Why a strong online presence is a must for all car dealerships

Today’s car shoppers are most certainly in the driving seat. They have a huge amount of information at their fingertips and are able to conduct research online before they’ve even stepped foot inside a dealership. Buying a car has never been easier, but can the same thing be said about selling a car?

Digital transformation has meant that car dealerships are having to rethink the way they do business. The days when a local radio advert or giant blimp would entice customers through the door are long gone. Today’s consumers want greater convenience and efficiency when purchasing a car – and they want a streamlined user experience that starts long before any purchase is made.

The digital path towards purchase

Customers are taking an increasingly digital approach to buying a car: using websites to check dealership locations and schedule test drives; taking to social media to get recommendations; and reading online blogs to find out about specific makes and models. They are surrounded by an abundance of channels through which to do their research, and they are willing to spend the time and effort to ensure they make an informed decision.

According to The Path to Buying a Car in 2015 study by Google, consumers are taking to the Internet like never before. The study revealed that the average time spent online was 4 hours 42 mins, with an average of 21 searches per searcher and 12 unique website visits. The study also discovered that 54% of consumers make their purchase in less than one month. The research phase may be thorough, but technology means it doesn’t have to be drawn-out.

Influencing the customer’s decision

Consumers are met by a huge array of touchpoints during their search, ranging from blog articles and video to comparison websites and mobile.

It’s important to remember that not all touchpoints carry the same level of influence. Another study asks the age old question: what makes a customer walk into a car dealership? The digital influence: How online research puts auto shoppers in control was conducted by C+R and investigated the degrees of influence held by different information sources. According to this research, the top online sources for auto consumers are:

  • Independent research websites (50%)
  • Search engines (49%)
  • Manufacturer websites (46%)
  • Car dealership websites (42%)

Of course, offline sources do still play a role in consumer research (talking to friends, dealership visits, and noticing a vehicle on a street were the top three). However, today’s customers are clearly leaning towards a digital approach to decision-making and dealerships need to follow suit.

One goal, many devices

Another key trend in the customer journey is the use of mobile devices. Another key trend in the customer journey is the use of mobile devices. Data from Global Web Index shows that 80% of consumers use their smartphone to search the Internet, 47% use their tablet and 9% use their smart watch. Even at the dealership, this move towards mobile can be seen with car comparisons, review searches and requests for quotes all being conducted on mobile devices.

Regardless of the device used, search has become the main source used by car buyers, with 74% turning to search engines as their gateway to information. What’s more, 43% begin the search process online, by-passing visits to dealerships as their first port of call in the path to purchase.

Manufacturers websites:

36% state that the manufacturers’ website is “extremely influential” on their decision when buying a car. (Accenture, 2015). According to a JD Power study, 35% of consumers use it to determine if the new vehicle will fit their budget, whilst 29% use it to “build” a personalised vehicle with every feature and accessory they are looking for.
It’s important that Dealers make sure they have a strong online presence in order to steer these potential customers to their stores once they’ve finished they’ve found out all they need for the manufacturer and to make sure they respond quickly when they received information requests.

A study by Capgemini revealed that customers in all demographics tend to have one thing in common: they all want a speedy response time following a request for information. In fact, a staggering 95% of customers expect to receive a response within 24 hours. OEMs and dealerships should never underestimate the importance of a quick response time – failure to do so could result in potential customers looking for another brand, or another dealer.

Harnessing the power of video

96% of consumers find video useful when buying online (eConsultancy) and is playing an increasingly important role in the research phase. According to the Google survey, 54% of consumers watch videos before making a purchase. Look to consumers of premium vehicles and that figure rises to 80%. Top of the customer’s video content wish list are test drives, features and options and walk-throughs.

But consumers are not just watching these videos; they are taking action as a result of watching them, too. Some 70% progressed along the path to purchase after watching a video by requesting a test drive, visiting a dealership, searching for more information online or watching another video.

Making the most of social opportunities

Social media is another channel offering dealerships a host of opportunities. Social has become a powerful tool through which to reach online consumers. Consumers want to be able to join in conversations, ask questions and read peer reviews – and they can do all of this through different social platforms. According to the Capgemini study, 35% of UK customers are likely to post about their car-buying experience, while 35% are likely to be influenced by any positive comments they see on social.

In fact, most customers assume that dealerships will have an active social profile. Dealerships must place just as much importance on their social media presence as they do their website. But it’s not just about getting as many likes on Facebook posts, it’s about building relationships and encouraging loyalty amongst customers. Having a Facebook page or Twitter account won’t instantly make you a sale but it will reach more people, build your credibility and strengthen your presence. Without a social presence it’ll be even harder to get noticed.

Finding a path through the noise

Such a variety of touchpoints may offer consumers plenty of information, but it also makes for quite a complicated search. With so much marketing noise to contend with, it’s only those dealerships with a strong online presence that are going to get their voices heard. The online experience needs to be both useful and straightforward.

Of course, a car dealership or OEM’s online presence should not stop once the decision to purchase has been made. A customer’s appetite for communication continues into the purchase phase too. According to the Capgemini study, as well as email updates (73%) and personal contact (50%), customers also want information through social media and websites (26%) and smartphone apps (22%).

It is up to the dealerships to ensure customers have a positive experience with their brand when searching online. Dealerships should be constantly striving to cast a wider net online and target those with the intention to buy and engaging with them through to the aftersales phase and beyond.

The solution to winning over today’s shoppers means being seen at every stage of their online journey and providing the right information, quickly.


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