It Is Not Too Late: Commit to Online Sales Now

October 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Rob Chesney - Also by this author

Some dealerships may be reluctant to commit to an online sales channel for a variety of reasons. Limited personnel, inexperience building Web sites and unfamiliarity with online marketing are common factors.

When managers consider their competition, they must ask themselves how they can compete to stay ahead or even stay in business. Just as in the real world, customer service is a real deal maker or breaker for any online business. The Internet offers dealerships the opportunity to reach new geographic regions as well as new local customers—especially those who are time-crunched or intimidated by stepping into a dealership.

It is not too late to get started online. This is the direction automotive consumers are moving, and every dealer needs to have a presence and master the art of marketing their dealership online. According to J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 Used Study, the number of used-vehicle buyers who used the Internet for shopping and ultimately found the vehicle they purchased is 10 percent greater than those who used the traditional means of visiting dealer lots.

With an increasing number of Web sites and tools, many processes for building a site and loading content are now automated, guiding sellers through a step-by-step process that takes little more knowledge than knowing how to type on a computer.

Some vehicle sales channels even have online guides and “universities,” taking first-time sellers through every step and teaching them at all levels how to best maximize listing attributes to drive the most interest – and bids – with the listings.

The value of third-party sites is their ability to drive leads as well as sales to dealerships by providing resources and complementary sales channels. These sites are continually evolving to meet the demands of an increasingly connected consumer base, by investing in the infrastructure and technology necessary to keep pace with the well-informed online shopper demanding a one-stop automotive shopping experience.

Some common considerations for dealers to get started and find success with online listings include availability of staff for customer questions and concerns, several photos of a vehicle, as well as timing of listings and pricing of the vehicles

Dealers should also be sure the phone numbers and e-mail addresses on their online accounts are accurate. A serious buyer will be more likely to engage in business with a seller who is open and responsive to questions and concerns in a timely manner—both during the listing period and after the purchase when transactional details are being resolved.

The “About Me” page is the only place on eBay where a seller can provide a link to their outside Web site or to other Web sites. When full of content and details, these pages perform well in search engines and provide instant credibility with buyers. This increased visibility also helps build bidder confidence and generates more leads.

Dealers may want to consider adding a telephone number to their item description as well in order to further facilitate communication. This can also add to the buyer's sense of trust in a seller. Buyers expect good customer service from sellers and a positive overall experience, and that's what drives the feedback score. “Great communication!” is a common feedback comment. It is important to schedule time every day to check listings and look for e-mails containing questions about the vehicle.

To help determine when to start an auction, dealers can search completed auctions of similar makes and models to see what days of the week and times seem to work the best. Generally, bidding is heavy at the beginning of an auction and at the end of an auction. Also, weekends attract different customers than weekdays, so a little bit of research can lead to a lot of results.

Once the listing details are ready, be sure to have several photos of the vehicle available – inside and out. Remember, online customers may not be able to come and “kick the tires,” so a trustworthy seller will have to do it for them. With camera in hand, do a virtual walk-around of the vehicle in good lighting and be sure to capture any imperfections, as well as the dashboard, keys, odometer, VIN and owner’s manual. The more questions answered through photos, the more customer satisfaction you will achieve. The saying, “Seeing is believing,” certainly holds true with online sales.

An online marketplace provides a solution to sell aged inventory and other units that a dealer may have trouble moving in the local market and is a better alternative than wholesale options.

Dealer hesitation to selling inventory online still exists. However, with a little bit of time invested to learn about the benefits and researching what others have done, new online sellers can quickly learn the nuances of online selling and become confident in the process, while at the same time clearing the lot of stagnant inventory.

Vol 5, Issue 9

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