The data from the 2021 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study cannot be emphasized enough: buyers are researching online for hours. Internet and online research and shopping have now become part of the process for many consumers. As the study noted, buyers are spending around five hours shopping and researching for a new car online.
What does this mean for dealerships? To reach buyers, dealerships have to be visible online. They need to provide tools and resources to simplify the journey. These five marketing tips for dealerships can help amplify the user experience and bump up visibility for car dealerships:
- Create interactive experiences online
- Offer visual data beyond what’s expected
- Communicate and respond online (adopt chat functions if possible)
- Show the team to help buyers/shoppers put a face to a name
- Make promotions and incentive information accessible
Why are Interactive Experiences Important?
As more buyers and car shoppers use the internet to power their search, they also might be on the hunt for resources and sites that are designed to help them understand their options for a new car. Cox Automotive’s latest study noted that when the chip shortage impacted inventory, buyers were more focused on dealership websites than on third-party sites.
Dealerships should consider their online site as a hub for their prospective customers. Does the site provide resources that help shoppers explore vehicles?
Dealerships can offer expansive photo slideshows to provide a visual understanding of a specific model and what it includes. In fact, EVOX Images offers many stock photo options for dealerships to create these slideshows.
Today’s buyers—especially younger consumers—might want more than one-dimensional photos. During the pandemic, many businesses didn’t allow foot traffic in the store. In some areas, nonessential businesses were closed in order to minimize the spread of Covid; businesses needed to create immersive online experiences to help customers preview and explore products.
While augmented reality experiences in the digital retail sector existed before Covid, they might have become more widely embraced as customers needed a way to understand a purchase before completing their order. With augmented reality, digital data is overlaid atop the real environment. The experiences use a camera on a smartphone or tablet that lets the user capture their environment and then preview the product within that environment.
Cosmetics can be swiped onto an individual’s face using only these digital graphics. Cars can appear in any space, too.
While products like cosmetics and paint colors might help customers better understand a hue and if it flatters them (or their walls), augmented reality experiences also are useful to car dealerships. An augmented reality showroom lets the user preview a car in their driveway or garage. Using the smartphone camera to navigate the experience, the consumer can walk around the car and better understand the design. Some augmented reality experiences even let the user look inside the car.
If buyers are visiting a dealership’s website, these unique and immersive resources could help keep them engaged and amplify their online experience, too.
Offer Visual Data Beyond the Expected
Online car shoppers probably expect to find a slideshow of photos for different models when visiting online sites for dealerships. While visual data and the number of photos for a slideshow could vary, dealerships might consider mixing up the slideshow to include some unexpected and unique imagery.
Shoppers expect to see photos of the exterior and interior of the car. They might not expect for the dealership to include interactive spin photos that let them engage with a 3D image of a vehicle. Exterior spin photos show a 3D stock image of a model, and consumers can use their mouse or fingertip (for mobile devices) to rotate the vehicle and explore it. Panorama photos are interior spin photos; consumers can explore the interior of the car and even peek up at a moonroof.
Invite customers to engage with a slideshow beyond a simple click-through approach. Offer spin photos that let customers explore their favorite vehicles.
Communicate and Respond Online
Imagery and interactive resources help to improve the online user experience. What happens, though, if the customer needs the help of a human? Can they reach out to the sales team online?
Communication should not be cumbersome. If a customer needs help while visiting a dealership’s website, they should be able to easily chat with a sales team member or customer service rep. Does the dealership offer seamless online communication?
Chat functions could be automated if a dealership does not have a designated team member to answer online inquiries.
Show the Team
Buyers who are researching and shopping online might look for more information about the dealership. Does the dealership have a page focused on the staff and the team?
Show the staff and the team. Include a web page about the dealership and include photos (if possible). Not only does this help potential customers put a face to a name, but the page also could include links to team members’ email for simplified communication.
Marketing Evolution recommends encouraging the sales team to create a company-focused Instagram account. The site explains that the dealership can share these accounts and posts on the main dealership Instagram account.
Dealerships also could consider including a blurb focused on the history of the dealership. Make sure to keep messaging consistent with the brand.
Information on Promotions and Incentives Should be Easy to Find
Shoppers on the hunt for a new (or used) car are probably looking for the best deals. Dealerships often include prices to make it easy for buyers to understand which cars fit into their budget.
In addition, some new cars might be eligible for lease deals or maybe a promotional APR. Create a page solely for these deals, promotions and incentives so that buyers can always find out which cars are eligible.
Some buyers might automatically click on this page to find what they need. Make the information simple to find and easy to access.
Other Marketing Tips for Dealerships
The used and new car markets have both been crunched for inventory. Prices have been higher, and some models are difficult to find. Some dealerships might be less crunched than others.
While updating a website frequently might be difficult, especially if a dealership is short-staffed or simply doesn’t have an individual focused solely on the website, dealerships should try to keep their inventory updated as often as possible. This means removing cars that have been purchased from used inventory and adding any new models that have arrived.
In addition, dealerships shouldn’t forget about social media channels when marketing new inventory. Dealerships that need to move a model could promote it via Facebook or Instagram. Include a slideshow, pricing info and contact info.
Online marketing goes beyond social media and the dealership’s website, though. As Marketing Evolution explains, dealerships also need to stay on top of their online reviews. These reviews could be posted via Facebook or on the Google Business Profile page.
Respond to reviews—both positive and negative. A response shows that the business is vested in their customer’s experiences. Failing to respond sends a bad message. According to Marketing Evolution, a lack of response to critical reviews “…makes customers perceive a dealership as untrustworthy, which is never a desirable trait. Do not dismiss any part of their experience.”
The car shopping experience is always evolving. As customers focus on online channels and resources to explore their vehicle options, dealerships might pivot their marketing focus online, too. Create immersive experiences, surprise shoppers with more visual data than they might expect, simplify communication, help customers see the team behind the dealership and make it easy for customers to understand promotions, incentives and other sales related to specific vehicles. Dealerships also shouldn’t forget to check out their reviews and remember to respond accordingly.