Today, dealerships need a Website that provides a personalized shopping experience and allows the shopper to have a social connection and feel they know the people with whom they are planning to do business. How did we get here and where will we go next? Let’s examine the path we took to where we are today and then peer into the future and what our online shopping experience may look like in years to come.
Dealerships started putting up Websites in the 1990s — some with inventory and pricing and some without. Many did this on their own with help from a smart niece or nephew. Others hired companies — some that specialized in automotive and others that did not — to help them. Some resisted the need for a Website altogether but, with the rise of Website-providing vendors and mass adoption, this resistance was soon proven futile. Dealership Websites moved from an extravagance to a necessity at light speed.
Over the next 15 years, Websites came a long way. Inventory was always up to date, staff photos and bios were added, and lead forms, landing pages and more made these sites adequate and functional. Along the way, chat was added so that customers could get answers to questions in real time and set service appointments without calling and sitting on hold. Everything seemed in order until a great disruptor arrived. This disruption came not from a new dealership Website provider or OEM, but from outside the industry. Amazon and other online retailers changed customer expectations forever.
As most Americans became accustomed to a personalized shopping experience for shoes, toys and other inexpensive products, they wanted the same when shopping for more expensive products like cars. Dealership Websites needed to move from necessity to customization. Website providers scrambled, and most are still scrambling to provide this type of customer experience on the Websites they provide to automotive dealerships.
As if this monumental change in customer expectations for the online shopping experience was not enough, social media stomped in and changed everything again. Customers now don’t just want a customized experience while shopping online; they want to know who they are shopping with personally. They expected to be engaged with the story of the dealer, dealership and the people who work in the dealership — and they want all of this up to date on the dealership’s Website. Shoppers now expect to have a personal or “social” relationship with businesses and their people.
“We switched from a very popular Website provider to a customizable site from another provider two and a half months ago, and have been blown away by our new Website’s performance,” said Kelsey Caskey, the customer experience manager at the Frank Shoop dealership in Georgetown, Kentucky.
“Our bounce rate has been cut in half and our organic traffic is now outranking paid and direct traffic. We have been able to customize every aspect of our Website to reflect who we are as a dealership and create a user-friendly experience for our customers. Our Web submissions are up 76 percent, our bounce rate is down from 45 percent to 17 percent and our SEO score is up to 91 from 67.”
A new tidal change in how customers shop is taking place now. For almost the entire history of the Internet, shoppers would visit third-party sites to do their research to determine which vehicle they wanted and browse dealership inventory. This behavior was fueled both by dealerships’ inadequate research material on their sites and the third parties’ ability to control customer search and keep dealerships out of the top results. This forced dealers to buy their in-market shoppers back from the third-party lead providers. The good news? This is coming to an end. Search engines are valuing local business more and dealerships are getting smarter with their search spend and ad design. Look for third-party lead providers to shrink in the coming years as dealers steal back their business. The days when car shoppers drove from dealership to dealership might never come back, but shoppers going from dealer Website to dealer Website is becoming the norm.
Online shopping has evolved more in the last 20 years than shopping malls and markets have changed throughout history. Change has become the new norm and dealerships need to keep up to avoid becoming obsolete.