Author: Chris du Toit

From Clicks to Bricks

Car dealerships are an interesting business model in the age of ‘ecommerce’. While so many new startups aim to be entirely ‘online’, dealerships have to establish both a strong physical brick & mortar presence while also having a strong online presence and engagement.

While we’ve seen small inroads to entirely online car purchases, the business as a whole still relies significantly on physical and online. In fact, the online side of the business is less about ecommerce and more about acting as a channel to drive people into the dealership. We don’t anticipate this changing in the near future. The expression here is ‘clicks to bricks’.

From a buyer journey, car dealers need to be aware that the journey starts online and ends in the dealership. There are many steps in the journey, and each is a potential point of abandonment. To truly fulfill a clicks-to-bricks journey, care needs to be taken from the first click to signing the dotted line.

The first step in this journey is to ensure online savvy car shoppers can find your website. Dealers are typically following a multi-channel approach: SEO, print advertising, online advertising and social being the major avenues.

Getting visitors to your website is only the first battle – engaging visitors and preventing abandonment is the next step. This means fine-tuning your website to maximize conversion, having compelling offers, and the right suite of tools to drive engagement.

Finally, you need the ‘hook’ that will drive your online visitor into the store. This can take many forms and include trade offers, credit applications and service offers.

All of this means car dealers are finding themselves at the forefront of both online marketing and brick & mortar marketing and conversion, making them leaders and subject matter experts. When car dealers are willing to share tricks of the trades, all industries and verticals should sit up and pay attention – they can teach us a lot!

Trade valuation for car dealer websites

Dealers, don’t think conversion makes up for abandonment

Sales funnel theory tells us that abandonment and conversion are both parts of the funnel. You bring leads in top-of-funnel, nurture them and hopefully, convert them into a sales opportunity. And abandonment occurs along the way as you prospects move from top-of-funnel to a conversion. And we’ve been led to believe that abandonment is ok as long as you’re getting conversion.

Or at least, that’s how some software vendors want you to think.

Many, if not most, car dealers use third party components on their website to capture more leads. A popular example of this is a trade valuation service.

The leading one in this industry follows a very “old school” approach. It walks the user through a number of forms and then before displaying the trade valuation, they ask for contact information. Their theory is this: If the user completes the form, it’s a hot lead. If they abandon, don’t worry, it wasn’t a serious lead to begin with.

Ouch.

Really old school thinking.

In the day and age where it is about building engagement with your users, no amount of abandonment should be considered as part of success criteria.

What do you think happens to a visitor when they abandon the trade valuation because they don’t want to provide their contact information just yet? News flash: They’re not just abandoning the trade valuation widget, they’re abandoning your website! Hey-ho hey ho, off to another dealer’s site they go.

So while the big name value your trade guys proudly boast of a 2% conversion, ask yourself what happened to the other 98% that bounced off of your site?

So what’s the answer?

While we may be a little biased here, almost all web experts will agree that user engagement is becoming the number one way that businesses will build lasting relationships with their customers. With that in mind, we don’t believe you should lead with conversion. Instead, use engagement as your criteria. Ultimately, high engagement will yield far higher conversions. I’d far rather have a site where almost all my visitors engage with me resulting in a far more robust pipeline of conversions, than live with 98% abandonment.

It’s also time to rethink what your trade valuation service is costing your dealership. Sure, we know about CPL as a metric. But have you considered how much money you spend to drive traffic to your website (SEO, PPC … all very expensive) only to have the 98% who go to a value your trade widget abandon? I hope that 2% conversion was worth it…

We love talking about engagement and conversion. Share your thoughts with us.

Auto dealers: Capturing leads or delivering a user experience?

The world of auto dealers online marketing, while certainly having its own nuances, still faces many of the traditional conundrums facing online marketers in general.

Marketers the world over struggle with “demand gen” versus “lead gen”. Demand generation is essentially providing valuable content to your visitors, effectively for ‘free’, meaning you don’t try to capture lead information.

Lead generation on the other hand is also providing information for your visitors but only if they’re willing to give up their contact information. This could be as simple as an email address or their full contact details.

As you may expect, demand gen results in more users staying on your site, whereas lead gen causes a higher abandon rate as many people will balk at giving up their personal details. A good marketing program should really encapsulate both concepts.

Which brings me to auto dealers.

One of the primary lead gen mechanisms used by car dealers on their website is a trade valuation service. The theory goes that users will exchange their contact information for a valuation of their vehicle. Classic lead gen. In fact, one of the largest trade valuation services owns a patent, albeit questionable, on capturing contact information before providing the valuation data.

The problem with this approach is that dealers will experience a high abandonment rate of users who simply won’t complete all the information requested. And this abandonment may well cause not just abandonment on the trade valuation but abandonment on your website as a whole. Hello competitor dealer down the street.

What car dealers should do instead is learn to build an experience and brand with their visitors. Provide a lot of free information (demand gen), and provide compelling reasons to leave their contact details (lead gen). This ensures that you have the right mixture of keeping visitors on your site and coming back to your site, while also capturing leads in the process.

I can’t stress this enough – remember, the fact that people are abandoning the trade valuation widget on your website is NOT a good thing despite claims to the contrary from the widget vendor. Yes, the people who do complete the long and antiquated form are solid leads. But how much damage is being caused by the abandoned people who leave you for another website entirely?

With tradeIQ we worked hard to strike a balance between lead capture while providing value to your visitors to build them into long term and lifelong customers. Check out how we did this. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Auto Shopping Moments Every Brand Must Own

Google research published a tremendous piece entitled “The 5 auto shopping moments every brand must own”. If you haven’t read it yet, grab it here.

Using the vast insights into consumer behavior, Google is uniquely positioned to understand the customer journey and how the digital landscape has changed the traditional car buying journey. Google calls these ‘micro moments’ – times when car buyers turn to online and digital sources to help select the perfect vehicle for their needs.

I’m not going to recap the entire article here … I want to focus on one specific ‘moment’, but for sake of reference, here are the five car buying ‘moments’:

  1. Which-car-is-best moment
  2. Is-it-right-for-me moment
  3. Can-I-afford-it moment
  4. Where-should-I-buy-it moment
  5. Am-I-getting-a-deal moment

The “Can-I-afford-it” moment

With so many tools at the consumers disposal, it’s easier than ever to find cars you like. Whether thats at the dealer across the road, or half-way across the country, it’s never been easier to fall in love with a vehicle that you “simply must have”! The next logical step in this car buying journey becomes “Can I afford it?”. According to Google, search interest regarding vehicle prices is at the highest level ever, having grown 25% the last year, 70% of that being fueled by mobile.

For many shoppers, the value of their current car is just as important as the price of the new one. Search interest in trade-in value was at record levels this summer—up 17% in July. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/five-auto-shopping-moments-every-brand-must-own.html

And here’s the interesting find from Google. The value of the car buyers current vehicle is just as important as the price of the new one. Google says that search interest in trade-in values was at record levels (Summer, 2015) and that they’re seeing more trade-in interest than during the 2009 Cash for Clunkers push!

And, importantly, more than 50% of those searches were on mobile.

tradeIQ

At dealerIQ we worked carefully to capture the essence of this critical “Can-I-afford-it” moment by offering online car buyers exactly what they need at this step of the journey: The ability to value their current trade, and an affordability calculator based on their credit score and equity on their trade. And of course, mobile friendly. This careful orchestration of features to match the ‘moment’ drives maximum lead conversion and maximum stickiness to your site as your work to have your brand own these important auto shopping moments.

Add Social Proof on your dealer site

PT Barnum once said “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd”

Although online car buyers may be browsing from the comfort of their living room, they can still be heavily influenced by social proof. The concept of social proof isn’t new. It’s been used for decades.

Restaurants like to put patrons in the front window seat so that people passing by believe the restaurant is full and “must be good”. After all, who wants to eat at an empty restaurant?

In 1938, Sylvan Goldman invented the shopping cart. However, people were at first reluctant to use it. To solve this, he hired people to simply push carts around the store. This gave people the opportunity to see other people use it and assume it must be beneficial. Social proof.

Moving into the online world, social proof is even more important. Given that your car buyer is probably acting on his or her own, you need to supplement their experience with social proof.

Different studies consistently show conversion improvement of between 18% to 63% simply by adding well placed testimonials!

Testimonials

The most common and effective way to generate social proof is through the use of customer testimonials. It generates immediate credibility and is easy to do. If you already have a process in place to get testimonials you need to ensure you get these onto your homepage of your dealer site.

Amazon know the power of social proof. The reviews of a product are shown right below the product name…in otherwords, the most important piece of information after the name. Even more than the price:

It’s not like Google struggle to get users, but they too know the power of social proof:

Notice the large testimonial which appears before you even get into exploring all the product features.

Don’t have testimonials?

Incentivizing customers to provide testimonials is a great way of getting these added to your website. You can use electronic vouchers such as those provided by restaurant.com (http://incentives.restaurant.com/) These allow you to give a $25 voucher to be used at thousands of restaurants (at a much lower cost to you) in exchange for a testimonial. Fulfillment of these vouchers is electronic so you don’t have to worry about mailing them.

Caution: Testimonials must be real!

The Federal Trade Commission has been clamping down on website claims and outlandish testimonials or endorsements. Make sure your testimonials are from real people and that they “reflect the honest opinion, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser”. Regardless of what the FTC say, this is just common ethical business practices. The FTC go on to say “Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantial statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers”,

Social Urgency

Another social proof tactic used by some online retailers is to create urgency by letting you know how many other people are looking at the same product. This works best when you have a limited quantity available of a product. For example, you’ve probably seen this on travel sites when you look at a hotel room for a particular date, you’ll see a message along the lines of “Hurry…only 2 rooms left at this price and 14 people booked this room in the last 48 hours”.

For an autodealer perspective, this doesn’t work too well on new cars given there is no inherent scarcity in the product, but can work great on second hand inventory….”5 people viewed this car in the last 2 hours”…that drives urgency.

Conclusion

Imagine how your dealer site would be with an 18%-63% conversion improvement! Adding testimonials is about as “no brainer” as it can get in the world of online commerce. If you haven’t done so already, start an active process of collecting testimonials from your customers and keep your website updated. You’ll be glad you did!

3 Simple Steps to optimize loading of your dealer site

It’s no secret: Page load time matters. There, I said it.

How much could a second or two really matter, I hear you ask.

Google was one of the first to measure this. When they experimented with adding more search results to a single page, it added about half a second to the experience. The result? A 20% drop in revenue!

Amazon calculated that every 100 millisecond delay cost them 1% of sales. To put it another way, every single second of delay would negatively impact Amazon revenue by 10%. Wow!

Walmart reported a 2% improvement in conversion for every second of delay they minimized.

Not to mention that Google has also said slow performance can affect your SEO and rankings.

Which brings us to you and your auto dealers website. I’m sure you’ve invested in the lookand feel and the functionality and got the point where you’re happy with it. Don’t however neglect page load time. You’re not immune to what ails Google, Amazon, Walmart and every other online retailer.

Fortunately however, you don’t need a degree in physics to instantly improve page load times.

Here are three simple steps to instantly turbocharge your car dealers website. If you’re using WordPress, you can achieve this through plug-ins, otherwise contact your web vendor to ask them.

Cache

Every time a visitor hits your site, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Without getting too technical, basically your web server gets a request from John for your home page, and immediately goes to work to pull a bunch of pieces of data together to construct the html and send it back to John so that John can see it in his web browser. Now Mary happens to also visit your home page, and your webserver again goes and constructs everything to send the html to Mary. Phew, a lot of work for every visitor and this causes your site to slow down.

Cacheing is the process whereby your webserver gets smarter and says “I just constructed this HTML for John. I’m going to keep this here in memory so that if someone else asks for it, I’ll just send them the same copy instead of going to reconstruct it again”. So now Mary comes along and she gets the page much faster since she’s getting a copy already in memory.

If you’re using WordPress, check out wp fast cache as a free instant cacheing solution.

Image Compression

We love nice looking websites right? The problem is all those images on your site can cause the page load time to increase. Did you know that when a user visits your site, your browser has to fetch each image seperately? And sometimes those images are large. Much larger than they need to be. Perhaps you upload a high quality print ready image of a vehicle – an extremely high resolution which is not visible on a browser and typically is massive…many megabytes in size. All those images cause John and Mary to wait…and wait…

Well, you can automatically compress those images. Compression means sacrificing a little quality … though not noticeable to the viewer … in exchange for a much smaller size.

This means much smaller image sizes and much faster load times.

Minify

Ok this one is a little more technical…but bear with me. As a user visiting a website, you just see an entire page. Behind the scenes however, there are 10’s or hundreds of individual files being pulled in to present the page to you. Each one of those files are being fetched individually by your browser. This causes an increase in page load times.

The concept of minification is to take those individual files and essentially combine it on file, letting your browser fetch just one file instead of lots of files.

Fortunately, there are plug-ins that can do this for you automatically significantly speeding your website.

Conclusion

I hope you’ll consider implementing some of these techniques. The world of the online car buyer is increasingly competitive. The large IT departments from the big names in the car industry are constantly optimizing their site performance, but the good news is you can too…without needing a large IT department. Don’t assume a second here or a second there doesn’t mean that much. Amazon and every other leading retailer will beg to differ!

PS: No, we don’t sell site optimization products. Still, we love to talk about everything internet and online in the auto industry, so if you have any questions just post a comment here or drop us a line at [email protected]

Why abandonment sends the wrong message to your visitors

There’s more than one trade valuation website service to use on your dealership’s website. At least one of the “big name” ones require a prospect to enter their contact details prior to displaying the trade-in value.

Naturally this leads to a high abandonment rate – those prospects simply not wanting to enter their contact information. In fact, this “big name” vendor is proud of the high abandonment, their argument being that those who do complete the form are serious leads, and you wouldn’t want the rest anyway. The painful part of this logic is that, by their own admission, a high abandonment rate is occurring on YOUR website. All that time and money you’ve spent driving traffic, only to have them abandon – not just the trade widget, but abandoning your website! And yet this vendor touts this as a benefit. Ouch! Easy to say when it isn’t your website they’re abandoning.

The trend of the modern internet savvy online car shopper is to find companies they can build a relationship with…companies that offer value in the website and reasons to return. Millenials for example don’t want to be blocked to access content…”Give me what I need and if you build a relationship with me I will be your customer”. So purposefully causing abandonment is contrary to the trend we see in the internet world all together. In fact, there is an entire discipline related to conversion optimization, and reducing abandonment.

Which brings me to our tradeIQ trade valuation solution. We provide trade valuations upfront for your customer without asking for their contact information, specifically to prevent them from abandoning your website, and to give you the opportunity to build up a relationship with them. Our tradeIQ solution will offer valuable information for your visitors that will cause them to want to give you their contact information, but not force them simply to get a trade-in value.

So while certain vendors stick to the formula that’s worked for them for the last decade, we believe it’s time to change the game. Why not contact us to see a demo of tradeIQ in action.

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