Data Shows Dealers Realize Importance of Digital Merchandising but Struggle to Differentiate Themselves Online

Data Shows Dealers Realize Importance of Digital Merchandising but Struggle to Differentiate Themselves Online

The meta-analysis uncovered five opportunities for dealers to create more comprehensive, engaging digital listings that drive greater transparency and visibility amid a competitive market.

New HomeNet Automotive meta-analysis suggests consumer insights hold keys to improving digital merchandising

Recently, nearly all shopping for a vehicle begins online, equipping consumers with more information and access to inventory than ever before. However, while dealers recognize the need to capitalize on this evolving shopping pattern, a new meta-analysis from HomeNet Automotive reveals they struggle with how to differentiate their dealership and stand out from the competitive clutter online.

According to the meta-analysis, 83% of dealers believe they can increase margins or reduce days to sell by improving digital merchandising – how new and used vehicle inventory is presented to customers online – but just 12% believe they are doing enough to distinguish themselves.1

“As the prevalence of shopping for and purchasing vehicles online continues to rise, how dealers merchandise their inventory and separate themselves from the competition will be vital to profitability long term,” said Russ Daniels, director of product marketing for HomeNet and vAuto. “This new meta-analysis offers a consolidated look at key consumer habits contributing to the growing importance of digital merchandising and provides actionable insights and best practices to help dealers build a strong online presence that will win over shoppers.”

With 41% of car buyers now only visiting one store, and 52% using multiple devices to get to a dealership’s website,2 the margin for error is becoming increasingly small for dealers when it comes to reaching the right customers at the right time with a website that is responsive and widely compatible. In order to implement an effective digital merchandising strategy that meets these emerging trends head on, dealers must embrace technology and align their approach with consumer behavior and preferences. 

Ultimately, the meta-analysis uncovered the following five opportunities for dealers to create more comprehensive, engaging digital listings that drive greater transparency and visibility amid a competitive market.

  1. Introduce dynamic visual content to listings. While the impact of video has reached unprecedented levels of influencing shopper behavior – 90% of consumers in a 2016 survey said a video is helpful in the decision-making process3 – other new forms of elevating a vehicle’s visual appeal, such as 360 displays, are also adding significant value for consumers. Incorporating 360 displays and video content in listings can help dealers optimize digital merchandising efforts, create differentiation and enable more informed purchase decisions. However, while 73% of consumers who browsed and then either bought or leased a vehicle perceived 360 displays as being extremely or very helpful,4 42% of dealers have indicated they never merchandise with these displays.5
  2. Exchange stock photos for multiple custom ones. Transparency in conveying a complete and comprehensive visual overview of a listing is key to effectively merchandising a vehicle online. According to the meta-analysis, 64% of car buyers want extensive vehicle data and photos.6 They want to see and fully understand what they are buying. In fact, while a single custom photo earned 166% more vehicle detail page (VDP) views per listing than a single stock photo, multiple custom photos earned 245% more VDPs per listing than multiple stock photos. What’s more, multiple custom photos earned 69% more VDPs per listing than a single custom photo.7 The more custom photos available on a listing, the better the shopping experience and engagement. 
  3. Leverage backgrounded images that keep the focus on the car. Backgrounded images that are clear and easy to digest receive up to 5% more click conversions from the search results page (SRP) to the VDP and can help boost buyer appeal and perceptions of the corresponding dealership.8 Utilizing photo overlays can also offer an easy way to deliver relevant content to shoppers, with the inclusion of dealership branding particularly effective on third-party websites.
  4. Elevate vehicle information and descriptions. With the majority of shopping time spent online,9 it is becoming increasingly important for dealers to equip their digital listings with all the need-to-know information consumers have come to rely on to make faster, more confident decisions. Dealers can also build trust through transparency by giving shoppers access to complete car histories right as they research online.
  5. Improve customer engagement and dealership reputation through third-party websites. According to the meta-analysis, 80% of consumers use third-party websites for shopping and research.10 It will therefore be crucial for dealers to develop an integrated marketing strategy to better reach and influence shoppers where they are online. Dealers should ensure they are featuring their listings on third-party websites and leveraging the growing popularity of Facebook Marketplace as a new destination for used car listings.

Download the complete meta-analysis HERE

Cox Automotive

1 HomeNet Automotive Brand and Product Study, 2018.
2 Cox Automotive, Car Buyer Journey Study, 2019.
3, September 21, 2016.
4 HomeNet 360 Consumer Study, 2019.
5 HomeNet Automotive Brand and Product Study, 2018.
6 Used Cars, New Platforms: Accelerating Sales in a Digitally Disrupted Market, McKinsey & Company, 2019.
7 Netezza tables, October 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017.
8 Cox Automotive Consumer Community, 2017.
9 Cox Automotive, Car Buyer Journey Study, 2019.
10 Cox Automotive, Car Buyer Journey Study, 2019.

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