Best PracticesDealership Communication ToolsDealership Marketing

We are being beaten by socks. SOCKS!

I was reading a great article about attribution on when it struck me, “Why are we so far behind other segments?” We are being beaten by socks. SOCKS!

Socks and cars are as different as can be

Socks are what’s called a low-involvement purchase; limited thought goes into the purchase and there’s very little risk to the consumer. Cars on the other hand, are a big purchase that consumers tend to think about a lot and research extensively. Consumer feel that the purchase of a car carries more risk than a pair of socks and they’re right automobiles are the biggest depreciating asset most consumers ever buy, unless they’ve bought a home with wheels underneath it or a large boat. Automobiles are the quintessential high-involvement purchase.

But there are some similarities…

Most sock purchases aren’t made directly off a manufacturer website just as most cars aren’t bought or sold that way either – they are purchased in stores (dealerships). They are Research Online, Purchase Offline (ROPO), also known as Research Online, Buy Offline (ROBO) or Online-to-Store (O2S-Factor) items. In the case of the socks, while the purchase may be made online, but it doesn’t have to be made from the manufacturer – it can be made from an (online) store. The socks looked at in the article were a little higher end, made by SmartWool. I’ve purchased them in the past and yes, they are extraordinary socks, but they are just socks.

Where socks are beating us

Let’s start with the fact that they are employing advanced attribution analytics. They understand that many of their customers are ‘multichannel’, using multiple sources to do their research. Because of this fact, the sock guys aren’t just relying on Google Analytics. Google Analytics does a great job on one very specific task – looking the performance of one particular channel out of many used; your website. Now remember the sock guys don’t sell the majority of their socks using ecommerce from their website (just like most car dealers don’t sell most of their cars using ecommerce from their website), the website is just one channel out of many used. They want, no, they need to see the big picture.

The sock guys have learned to love third parties

Rather than saying, “We’re just going to concentrate on OUR channel, our website, the one we own”, the sock guys wanted to look at the hard data. The hard data is pretty clear; when consumers used multiple channels they spent more money and they converted at a significantly higher rate. They also dug into influence, “The data showed the influence one publisher had in driving users to the site at the start of the customer journey, who later converted via other channels.” I read where one marketer in our segment is concentrating on folks “who are 12 days or less from purchasing a vehicle”. That’s great, but has he lost the ability to influence this potential customer to another dealer by not being around a little earlier? SmartWool sock shoppers average about 3.4 touch points per journey – car shoppers use 24 (on average). Using advanced attribution tools and analysis simply makes more sense (and makes more dollars) than reducing your concentration down to just your website.

The Customer Journey matters

Lately, I’ve had some fun with the folks who don’t seem to place much credibility in the importance of the ‘Customer Journey’. They seem to concentrate on the last the click – the lead (when there is one). Not that the lead (when there is one) doesn’t matter, because it surely does. But leads are just a small part of a much bigger picture. I agree with the folks on that side of the argument, that the folks handling leads and calls need to pay attention to the task at hand, but I’d submit to them, gaining a little insight into what happens before the last click may be very beneficial. The big picture needs to be paid attention to by the Dealer Principal, the General Manager, and the Marketing  Manager.  We are well past the point in time when we should believe that the analysis of the Consumer Journey and caring about sales and profits are mutually exclusive ideas.

Is our industry ready to leave the dark ages (and stop letting socks beat us?)

All opinions expressed are my own. I entered the automotive space almost 25 years ago, working in a declining sector of a decidedly old school indust...
Ed great post, however attribution in the automotive vertical is available now. Capturing a consumers online path to purchase across multiple devices while building/appending profiles with select 3rd party data, then coupling those results with what is measured from specific traditional mediums can be done currently and will get you a "high degree" of attribution across all of your website users. Culminating in the ability to sales match your web visitors to which ad campaign(s) drove them to your website. The Nirvana of ROI.
But as referenced in your article, Google Analytics is not enough.. In fact in many instances Google Analytics is a hinderance and can be downright worthless-
GA does NOT provide IP data, the ability to cookie a user or capture a user's device ID. All of which are critical components required to determine if the visitor is a human or not, and a must to determine one's online path to purchase. In this day and age, people's online browsing behavior can be tracked rather easily with even basic Adtech chops. We filed a track one patent for SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR TRACKING CAR SALES" U.S. Patent Application No.: 15/158,882 which we believe will solve the attribution conundrum in the automotive vertical. Google, FB and others could provide "attribution" with their existing Adtech, but your AdSpends would decrease substantially because waste would be greatly reduced if not eliminated. Thus why attribution still remains a mystery for most.

I'm not one who enjoys the online battles that so many in automotive want to encourage or even join in, but I've grown very tired of your constant poking and especially the twisting of my words and advice. I'm not sure how plainly I can make things, but clearly everything I tried to date has failed with you.

It is very easy to sit on the sidelines and second guess the play calling. It's different when you're actually in the game.

As is usual with the talk-a-lot-but-ultimately-do-nothing "thought leaders" in the automotive industry, you've taken great pride in overthinking a simple subject.

While we are not being "beaten" by socks - any more than we are being "beaten" by Carvana's vending machine gimmick - we are (and have been for over 20 years) in a constant state of industry evolution. (Believe it or not, the dealers I work with understand this; though it makes for a better headline for "thought leaders" to act as if the game is being coached and played by a bunch of idiots.)

It seems to me that your problem with the automotive industry is that you believe you are the only one who considers these things. Dealers consider these things every day - but they also have a real business to run; real people to pay; real bills to pay; etc... (You know: real world stuff.)

When anyone offers actual, actionable advice, it is easy to criticize that they didn't go far enough or to twist their words to fit your attack. "Thought leaders" don't offer actionable advice for this very reason. Being vague cannot be attacked or criticized. Of course, being vague cannot be acted upon, either.

As expected, you offer no tangible solution, just typical "thought leader" advice: "The big picture needs to be paid attention to by the Dealer Principal..."

Wow. Profound. Thank you! I'll put that on the list for the Dealer Principals I interact with every week:


Brilliant, because clearly the rest of us only want the Dealer Principal to focus on the little things.
  • E
    Ed Brooks
  • June 25, 2016
Steve -

I love your actionable operations advice. I read you on you a regular basis and pay attention to that advice. Where I took small issue is when you advised folks NOT to pay attention to major studies from Google and others. Should ISMs and desk managers need to pay attention? Probably not. My point is that there should be a couple folks that do take the time and expend the effort to have a better understanding of the "Customer Journey", what influences customers, and when that influence occurs.

That is when we, as an industry, can do a better job with attribution. Having a better grasp on attribution gives us the ability to spend marketing dollars more effectively, cutting costs and selling more vehicles.

Now my back to my day, completing a Zip Matchback Analysis for a dealer. Influence and Attribution.

ps. Even though you put 'thought leader' in quotations, I choose to take that as a compliment. I actually started in the business in 1992 and have worked for dealerships, manufacturers, and advertising platforms, 'on the front line', since then.