Opinions & Advice

Do we think the consumer is stupid? Or is the joke on us?

Dealer Refresh THIS!

One of our GM’s sent me an email with a link to another dealership who had a welcome video on their homepage yesterday. He thought it was very good, and he was right! The video quality was good, the speaker was good, and the background looked good. It was a good welcome video. The only problem is that I hate welcome videos, and this one was no exception because aside from welcoming me to the dealership website it was telling me how to use the navigation bar C’mon.  Seriously.  Obviously this dealership thinks I’ve never been on the Internet before.  I wanted my 30 seconds back after that. If I were shopping for a car I may or may not have started with the dealer’s website, but chances are I wasn’t born yesterday, bought a computer, then decided it was time to buy a car and I was going to start with a dealership website. It is probably safe to assume a consumer knows how to use your navigation bar. And that dead horse has been beaten.

Sorry about the rant, but I figured I’d give you some incite into what enticed me to write this article. It wasn’t just another dealer’s welcome video, but that was the final straw that broke this camel’s back. For years I’ve been looking at some really dumb stuff in our industry. Whether that be the newspaper ad with more disclaimer than ad or a car being released called the Aztek, we have all done or witnessed some moranisms (like that word?). Let’s talk about some of the genius work that is happening online…maybe I should contract with a publisher before I get started on that.

On second thought I don’t have the patience for a publisher so let’s begin with where a lot of this started:  the manufacturer. Granted, when the Internet became a consumer device none of us really knew how to tackle it for selling cars.  You couldn’t box a car up and ship it somewhere as easily as you could a book. Forget the past, let’s look at 3 things the OEM’s still dictate we dealers do:

  1. Some, not most, still require a dealer to go to a special Internet Lead Management site to only respond to a lead for the first time. WTF is that all about?  So we responded once – I guess we’re going to sell that Hyundai now!  Why don’t all the manufacturers work with the CRM companies to help dealers streamline their processes and sell more cars?
  2. What is the point of these OEM-dictated websites anyway? If you’re going to force my hand, why have them? Just build one VW or MINI website and show the entire nation’s inventory then have a specials section that dealers can upload specials to. You’re not offering a benefit to the dealer or the consumer by forcing uniforms in school. And last I checked your corporate representative either doesn’t live in this marketplace, just moved to this market, and probably doesn’t have a degree in advertising so what makes you think you know how to market in this market?
  3. Are you so naive to think a consumer looking for a Honda is not going to look at a Camry too? Why do manufacturers require these dealer OEM sites? This particular thing hasn’t been talked about too often, but I think it is so silly to have them. There is no other industry that I know of who separates its products. If I am in the market for a TV, I go to Best Buy’s website and can look at Sony’s and Samsungs right next to each other. Why do we make consumers jump through these silly hoops?

How about a quick look at some of the things we dealers do to keep the rule of equal incompetence going strong:

  1. Egos: whoa buddy we’ve got some big ones ’round these parts. Let’s put someone with a face for radio and a voice for the newspaper into a video on our homepage…or on TV. Let’s put a welcome message up telling us how to use the nav bar. Who wants to see that?  What other industries use a welcome message anyway?
  2. Frames: I like frames for things you can’t duplicate with your site provider like the service scheduling modules. Until the site providers build this technology themselves, I think frames are the only way to do this.  The frames that are bad are the ones where a dealer was too lazy to update the incentives/specials so he just framed in Honda’s national website showing the current Honda incentives. That page was never intended to be a frame, so it looks like you’ve got a website inside a website with links to your competitors. That’s just dumb.
  3. Video: we have gone wild with video. I think some dealers are just running around with a video camera and throwing it online without any editing or thought as to what the message is. Before you ever hit the record button you need to think about what you’re trying to do – what is the message you want to get across and if it is how to use your navigation bar…um…you might want to think a little harder. You really don’t want a consumer wanting those 30 seconds back. Oh yeah, that older generation who we think can’t use the Internet isn’t watching your videos – they’re reading your site content instead (that generation read books) – don’t put a welcome message telling them how to use the nav bar because they’re never going to see it.
  4. SEO: I’m guilty of this, but am making an effort to get away from it. Yes, SEO is extremely important, but not the generic content of “Thank you for visiting our online dealership in Virginia Beach, Virginia where we carry blah, blah, blah” – nobody wants to read that and I believe you’re just training your visitors to ignore the written content on your site. We need to get more creative with this.
  5. The About Us Page: do you even pay attention to this page on your website?  ‘nough said.
  6. Site statistics: the most overlooked statistic in a dealership, but just as important as knowing how many customers walked in the door last month. I guess we still view our websites the same way we looked at television, radio, and newspaper ads: with a quick question – “Did we get any floor traffic off the website this weekend?”

I can go on and on. I’m sure many of you can continue to add to what I’ve typed, and we could do this forever. The real question is what are we doing about it? Are you even aware of these things?

Yes, I am totally aware that the automotive industry is a different retail beast than any other industry, but that doesn’t mean we can isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. If you do any online research or shopping, then you probably know what you like in a retail website and what you don’t. Have you ever thought that your customers may have those same opinions? If you could figure out how to navigate another website’s nav bar, maybe your consumers can figure out how to navigate yours. And no boss, you don’t get prettier with age.

</end rant>

Disclaimer:  can I make this longer than this novel of a blog article like one of those dealer newspaper ads?  Nah, I’ll be serious here.  Debate is something that makes us better. If you don’t like some of the things I’ve stated here, I can assure you my intention was not to insult you.  This is an attempt at education or at the minimum to spark a debate on some of these topics.

To my GM – keep bringing me all your ideas.  You’re one of the most innovative people I know and value your opinion anytime you want to give it.  Even if my answers are a little harsh or blunt from time to time, just brush those off your shoulder and keep things coming!  Let’s continue the debates.

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
in the words of Guy Kawasaki "sometimes you got to launch crap and learn from your mistakes"
and on that note I am taking down my directions video.
  • D
  • March 3, 2009
Is it possible to share the link to the welcome video that you liked?
<b>Brian</b> - what I think and what works in your market could be two different things. Only you know your own market well enough to know whether something like that works. But I think you know my opinion on that.

<b>Dano</b> - I don't have a problem calling people out if they deserve it...Meaning...it affects me directly. But this particular dealer isn't hurting me. I'm not going to point directly at him - especially since I respect that particular store.
Awesome article Alex. You rang true on a lot of points. Dealers often think they are doing things the right way because everyone else is doing it. In reality, most of the time they are following someone else's bad practices just to keep up. It's the dealers who really put themselves in the mind of the consumer that win. Ask yourself what you would want to see on a dealer website if you were looking for a car? Do you want a simple clean site with easy navigation? Yes! Do you want gobs of easy to retrieve information about models, pricing, rebates, and reviews? Yes!

I know I am turned off by those welcome videos, at least the ones with autoplay set to on. Lots of customers browse your site during the day while they are at work. They don't want the blaring audio to get them in trouble. Again, great post!
  • C
  • March 3, 2009
"It is probably safe to assume a consumer knows how to use your navigation bar."
And if the navigation bar actually does require a video demonstration to use it, well...I'd probably be asking "why?".

Great and (from the outside) humorous article. Especially the site statistics - if you're dealership is doing any online advertising, site statistics should be top priority for any campaign. Monitoring what is working and what isn't. Which ads are driving lead form submissions and which ads are driving your bounce rate up. How do people traverse your website? Do they spend an unordinary amount of time on your homepage because they don't know where to begin?

Good discussion,

I was referring to my driving directions video - it was kind of crude but I thought it might be good for out of town folks. I will shoot it again with a little better audio. I have been taking Bobby Jindal presentation classes :) so I should make some strides.
Love the article Alex. Been following DR for some time now. I will say this. If you need a video on how to operate your website.. Guess what, your stupid website is obviously too complicated. The moto where I work is Shift into Simple. If it needs long list of directions you've done something wrong. I worked in retail for a number of years and sold cars for a number of years... Now work in sales and development for a software company. I've been on both sides of the fence... Heck, I've been on all sides of the fence. I buy cars too. If the auto industry wants to survive they need to fast forward to 2009... not 1999. So much in this industry is WAY outdated... and this is in every aspect of the business from the top dogs like Rick Wagoner down to our local small town dealer. "To keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity." - Albert Einstein.
I especially like your comment about SEO. I agree that some consumers might be confused/turned off by the "buy your new used preowned special finance car loan hyundai toyota honda pickup truck car van in 30 different cities that are nowhere near where you are located."

Is there anything on the horizon for SEO (or techniques now) that I can use to limit that amount of text on my webpages but still rank high in organic search?
Awesome article!
Alex: This is such a great post! I especially agree with the OEM resistance to integrating with CRM's. As a former ISM, I always hated going to the OEM to reply to the lead.

Brian: HA! Loved the Bobby Jindal reference. Classic. I went to your site hoping to see the directions video before you took it down but no luck.

Andrew: There are some new ways to increase where and how many times your dealership comes up on Google. One Saturn dealer I know has started using a unique blogging technique and in the past week, he's gotten 2 more placements on Google's first page results for his dealership.

Once again, Alex, that post just cracked me up. Thanks.
The truth of it is that there are different kinds of personalities that are working internet leads. There are people that are welcoming and friendly that enjoy working them by showing some strong enthusiasm. These people realize the customer is not stupid and work them by catering to the customer needs. The other kind of personality is a negative personality where people think that customers are stupid and they do not show enthusiasm for it.
Andrew and Alex - the part about SEO and the goofy phrases we have to write to get our site to search well hits home... BUT - if your site is never found, then the prospect never even gets to see it. It's a Catch 22 driven by Google and the search algorithms... would love to see a solution to this, but that is the reality of what we have to deal with... The only compromise I can think of is being creative in writing search-friendly phrases for your website.. Kevin
  • B
    Bill James
  • March 5, 2009
Thanks for the article, I have only recently started to check out your site and I've enjoyed what I've seen so far. I have been working with dealers all over the U.S. helping them with internet and telephone skills for the past 10 years,and as to the topics you covered here I would like to add that my experience has shown me that the bigger problem / biggest web opportunity lies in how quickly your customer can contact you directly, ex. live chat, and what we say when we do have contact.
I have seen some beautiful websites out there that attract lots of attention, only to be staffed by people who think that it's still 1975, with the "if I could would you" mentality. Customers want "Easy" and "Fast" as opposed to slow and difficult.
Bill James
Hey Jeff,

I thought you might find this very interesting.

The $22 lead is dead.

The $18 lead is dead.

The $12 lead is dead.

And the $6 and the $4.

And the $2.

"Twitter and Facebook Fight it Out Over Streaming and Car Buyers.” ( Just Google “Twitter vs. Facebook")

(This is my take on the dozens of articles that have come out since Wednesday.)

The battle is fierce. Google, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are engaged in an intense battle for the king of activity-streamers, and by extension, the car business.

Subject: Who's Set To Be The Next Google?

Whoever wins, automotive dealerships are going to take the spoils and save a bunch of "Ad Words dollars" in the process, now and from now on.

Each mega-site is currently working point-by-point to position themselves as the next go-to destination for one of industry's most lucrative markets: car buyers.

This is the new game everyone, and it's called social media.

When 82% of ALL U.S. internet traffic flows through either Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, you know that the fight for that traffic is going to be brutal. And when Facebook, with its $450,000,000 in funding goes after a start-up like Twitter, we should all take note. If you don't know why, I can't explain it to you.

A not-so-minor point of comparison is this: 3rd-party-lead websites like Autotrader and Dealix don't even come close as an "also-ran" when it comes to the real, generated business that Twitter does. Twitter and Facebook are generating leads (soft and hard) for dealerships IN ONE DAY what Autotrader does in a month. Think about that.

As your namesake, Jeff Spicoli, said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: "Not even close, bud."

Google “Dell and Twitter” if you still have any doubts.

But however it turns out for them, Of one thing we can be sure, AutoTrader, Cars, CarsDirect, Dealix and the rest are on their way out. It's a new world.

The $22 lead is dead.

The $18 lead is dead.

The $12 lead is dead.

And the $6 and the $4.

And the $2.

Can anyone say Open Social?

Bank it.

Throw some pre-owned ads on Twitter with link-backs directly to your vehicle detail page for about 10 continuous days and see what happens.

POW! You win.

Free, clean, sold.

Do you think that Autotrader is raising they're prices for fun, just to ruffle their clients? It's a last ditch money-grab, folks. (What would YOU do if you were one of those (old-guard 3rd party lead providers” now?)

When Facebook and Google are battling Twitter with no clear winner in sight, what chance does the old-guard (AT) have?

The online world has gone social. Period. End of story.

(ps. Look for much anonymous hate from AT trolls in this post.)

In the end, this ain't about you and me. It's not our fight; just our spoils. I'm talking about Facebook vs. Autotrader. Twitter vs. CarsDirect. MySpace vs. Dealix.

Look at the facts.

Twitter alone gets more postings about cars for sale by dealerships in ONE DAY than all of these sites deliver to their "dealer-clients" in a month. Just think about that.

Can you say "Gettin' fleeced"? Twitter and Facebook are free for everyone.

I was an ISM for a long time, and while I’m not doing that for a living now, it’s still my passion. (Wait until I launch my blog about dealer email!) No, Jeff, I won’t pimp it here. Your site is your site, and I respect that. lol

And here's another tidbit: 60% of ALL Facebook users have an annual income of over 60k.

AT, not half that high.

That, Spicoli, is a "friend" worth fighting for.

I here by induct your post as a finalist in the DealerRefresh "Spammys".

I can't believe I lost 117 seconds reading this, I want a time refund!

If you're going to spam on Dealer Refresh, that's a good way to do it!

Maybe you can get 117 free leads for the time loss?
Hey Joe and Alex,

I apologize for the long post. I thought that if I didn't mention any website, a point of view of the new guard (Social Media) vs. the old guard (AT, etc.), it would be acceptable. I didn't intend it that way. I will definitely work on my posts so that they are more focused and keep to the topic at hand. Thanks for the reminders that there's a fine line between posting and self-promotion.

I think I understand your position and would rather be a productive contributor than not.
Alex welcome video messages can be cool 2?

What's wrong with them?

I really like visiting a dealer website to find the car i want to buy, only to be spoken to by some chick on my lower right... wow she just gets right up in ur grill wanting to help, i luv it. She's being suggestive and helpful, and persistent. Whats wrong with that Alex? Why does that annoy u Alex?
i mean you wanna buy a car or what?
shes helping people man?!
plus she's usually hot.

Now if i was to have a beemer franchise, i'd put this link as my welcome video:

Ok, everyone raise your hand if you've ever used the, "... you gotta be borderline retarded not to buy this car mr(s). customer." sales close.

Guilty! yeah, i've used that a few times, lol.

Seriously tho, rethink those welcome videos now Alex, they all aren't that bad.

Your frend ,-Stew
Great post, I enjoyed it and laughed several times.

Something nobody commented on, and IMHO, a major issue with way too many dealer sites (not to mention the manufacturer sites), SPEED.

This giant network of ours is supposed to help us find information - fast. Some sites I visit are so slow that I leave before the page loads. Heavy, bloated, fat, and ugly are words we used in school to describe [you decide here]. If your site conjures up these words, well, um, find a good diet.
Roland - I was actually admiring your post for how well you were able to stick an advertisement in without breaking the rules. That would be very tough for most people, but your product and the current trends work hand in hand for doing that.

I'm not saying keep it up, just saying that was pretty slick.
I think that any dealership website can be more consumer friendly. It depends on how well it is structured and the placements of certain links. A dealership that advertises links for female customers makes it female friendly. A dealership that places an interesting little character on their website that is cute, warm, and fuzzy which promises the customer a price quote in seconds is consumer friendly (sorry Jeff, not trying to self advertise here). Other examples are videos and bios of staff members as well as live chat. Things that consumers can use to increase their shopping experience and make it simpler and more pleasant should always be considered.