, if ever, could we find something similar if the customer’s desired vehicle was gone.
But the customer experience on our website is a different story. Our websites list every car individually as if they were a unique asset. If we have 20 Sonata SE’s in white, we show 20 separate listings, each with its own picture and different pricing based on age. This makes our websites cluttered, confusing, and complicated. We might understand why the price is different, but I can guarantee you that most customers do not.
This results in our customers starting out without fully trusting us or the pricing of our products. Every 2020 Corolla LE is essentially the same with a few customer options, like color and packages. We could add more value to our customer and set ourselves up for more success if we sold on our website the same way we do in the showroom, by listing only the oldest car we have in stock of a particular color/trim combination; or selling like Apple sells iPhones, where models and options are listed without inventory.
The point is: As dealers, we know that it’s relatively easy to locate a customer’s ideal vehicle, even if it’s not in our inventory. But on dealership websites, the only inventory listed is inventory we can sell today. Apple is able to sell a model on backorder and list the estimated delivery date. If we listed new cars as a commodity product on our websites, then we could sell new vehicles that are not yet in stock, which is what we would do if the customer came into our showroom. When we list new cars as unique assets, we lose customers with a specific color or trim in mind.
Commodity products and unique assets are sold differently in every other market besides automotive. It’s time the automotive industry learns from these other verticals and adjusts how new and used cars are sold. But I know that this type of experience is not yet available for our dealership websites. Schomp’s marrying of DealerInspire’s Lightning experience with SpinCar’s Feature Tour is the closest I’ve seen. Until our websites can offer this for our customers, here are some ways you can incorporate these concepts:
- Prioritize pages that teach customers about trims by highlighting key comparison features and allow customers to inquire about a car in a specific trim and color. Ensure inventory is a part of this page, without listing every vehicle.
- Remove or bury your new vehicle listing page so that customers are taken to the new vehicle experience only if they aren’t specifically searching for in-stock inventory. The key is to make sure the new vehicle experience is not early in your website’s user journey so that your KPI’s don’t suffer.
- Instead of pricing new vehicles by age, consider pricing based on market availability and the value of the experience you provide. Just because a car has been in stock for 200 days doesn’t make it less valuable than the exact same model/color that was delivered yesterday.
- Identify unique vehicles in your inventory and create a special section that highlights their features and accessories, and displays these new units alongside used inventory.
Start modernizing your website experience so you can get the car you want to sell, to the customer who wants to buy it!