Making Your Vehicles Stand Out Online

by : Glen Garvin
Digital Dealer Magazine, April 2008

Each month millions of potential car buyers go online to research and shop for used vehicles. In fact, studies show that in 2006, 59 percent of all pre-owned vehicle shoppers used the Internet during the buying process. Internet research and shopping is no longer a trend, it’s now part of the dealership sales cycle.

So what happens when someone goes online to research or buy a vehicle? Most consumers will use a search engine to find the information they want, and end up at portals with thousands of vehicle listings. And that means lots of competition for the sale.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking; consumers often narrow their list of potential vehicles by using detailed search criteria and, by default, this will reduce the number of vehicles in the search results. Let’s look at this two ways: First, for the consumers who narrow their search, there will still be competitive listings and it is even more important for you stand out amongst those final listings. Think of it like Dancing with the Stars, you don’t need to stand out in a really crowded field; you just need to be “good enough.”

When the contestants are narrowed down to just the best, you need to differentiate and stand out. Secondly, we should consider the buyer who hasn’t yet decided on their make or model, because they’ll often research many different makes and models. They’ll come across hundreds…maybe thousands of vehicles. There’s no doubt you need to stand out.

But wait, you say, you’ve also paid your third-party lead provider a nice premium for a high ranking on their site. Yes, that will help drive consumers to your listing. But how do you get someone to focus on what you’re selling? What can you do to differentiate your listing and make your vehicle stand out online?

The first step is using enough photos to showcase all aspects of the vehicle. In 1921 the New York Times ran an article entitled “Use of Pictures for Advertising.” It was based on a national study of large retailers and concluded not only that “people want pictures,” but that images used in advertising a) attract attention, b) arouse interest and c) create desire. That was over 85 years ago, but if you think things have changed since then in the world of advertising…not. It’s still the rule of thumb when it comes to promotion. In the retail auto industry, displaying nine vehicle photos is common and probably acceptable, but never less than six. Many dealers see the value of showcasing their vehicles, especially ones that might be uniquely equipped, with upwards of 20 photos.

The quality of the image is also important. This is determined by photo resolution or pixels, short for “picture element.” Pixels are small color samples of the image. The more pixels a digital image contains, the clearer the photo. The industry standard for photos has been 800 x 680 pixels. That might have worked 10 years ago, but not today. With the introduction of flat screen desk monitors, the standard size of monitors has increased to 19 inches. Many people are using screens that measure 23 inches or more. Photo resolutions of 800 x 680 don’t transition well to screens that size. Trying to enlarge the photo beyond its normal resolution doesn’t work either; trust me. You’re going to need a photo with a minimum 1024 x 768 resolution in order for it to appear clear and sharp on someone’s monitor. And here’s something else you should know: blurry, poor quality images are not only a big turn-off to buyers, they make your dealership look second-rate.

Videos are another great way to make your vehicle stand out online. They elicit curiosity because the viewer wants to see what’s going to happen next. Videos can also engage a buyer faster and with more emotional impact than almost any other online sales tool or technique. It’s an ideal format for providing in-depth data on vehicle owner history, emphasizing what options the vehicle has above and beyond the standard package for that make and model, or pointing out the vehicle’s rarity or other unique aspects. Don’t forget to add some flare to the presentation with music and professionally done voice-overs.

You’ll also attract and interest online buyers by focusing on differentiators in the listing’s features and seller notes sections. For example, in the features section, make sure OEM certifications are noted. Many buyers are drawn to certified pre-owned vehicles because it means the car has been fully inspected, is in good condition and comes with a warranty. And remember to provide complete data on unique options and equipment. What is it about this car that makes it a must-have?

In the seller notes section, emphasize selling points such as fuel economy, low mileage, excellent condition, one owner, how well the vehicle was taken care of, any accident history, the maintenance history of the car and availability of maintenance records. Use this section to really sell the vehicle on an emotional and personal level. Emotion leads to elated customers having outstanding experiences when shopping and purchasing a vehicle. This aspect of car sales has largely been ignored online, yet is a critical component of the sales cycle. Describe how the buyer is going to feel when they get behind the wheel of the car. Talk about the lifestyle benefits to owning this vehicle. Create content for this section that will have an impact on the consumer.

Finally, make sure that vehicle history reports from companies such as CarFax and AutoCheck are available. It will make the buyer feel more comfortable with their purchase. Consumers, rightfully so, are fearful of being “had.” These types of reports increase consumer confidence and reduce objections. They also shorten the negotiation and buying process.

Each vehicle in your inventory is unique and has its own story. All of the content in your listing, from photos and audio/visual to features/seller notes, should work together to tell that story in a way that compels a customer to take ownership during the buying process. When that happens, more sales are closed and higher grosses are achieved. It’s a win for everyone – the customer enjoys the purchasing experience and gets the vehicle they want, and the dealers sell more cars at a reasonable profit.

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