The Simplest Web Advice – Give Your Dealership a Digital Car Wash!

I work with a lot of great dealerships. One common trait great dealerships have is that they take pride in everything they do. Their lots are well ordered, their cars are spotless, and their staff is well trained and well dressed – and the results show it. These stores close 50% or higher on all of the clients who visit.

But I am often amazed that some of these same dealerships do not follow through on their websites with the same discipline. The main culprit? Technology often mystifies people. It doesn’t have to. The best practices you apply in your main store are the same practices that will help you become successful with your online store.

What do I mean by that? An example is that most dealerships have a row of their best cars or trucks for presentation. It makes sense to lead with these vehicles. In addition, the cars of the lot are arranged in an orderly fashion by make, model, or color. The cars are well cleaned, well priced, and their display makes sense – they act as a lure or leader to get customers to stop and visit the site.

And yet, online, this is often not the case. I see many dealerships with online inventory displays with no rhyme or reason. Used inventories with half the listed cars in inventory having no pictures, no pricing, or no useful detail in the write up. Once I saw a gorgeous Mustang convertible for sale. The online write-up said, “Original manuals not included.” That was it. Gorgeous car, and that is all they could come up with to say about it online. Can you imagine someone walking up to that car in your showroom, and as your sales rep approaches the interested customer the first thing they say to the potential customer is, “I don’t think it has a manual!” We would never accept that, and hopefully they would never do it. But this kind of story plays out all the time online because people somehow treat digital as different. It isn’t.

Dig deeper and you will find many cars are not even online at all. You can’t sell what you can’t show! People won’t buy without seeing a price. I also see featured cars that have been there unchanged for months looking stale, with no thought put into their presentation. Why would a customer spend any more time drilling down deeper into the web page if we can’t take the time to give them what they want. The web site gets 100 to 1000 times the traffic of the actual dealership. And yet despite the higher traffic, the online store gets only a fraction of the time that is dedicated to the physical store.

There are now 2 distinct steps that occur in the sales process. The first is when the customer shortlists your dealership by selecting you online versus the competition. If your dealership isn’t selected during this stage, for over 90% of car shoppers, you won’t get another chance to sell them a vehicle, period!

We see examples of this every day around us. My friend Ryan recently bought a new house in Niagara. He said he didn’t have the time to go view houses that only posted a few pictures online. He selected 3-4 houses with detailed descriptions and up to date photos and information then visited them, and bought one of those. It is no different with a dealership who only shows a few pictures and a poor write up for their vehicle. They often just get passed over. Customers don’t have time. Many dealerships need to see that their biggest competitor isn’t the store down the street, it is time. Make sure you reward your customers for giving you their time by giving them what they need, good information.

The second step in the sales process is when they have completed their research and now come in to your dealership. Now is your time to shine and show off your in-store practices. But you must do both the in-house and the online well to succeed.

In the United States, up to half of internet leads for automotive retail come from sites like Why? These sites provide consumers all the content they need: pictures (30+), detailed write ups, and even reviews. All of this can be accomplished just as easily on your local site. Consumers would much rather get their info from a local source if possible. Make it your dealership!

So what’s the next step. Do a digital lot walk. Review what your customers are seeing when they visit your web page. Make sure all your cars are showing online, with lots of pictures and clean write ups. Have your photographer learn how to easily add banners, watermarks and highlights to your vehicle pictures by using script or batch photo processing tools in Adobe Photoshop CC ($9.99 a month) or Corel Paint Shop Pro $79.9. Both tools can help make your vehicles stand out, and show the vehicles in the optimal light, in effect, giving them a digital car wash!

Make sure to review your online inventory at least twice a week. Check the following:

  • Verify which vehicles are showing up as specials or featured. Like a window gallery in a clothing store, would your customers like what they see there and come in to browse more? One dealership I visited was a great store for value, but all of their featured vehicles were priced over $50,000. This might scare away some customers from browsing more which is a shame as they had great prices, and a great selection of vehicles priced under $15,000. Remember, just like a sale in your favorite retail store, these “featured” cars are the cars clients judge the value of the dealership by, so make sure they make sense.
  • Does the displayed pricing make sense? Are the pictures timely (look at the current season, hopefully it matches the picture!). Keep the pricing and the pictures fresh.
  • Check your used inventory online by counting the number of vehicles displayed versus your dealer management system inventory. Do they match? If not, why? You may find many delays are happening in your reconditioning bay. Set a target for the maximum number of days before a car is up and online (hint, keep it under 5 days). One of the best run dealerships I know uses a mobile app our company provides so he can take his pictures right at the auction. He then uploads the pictures immediately, and then posts the car to inventory so it is immediately available for sale. His store has scheduled appointments before the car had even arrived at the dealership!

Your reconditioning center is an important link in getting your inventory online. Put a spotlight on it and find the bottlenecks. Some fixes are easy once they get just a little attention. An easy solution to see what is happening is to begin managing the department and inventory using a cloud based spreadsheet such as Google Sheets or Office 365 to track the status of the vehicle and work performed. By using a cloud app, your whole team – sales, management, service, and the wash bay team – can see the exact same information (the current status of the car) at the same time.

Don’t let digital intimidate you. Get informed, and you can make it happen with the same zeal that you bring to your physical store.

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