Research & Analysis

connected car
Connected Car Helps Drive Automotive Retail Consolidation

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Automotive Retail is Consolidating It’s no secret that significant consolidation of automotive retail is underway. Every week, Automotive News reports additional acquisitions by the leading retail consolidators. Earlier this year, Automotive News reported that the consolidation trend has continued steadily over the past 10 years – even through the pandemic. At the end of 2020, the Top 150 Dealer Groups owned 21% of all dealership locations and represented 23% of industry sales volume. This is up from 13% of locations and 16% of volume ten years earlier.   The need for significant technology investments is one driver of consolidation. Smaller dealers are faced with large investments to enable digital retailing to meet customer expectations. Dealers are also facing new investments in electrification technology to accommodate the industry shift to EVs. And some dealers are choosing to sell rather than make the investments. For example, approximately 20% of Cadillac dealers are reported to be walking away from their franchises, rather than make required investments in selling and servicing Electric Vehicles.   Tesla’s Retail Approach Shows What is Possible Tesla’s retail network shows that technology can not only be a driver of consolidation, but also an enabler. Tesla has fewer than 200 Sales Galleries and fewer than 150 Service locations. Connected Car technology is one of the keys that makes it possible for Tesla to service its customers with so few facilities. On the sales side, Tesla enables comprehensive on-line shopping. In service, Tesla says that it can accurately diagnose 90% of all issues remotely and that it can repair 80% of problems without a visit to a service center. Connected Car technology makes this possible by allowing Tesla to remotely connect to its vehicles for diagnosis and for ongoing insights into real-world customer usage. Tesla can also determine the customer’s location if it needs to dispatch a remote repair and Tesla can often repair vehicles with an over-the-air software update. It is safe to say that Connected Car technology is the only way that Tesla could operate with so few physical locations. As this technology becomes more widely used by all OEM’s, there will be growing opportunities for other OEMs to consolidate sales and service facilities. Lessons from the Pandemic and the Chip Shortage Both the pandemic and the chip shortage have accelerated trends toward digital retailing and reduced inventories. As reported in Car and Driver , Ford has concluded that the pandemic accelerated customer interest in shopping and ordering vehicles on line. Many dealers successfully responded by offering at-home test drives and deliveries. A build-to-order mindset for consumers has been further accelerated by the chip shortage, which has made it difficult for dealers to hold inventory and for customers to shop from inventory on the dealer’s lot.   Connected Car Technology Will Enable Further Consolidation Connected Car technology will further enable the trends toward retail consolidation and digital retailing. As Tesla has demonstrated, a well-connected OEM and Dealer network can easily provide remote sales and service to customers without needing so much real estate. As customers become more comfortable with online ordering and remote service, the most successful dealers will be those who make the best use of technology to serve customer needs.   We will soon see dealers making extensive use of Connected Car tech in their sales and service operations. For example: In Sales, vehicles can be made available for any-time test drives and parked inaccessible locations. Vehicles can be electronically disabled to prevent theft and only enabled for prospects with a valid authorization code. Also in Sales, a limited test drive can be extended to a short- or longer-term rental, with data collected to make effective suggestions to the customer for a customized vehicle, accessories, and software. In-Service, ongoing monitoring of vehicles will create increasingly sophisticated predictive models. These will allow Dealers to contact customers long before a failure occurs and offer either a physical repair or a software update. Also in Service, Dealers can monitor vehicle diagnostics trends, and can proactively schedule vehicle maintenance to be done at a time that is most convenient for the customer and also the most efficient for the dealer. The bottom-line result will be continued consolidation and more efficient use of real estate to meet the needs of automotive shoppers and owners. 
google game
Dealer Websites: When Gaming Google Hurts

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It’s been nearly 6 years since “Dieselgate” broke and Volkswagen was busted by the EPA for gaming their diesel car emissions tests. When the vehicle emissions were tested, the vehicle software adjusted the emissions to be “clean”, when in reality they were anything but. The result of this scandal ranged from lawsuits to government fines. The lesson, aside from the various ethics debates we could have over beer, was that gaming the EPA might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when they got caught it cost Volkswagen its reputation and a carload of money. “Gaming” Google” But what if I told you that I can show you that at least 3 website vendors are gaming Google in a similar fashion. Is this a victimless act or does it potentially cause problems for dealers? What’s the game? It’s simple: Some vendors serve up an amended version of their website when Google’s tools evaluate the website’s performance. While you’re seeing a fully functioning website, Google “sees” a bare-bones fraction of the real thing. The result is that Google thinks that the site is extremely fast, when the truth is something else. How’d We Get Here? I imagine that you are now wondering how we discovered the “game”. It’s pretty straightforward. Part of the work that we have been doing for the last 21 years is creating performance optimized websites for dealers. This means that we have a lot of experience building websites that work as well as possible for dealers given the constraints sometimes imposed by OEMs, and the myriad of third party apps and code embedded on websites. As our work evolved, we started using Google’s algorithm as a benchmark for success through its Google Lighthouse Chrome extension and its Google PageSpeed Insights tool (they both basically do the same thing, but GPSI is easier to use). How did we do this? A couple of years ago we built a tool called SurgeRecon that, among other things, evaluates website performance for a range of factors. For the purposes of our conversation here, the analysis gives us information on mobile page speed and SEO, two things that are critical to website success for a dealer. This data, drawn from Google Lighthouse or GPSI, can identify the probable causes of a slow website thus giving you a checklist for potential success. Time to Test and Validate We decided to test Google’s recommendations over a year ago on a bunch of our dealer websites and the data was compelling.   When we compared the performance of these Google optimized websites to their unfixed earlier versions of a year before, we discovered significant improvements: Page speeds had been cut in half to about 3.8 seconds Sessions had increased and their average duration had improved by 27 seconds Bounces had significantly decreased And, most importantly, organic leads had increased by an average of over 30/month  This data tells us that Google’s recommendations work. Therefore, ignoring Google’s evaluation, or gaming it so that one’s mobile speed appears better than it really is, risks lost opportunities for the dealer. ( Follow this link to read our full post about our work on this subject written by me with David Kain and Tom Kline , both industry heavyweights.) What Your Customer Sees vs What Google Sees Let’s now take a look at what “gaming” looks like. We’ll start with a simple Google Lighthouse analysis of a buy here/pay here dealer (seen below).   Check out those stats!!! This dealer’s mobile website is rated 100/100 ( #1 ) for performance. That’s incredible, but it is just too good to be true. If you look at #2 below, you see that the “largest contentful paint” (when the site is ready for interaction) is 6.6 seconds. Not good. But when you look at #3 , you see that the reported time is only .8 seconds. Oops. Those are the reported numbers. What you might ask now is what do the actual “websites” look like? For the dealer website that we’re showing here, here is a comparison between “What you see” and “What Google sees” when the website gets tested by Google. This difference is massive. The gamed version on the right lacks images and third party apps and code that can slow down load time. In order to serve up the abbreviated site on the right, the website code does something called “user agent sniffing”. In this case, it identified that Google Lighthouse was testing the site, and then served up a different batch of code. It might be a mistake or intentional. You decide. But remember: The most important lesson here is that the mobile website does not take .8 of a second to load before it is usable; it actually takes over 6 seconds. This is important because according to a Forrester study (from over 10 years ago), 40% of consumers won’t wait more than 3 seconds for a web page to load before abandoning the site. Add on more seconds, and even more people abandon the site. Get to 10 seconds, and many won’t ever return. So What Can You Do? Test with Google PageSpeed Insights Testing with Google is very easy. All you have to do is follow this link , enter your dealer website’s URL, and select the “ANALYZE” button.   Don’t be surprised if the results are poor, say 30/100 or lower for your mobile page speed (how long your mobile website takes to download to a mobile device). That’s very common, and even high when you look at the industry average of 13/100 (from a test we did with over 10,000 dealer websites).   However, if your results seem really good, say 80 or higher, then getting a second opinion is advised. To do this, you can download another extension called User Agent Switcher for Chrome and add it to Chrome.     Once loaded, find the extension, click your right mouse button on the extension, select Options, and then add this information to the User-Agent list: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36(KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/61.0.3116.0 Safari/537.36 Chrome-Lighthouse . Once done, save the item, open the extension, and then load your website.   Of course, if you want to skip the work to set up User Agent Switcher, then just use our free SurgeDective app . It just takes a few seconds to test. Hopefully, when you run your test, the website will look like your existing site. If it doesn’t, has less content, or is just a bunch of text, then you have a problem. You should talk with your vendor to see what’s going on or contact us for help. Where Do We Go From Here? Testing your website every quarter is a good idea. Websites can collect code and other things that slow down its performance over time. Getting the test done lets you know how well your site is working, or if it has problems, it tells you that you better get your vendor on the line to do some improvements.   To encourage improvements, you can request that your vendor run the GPSI test, and then discuss the results with you. Or, if you find out that your vendor appears to be gaming Google, then you can have them use our SurgeDective tool, and Google PageSpeed Insights, to make improvements. Whatever you do, paying attention to your site speed is critical. Every second above 3 seconds can cost you a customer. And that means potentially lost money for you.
zero click searcg
Zero-Click Search Is Important, but Web Clicks Have Not Gone Away

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There has been an increase in discussion of late (blog posts, conference sessions, etc.) talking about the Zero-Click search trend related to Google My Business, and the impact it is going to have on your business. For those of you not in the loop on this, Zero-Click searches are those where a consumer conducts a search on Google (or other search engine but really, almost all searches go to Google) and then never clicks through to any website.  Sometimes this is not a bad thing.  Consumers conduct a search to find a phone number and if they click to call, that counts as a zero-click search. They might also be checking your business hours or your reviews, and again, they can get that information right from your Google my Business page with no need to visit your website.  The concern though is, that as Google adds more content to the GMB pages, such as Products, and Cars for Sale, will your GMB page (or pages, assuming you have at least one for Sales, one for Service) essentially steal traffic that would have otherwise gone to your website? It is a justified concern, at least enough so that you should be optimizing your Google My Business pages as consumers spend more time there, but have web clicks really disappeared? Re-strategizing I propose that people still visit the dealer website prior to purchase even if they start their process on Google My Business, and that web clicks are, for the most part, alive and well. To check my theory, I actually looked at 100 dealers and the interactions from their GMB page, specifically, how are web clicks trending compared to Click to Call, and Direction Requests. (on a side note, 100 dealers out of approximately 18,000 is a 90% confidence level with a 8% margin of error.) Seasonality and the variance in demand over the last year make the numbers challenging to compare, so more research is needed, over a longer period of time to truly determine a trend, but here is what we can see today: Comparing 100 dealers, between 2nd quarter 2021 vs 3rd Quarter, 2020, we see that Phone Calls are up 9.2 % and Direction Requests are up 13.4%, so if Zero Click is impacting how consumers engage, we would expect the Web Clicks number to have decreased, or at least see a lower increase than the other interactions. However, Web Clicks actually fall in the middle with an 11% increase during the same period. This would lead us to believe that the Zero-Click trend has not impacted auto dealers' web clicks, at least as of yet. Even looking at the chart above, we see Web Clicks growing steadily along with other interactions. Why do we care so much about Zero-Click? You always want to have a deep understanding of how consumers buy your products, this includes: how long is the buying process? What triggers start the process? And where do they start their research? What is critical to understand is at what point consumers are making a decision on which vehicle they intend to purchase and from which dealer. If you understand this, it can tell you when you need to be in front of the consumer with marketing messages so you are included as one of the purchase options. Once consumers have decided, at least on the model they want, we want to know where they go to find the relevant information they need to decide where to buy. That is where the Zero-Click conversation comes into play.  Will they go to your website to get the information they need? Third-party websites? Or as the Zero-Click trend would suggest, Google My Business. Wherever the consumers spend their time researching to make a decision, is where you what to invest your time and marketing resources. Google does dominate in consumer searches, but what we see from is the data above is they have not abandoned dealer websites as of yet. 
effort results
What Dealers Want From Their OEM Programs

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Automotive manufacturers create programs for their dealers to improve operations, drive up sales, and increase customer loyalty. But how successful are these programs in actually driving results for the dealers? RevolutionParts conducted a survey asking hundreds of dealers how effective they thought their OEM programs were and what areas they felt needed the most improvement. As a whole, dealers who adopted their OEM programs generally liked them, which is great news for manufacturers. This means their dealers see value in adopting and running these programs. Currently, OEM programs permeate the entire dealership, but more so in the parts department than anywhere else. In fact, a whopping 84% of dealers use OEM programs in their parts department. The three most significant considerations dealers take into account when deciding whether to adopt an OEM program are:  The overall cost of the program Overall sales impact and life directly from the program The success of other dealerships using this program Although dealers were generally satisfied with their OEM programs, they also reported that they wanted these programs to provide more resources and incentives to help drive their sales more effectively. More than half of them also felt like the program was designed to be more beneficial for the manufacturer than for their dealership. Areas of Improvement for Manufacturers One of the biggest concerns among dealers was program communication. Up to 50% of dealers reported that manufacturers needed to improve communication around their programs to help and provide more employee training and support. Nearly 45% of dealers said that manufacturers needed to expand OEM programs to better reflect current and future business models.  When asked what manufacturers needed to work on, dealers said they wanted:   Easier to use programs (especially for online sales) Higher-quality training for employees Better customer service support Consistent inventory tracking Offer higher-value incentives for dealers to drive sales Improvements made to each of these areas will help dealers improve their eCommerce sales, help them engage with their customers more positively, increase customer retention, and build customer loyalty.  Dealers Want More eCommerce Support Today, most dealers understand that the way people do business is changing, as more people are going online to shop for cars, parts, and accessories, and to schedule service appointments. Dealers today are looking for eCommerce solutions to help them expand their business online and reach their overall goals, an area most dealers feel their programs are lacking.  While most dealers are willing to adopt their OEM programs to support their eCommerce goals, dealers felt that these programs could use some upgrades. This is a big opportunity for manufacturers to change along with their dealerships to offer better eCommerce solutions.  Get the Full OEM Program Satisfaction Survey Results The RevolutionParts OEM Program Satisfaction Survey gives insight into the needs of dealerships across multiple areas of OEM programs, overall OEM program satisfaction, and what OEMs can offer their dealers to help drive their business growth goals. View the full report here .
Car sales deal
Reputation is Everything. Hispanic Car Buying Preferences Survey Review

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In my first article on Hispanic Car Buying Preferences , I gave a broad overview of our 2020 and 2021 surveys. For this article, I will focus on dealer and brand reputation. As you know, your dealership’s reputation is worth its weight in gold, especially on the Internet where negative reviews can cost you money. But reputation isn’t just about a review that lauds praises or trumpets condemnation; it is also about how customers feel about your business or the vehicles that you sell.   For our last two Hispanic Car Buyer surveys, we asked a series of questions that sought to surface the Hispanic community’s feelings about a range of topics, some of which are laser-focused on brand and dealership reputations, while others look at tangential, but related, issues such as how a respondent would feel if they were marketed to in Spanish. The results are telling… Your Reputation US Hispanics, like everyone else, see a dealer’s reputation as very important to their car buying decision. In 2021, when we asked respondents, “When you buy a car, truck, or SUV, which of these things do you consider?”, we found that dealer reputation was the most important thing to the community, even ahead of the response “Dealer advertised in Spanish”. If you combine these two questions - a strong positive reputation and advertising in Spanish - you will see the roots for a strong argument why you should direct your dealership towards building a good reputation with your local Hispanic community while marketing to them in Spanish (or a mixture of Spanish and English).  Other general market data supports our results. A quick Google search can find a number of surveys that show that a company’s reputation is an important concern in the buying process. For example, according to one survey , 75% of US Hispanics said that they are more likely to think favorably of a brand or purchase their products, if the brand makes an effort to include elements of their culture in their advertisements. And more importantly, 80% stay loyal to a brand when they find one that they like. Although this data doesn’t directly relate to car buying, it’s not intellectually dangerous to assume that this same logic applies to dealerships. Meet Your Next Hispanic Customer Referral Traffic Referral traffic is a powerful thing. A well-developed referral program can be quite profitable as many dealerships know all too well. In our experience, we’ve found that many Hispanics will refer customers when they’ve been treated well.   The data vigorously supports our anecdotal information. According to our 2021 survey, 79% of all respondents said that they are moderately to extremely likely to refer a customer to a dealer who speaks Spanish.  Sales and Service So what happens when we market in Spanish for car sales and service? Pretty much the same thing. When asked if they would visit a car dealer who advertises in Spanish to buy or service a car, just under 75% chose moderately likely or higher.   And, even more interestingly, 43% said that they would travel further if a dealership advertised to them in Spanish. Throw in the “Not Sure” respondents and the number jumps to 69%. This should make you go “Hmmmm.” if you aren’t already marketing to your local Hispanic community. With that said, our 2021 data quite interestingly contrasts with 2020’s results. According to last year’s survey, only 55% of the respondents replied that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a dealership who advertises to them in Spanish. This discrepancy could be due to the nature of the two samples and will require further research. For example, if last year’s study was weighted heavily in favor of multi-generational US Hispanics, rather than foreign born Hispanics, then marketing in a culturally sensitive way makes more sense than just in Spanish. This supposition is born out by other data. Check out this 2013 MSNBC video illustrating this point.  Most Valued Auto Brands for US Hispanics If building a good reputation and selling to U.S. Hispanics in Spanish makes members of the community more likely to buy from your dealership or refer a friend, then what happens when manufacturers spend time marketing and building a reputation with the community? Not surprisingly, what you see is what you would expect. In both last and this year’s survey we found that the brands that had a reputation for reaching out to the community in Spanish are the same brands that are viewed positively by the respondents. Below are the results when respondents were asked to choice rank their favorite brands. Were there any differences between the two years in terms of who is on top? Yes. For 2021, Ford edged into third place pushing Chevrolet into the #4 slot.   What the most significant lesson learned from this data is that Toyota’s Hispanic-focused marketing continues to produce great results. Our data just echoes what other surveys have found before: Toyota holds a solid lead because it has invested in creating a good reputation and relationship with US Hispanics.   Final Comments Your reputation requires investment and good planning. Those dealerships that work hard to create a good reputation with their customers reap the rewards in terms of better sales and better long-term growth prospects. Creating a good reputation with your local Hispanic community is more than just the act of advertising in Spanish and responding to reviews, it is found in understanding your local culture and marketing accordingly. Do you know which holidays are important to your local community? Do you understand how to flavor your Spanish advertising so that it uses words that resonate culturally? It is these things that we have to think about when creating a marketing plan that works with US Hispanics. The investment is worth it with a market that will continue to grow and mature in the coming years.
Typing on laptop
A Revealing Look At Dealership Homepage Banners

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The emphasis many dealers place on creating homepage banners is a glaring example of the industry’s failure to communicate changing consumer behaviors. It’s no surprise that these have become a staple of websites , not just in automotive retail. They’re a visually compelling way to communicate monthly specials and incentives to car shoppers on a highly visible page where many consumers land.  You may be one of those dealers who compels their agency partner to create — say — a baker’s dozen each month.  The truth is that — even with the high-traffic visibility — homepage banners are not nearly as effective as you may have originally thought. The Numbers Behind the Banners While intuition can serve you well, no decisions regarding your digital marketing should be made without statistically relevant data. One of our (Reunion Marketing) Client Success Specialists intuitively felt that homepage banners were an outdated focus, so we took 24 clients who used the same industry-leading website hosting platform to analyze homepage data over a determined period of time.  Below are the numbers of what we found. Car shoppers clicked on the following:  Navigation: 49.36% Inventory Search Widget: 29.73% Homepage Banners / Videos: 5.99% This means that car shoppers , no matter the source or medium, who landed on our clients’ homepage, approximately 0.05 (or 1 in 20) of them clicked on a homepage banner. While it’s true that one person in twenty does have purchasing power, let’s take a closer look into the numbers. Of the 5.99% of car shoppers who clicked on a homepage banner, here’s what we found: 45.51% of them clicked on the 1st Position Banner 25.27% of them clicked on the 2nd Position Banner 14.37% of them clicked on the 3rd Position Banner 9.42% of them clicked on the 4th Position Banner This means that by the time you’ve created a 4th Position Banner, you’ve allocated time and resources to a homepage item that only receives 0.56% of all homepage clicks.  Our research led to our setting-specific recommendations on homepage banners for our Dealer partners.  Homepage Banner Recommendations Based on the data, we concluded that automotive dealerships should create no more than three new homepage banners . Though there is a demonstrated steep decline in car shopper clicks after the First Position Banner, we know, based on our work with hundreds of Dealer partners, that you need to manage more than a single special or event during a given month. This also begs the question for many Dealers: How do I manage this when my OEM requires XX (number of) banners? You can still follow the recommended three new banners for your latest incentives and have a host of stock banners that satisfy the OEM requirement through which you can rotate.  SEO Is Incomplete Without Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) This understanding of homepage banners is part of an ongoing process called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), which should be a part of any internal team or agency partner’s SEO work. Beyond the homepage data analysis, there are dozens of other items that should be regularly checked or strategies that you can implement. Hotjar to monitor consumer behavior on pages. Checking for buttons above the fold. Compare metrics across devices. SRP to VDP Efficiency Audits Ensuring clear and consistent merchandising. Homepage to SRP Efficiency Audits Compare benchmarks for mobile clicks-to-call, form submissions, etc. Understanding what goals are underperforming These are just a handful of items that should be part of your dealership’s Conversion Rate Optimization. You are, after all, spending money to have internal teams or outside partners work to send high-quality traffic to your website. It is incumbent upon them to also help optimize their ability to shop the site and feel further compelled to take action.