Online car buying was on the top of everyone’s mind when the COVID lockdowns began. When news came that face to face transactions were no longer possible factories sprang into action mandating that dealers have their online buying capabilities up and functional to keep business moving during the pandemic. As lockdowns are lifting in many areas now and people are eager to get out of their homes, many dealers have understandably pivoted back towards in person sales. But with winter quickly approaching, it’s vitally important for dealers to be on top of their online sales capabilities to make sure they can close the year out strong no matter what the winter brings.
The first step in making sure you’re prepared is making sure your software is up to par and integrated properly. As the old saying goes, necessity is definitely the mother of invention. In recent months many online retailing providers have made serious advancements and refined their approach and software to accommodate market changes in real time. Many have developed improved customer retention features that guide car buyers through the process or have refined their financial integrations and smoothed out the loan process.
When was the last time you looked at other online retailing providers? Are you sure your provider is the best fit for your dealership? Now is the perfect time to audit your software provider to make sure your future needs are being met and that you’re taking advantage of all of the features available to you.
Once you’ve determined which software is the right fit for you and your customers, it’s time to make sure it’s integrated seamlessly into your website. Your goal is to make sure that your customers are consistently guided through the online purchase process without leading to dead ends or drop off points.
Start by going through the process yourself as if you were a customer and note any points of confusion on your end. As the dealer, you’re likely the person who visits your website the most frequently out of anyone. If you get confused halfway through or have difficulty discerning how to buy a particular car, then the odds are high that your customers will feel the same. If you have no issues getting through the process, ask friends and family who are not in the automotive business to take a quick walk through and see if they have any suggestions. Outside opinions can be very helpful in getting in the mind-set of a customer.
After your process is ironed out, the biggest hurdle to online car buying success is getting customers to successfully start the process. In order to do that consistently, your website should exhibit prominent calls to action for your online buying feature on your VDP pages, at the top of your SRP pages, and clear, concise information on the buying process throughout the site. Dealer websites are littered with all sorts of calls to action, most in similar fonts and button layouts. This can cause them to blend together in the customer’s eye. Having a different look and feeling call to action for your online buying process is a great way to break that mold and attract people to start the process.
The final step to having a successful online buying operation is to let people know that it exists through advertising. Sit down with your automotive digital marketing agency and determine what steps you need to take if you haven’t already. If you’re not telling people that they can buy a car online, you’re relying solely on them finding that out on their own. At the very least, you should be shoehorning online buying messaging into your existing advertising channels. Some ideas include sitelink extensions on your Google Ads linking to your process overview page, and display ads touting online buying or free home delivery are great places to start that won’t cost you any more than you are currently spending.
If you want to go above and beyond, some dealers we work with have designed entire campaigns around their online buying capabilities. Some guarantee a short overall process time. Others have gone after online retailers like Carvana and CarMax with specific ad campaigns and targeting customers with campaigns like search retargeting. With the right creative vision and budget you can position yourself as the premier online retailer in your area.
According to Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, there is no turning back from where this pandemic has brought the car business in terms of digital. As we head into the first winter season in the COVID era, making sure your online buying process is running smoothly is vital to making sure your dealership is prepared for whatever lies ahead. Whether it’s renewed lockdowns, or people naturally migrating inside as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, with the proper tools in place you can keep your sales up with a cohesive online retailing program. If you have any questions or need some help getting your plan together, reach out and our digital experts will be glad to help you.
Michael is a Digital Marketing Strategist with over 7 years of experience implementing and managing digital media campaigns of all types and sizes. Over the course of his career, he has held a variety of certifications from Google Ads, Google Analytics, Facebook, Programmatic DSP’s and more.
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