As the online to in-store process for car shoppers becomes increasingly important, the online merchandising of new and used vehicles becomes ever-more critical for dealers and others who want to connect with buyers and differentiate themselves from the competition.
That’s a primary take-away from market research that HomeNet commissioned to identify and understand the online merchandising gaps and opportunities in retail automotive today. The study revealed most dealers understand they can increase margin or reduce days to sell by improving their online merchandising.
The study also revealed that few dealers feel comfortable or confident in their ability to provide the merchandising buyers expect, much less use it to differentiate themselves from competing dealers.
The uncertainty isn’t all that surprising when you consider the evolution of online vehicle merchandising. For years, dealers have understood that good photos and descriptions, as well as fast, reliable syndication is essential to retailing new and used vehicles.
Today, however, consumer expectations are pushing dealers to what might be regarded as “next-generation” merchandising — a shift that affects all retail segments.
This shift could be defined by four chief characteristics:
- Personalization: Consumers today prefer engaging content that effectively “knows” their preferences. The knowledge comes from collecting their online behaviors and choices to serve up content (think of the recommendations Amazon or Netflix offers customers) that matches their personal profile. For dealers, this trend will mean more personal and precise merchandising that puts the right vehicle, features and options, and descriptions in front of specific buyers.
- Highly visual: There’s a reason that YouTube runs second only to Google for online searches. Consumers like visually engaging and informative content. For dealers, next-generation merchandising will need to include more compelling photos and videos that offer 360-degree walkarounds to capture their interest and move them toward contacting the dealership.
- Transparency: By now, dealers should be aware of the industry’s shift toward digital retailing. It reflects consumer desires to complete many, if not all, aspects of a car purchase online. Dealers who successfully serve these customers recognize that transparency is a foundational element to earn trust and build relationships with potential buyers. Put another way, your online vehicle listings simply must reflect the correct car, price, condition and value proposition. Anything less is a turn-off for today’s transparency-focused shoppers.
- Social media: Perhaps the greatest strength social media brings to marketers is its unprecedented ability to identify consumers and their specific interests. These platforms allow marketers to connect with consumers who are most likely to buy. Over time, social media platforms will become an increasingly important avenue for dealers to engage with consumers in a personal, more targeted fashion that creates scenarios where the right vehicle finds the right buyer.
These emerging next-generation merchandising trends are highly connected and represent opportunity for dealers. Acting on these trends will allow dealers to cost-effectively and quickly reach more customers while establishing a differentiated presence in the marketplace.
In the end, dealers who adapt to these shifts first will be best positioned to achieve their goals of turning new and used inventory faster.