Article

Merchandising Your Way To Success On The Internet

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Chip Perry - Also by this author

The Internet continues to be rapidly adopted as a consumer automotive information and research tool. The benefits of using the Internet to go shopping for a car are therefore becoming apparent to more and more in-market buyers. The 2005 J.D. Power and Associates Used Autoshopper.com Study found that 53 percent of used-vehicle buyers used the Internet during the shopping process in 2005, and of those, 91 percent say the Internet impacted the price they paid for their vehicle, their seller selection and/or their make/model decision. The study also found that the Internet leads more shoppers to the vehicle they purchase than all newspaper classified ads and classified magazine ads combined. If your dealership isn’t already effectively marketing to the consumers who are researching, shopping for and often choosing the car they will purchase online, you need to start now.
The biggest question AutoTrader.com hears from our 17,000 paying dealers is exactly how to merchandise their listings and turn Internet shoppers into e-mail leads, phone calls, walk-ins, and ultimately, buyers. We forced ranked our dealers by performance to see what Best Practices would shake out. What we found was that dealers create successful listings in many ways, but a couple distinct common themes emerged. Those are information and presentation. Whether your dealership is large or small, franchise or independent, if you merchandise your cars by telling the story of your cars and your dealership in your listings, you will attract more leads and more serious shoppers.
Once we looked at dealers, we also took a look at the behavior of the more than 10 million visitors who come to our site each month to shop for cars. We already knew they were pretty savvy and sophisticated—often these are the individuals who come into the dealership with print outs and calculators. Our research confirmed what we found on the dealer side. Our consumer usage statistics clearly show that the quality of a dealer’s online merchandising has a huge impact on the dealer’s success. Dealers with effective merchandising can generate three or four or five and sometimes up to ten times the response of the dealer who has only average merchandising.
 
The way to start thinking about merchandising online is the stuff of good old-fashioned car selling, with the twist that you have as much space as you need to say what you want to say about a car. On the Internet you can tell—and show—visitors much more than if you run a newspaper classified. Take advantage of this! If you take a few minutes per vehicle to give your online listings a personal touch, you can generate significantly more prospects and sales than if you just shovel your inventory to a third party Web site and then sit back to see what sticks.

The personal touches that make a huge difference are multiple photos, deep and detailed vehicle descriptions, comments about the vehicle, and text messages that act like online coupons in order to get the consumer to take action. There seems to be no limit on a consumer’s interest in photos—you can even point out a small ding here and there—it’s honest and it enhances your credibility with the buyer. Descriptions range from the long walk around type to the short and punchy, but whatever you do, tell things like “one owner, non smoker” to give the car personality and history. In your calls to action say things like: “Print this page out and bring it in for a $100 discount and a free oil change” and “Call Joe for our SPECIAL INTERNET PRICE.” These tactics may seem overly simplistic, but these basic techniques work—and help drive more qualified in-market car buyers to you. You also have to include price. As our dealer trainers say in their E-Advertising sessions, “What you tell them is what you sell them.”

Since online merchandising is so critical to a dealer’s success, AutoTrader.com has developed a variety of software tools for managing and marketing inventory that allow dealers to update, test and change listings in real time. No matter what tools you use, you should expect what you are using to enable you to conveniently put a personal touch on your ads and then measure the response. Marketing is not an exact science, and you’ll need to tinker with your merchandising approach and experiment with different messages to be sure you’re getting the best possible response in your local market.

At AutoTrader.com we’ve worked hard to reduce the cost of advertising by allowing dealers to use the targeting capabilities of the Internet that are not available in traditional media. While it is gratifying to see so many dealers seeing incredibly positive results from their Internet marketing investments, it is also interesting to see that it is rooted in successful, practical selling skills that have been around for 100 years.
 
Vol 2, Issue 12

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