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The Next Giant Leap For Dealership Websites

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Dealership websites that track online shopping behavior

If you have purchased goods on recently, take a minute to go back to their website. Did you notice that it recognized who you were and even made recommendations for you to consider purchasing today?

If you book travel online, sites like Expedia and Travelocity are designed to use your shopping behavior to trigger special promotions and offers. Would it surprise you that travel sites mighty offer you a $20 a night room rate discount on the third visit to a particular hotels reservation page?

Personalization of website pages by online shopping behavior is common practice in the larger ecommerce industry so it begs the question, why should dealership website be a “one size fits all” design? Would conversion and engagement INCREASE if automotive web designers used online consumer shopper behavior and cookie data to personalize the shopping experience?

The answer is simply yes. A personalized website experience has proven to be effective in other verticals yet the automotive industry has just scratched the surface in personalization. The first vendor to knock personalization out of the park will gain significant market share.

Personalized Dealer Websites

TK Carsites a few years back introduced a website feature that changed the home page banner based on the search keywords used to land on the dealer’s home page. This feature was slick but the rest of the website shopping experience was “one size fits all”.

Today, the opportunities for personalization are endless. Let’s say a consumer visits a Chevrolet dealer’s website for the first time and clicks on the used car inventory search page. During their first visit the consumer searches exclusively for used Chevrolet Silverados. The consumer leaves the dealer’s website without submitting a lead or calling.

On this consumer’s second visit to the dealers website personalization could present a home page with three used Silverado’s featured and/or on sale. It could change the used car search page to default initially to display Silverados. Personalization could also change the home page banner to include a slide on new Silverado lease specials.

I use this simple example as a means to illustrate the potential of personalization. Of course consumers will search for a variety of used car models on a dealer’s website, but patterns can be distilled from the consumer’s click activity. If it is determined that the consumer is looking at cars under $13,000 then on a return visit, the dealership website can morph to showcase cars in that price range.

Taking personalization to the next level would be to integrate off-site consumer shopping behavior. Dataium introduced a data model that would capture consumer shopping data and search history that could be used by dealers and industry vendors to personalize CRM systems, website design, and engagement tools.

Dataium is not the only player in the market that has vital shopper data. VinSolutions for example, could be in a unique situation to benefit from consumer shopping behavior on and I wrote about this potential back in September of 2011 on “Will Autotrader Build An Exclusive ZMOT Data Network?

For example, a consumer searches for a used Ford F-150 on and then decides to open another browser tab to visit the local ford dealer listed on the Vehicle Detail Page (VDP). If this dealers was using a VinSolutions website, in the future the site might “morph” on the FIRST visit to showcase Ford F150 trucks on the home page, truck incentives, or trucks on sale.

This functionality does not exist today for VinSolutions customers but the potential is there based on VinSolutions being part of the Autotrader Companies. As an industry watcher and commentator, I see many exciting possibilities in the years ahead.

Another example would be Cobalt’s website platform leveraging shopping behavior on General Motors OEM websites. A consumer visiting and searching for information on the 2013 Chevrolet Impalas could be presented with a “Impala” morphed website when they visit a local dealer the following day that had the Cobalt platform. Again, this functionality on Cobalt websites is not publically available to dealers but could be a personalization outcome.

Personalization is the next big step for automotive retailing. After that would come better CRM integration with the shopper’s online search history. You get the idea, the degree of information that is available could dramatically improve the customer experience and I believe increase conversion.


Do you agree that personalization and data integration will be a game changer for the automotive retail website experience?

Brian is the founder and PCG Consulting Inc. Brian offers consulting services to assist car dealers develop the strategies, processes, and reporting n...
  • E
  • July 23, 2012
Hey Brian...I LOVE the idea of personalization - the more the better!  I am always ok sharing my data and I WANT people to cookie me and follow me for that very reason.  HOWEVER, on Friday, I read this article ( the WSJ and it opened my eyes to an alternate option.   Maybe there is a better way than me giving out all of my information with hundreds of companies reinventing the wheel and me having to help them do that over and over .  Doc Searls is very down on Big Data collection (i.e. companies like Datium) and I'm not saying I agree at this point, it's just interesting and worth learning more about.  I love the scenario he lays out in the article with the clothing/espresso machine...think of this in reference to automotive shopping.  Talk about having a QUALIFIED lead!    So, my point I'm not so sure about pushing more and more in the direction of Big Data....and maybe going the way of VRM is a better focus.  Or maybe he's delusional and the big companies will never change and will never allow the customer to be the driving force and while it's a good idea in theory, it will never ever happen...thoughts?  Here is the VRM's website:
  • R
  • July 23, 2012
I believe that this technology will provide consumers with what they really want, a more narrow and shorter sales funnel. The shopping process for virtually all products has already been greatly reduced by intelligent sites like Amazon and by mobile capabilities.
Dealers should also embrace technologies that help them to stay in tune with customers preferences after the sale. This enables them to provide consumers with what they are truly interested in as opposed to email blasts about products they have never or would never want.
  • B
  • July 23, 2012
Skimmed through this. But it's all on VENDORS to get this going, dealers can only talk about it. They all need to upgrade their inventory display software. I don't understand how these companies can make multi-million dollar incomes, yet they all one way or another struggle to add new features to dealer websites. You have development teams, start working on features that vary prices based on the users ip, etc. What's one thing vendors totally miss out on? I have software that name tags all of my visitors, when they submit a lead I can see their entire search history, computer, location, all of the data on them, etc. So vendors why are you ignoring these things? If someone like me running an in-house Wordpress website can do it, there's a big gap in the amount of concern vendors have for actually working FOR the dealers.
  • D
  • July 23, 2012
Brian, great article. I believe there is another article simular to this from years ago in the archives somewhere. 
From the dealers perspective:
IMO we are overdue for innovation in regards to dealership websites. Most services have been offering the same tricks for years now. Yes, there have been the addition of mobile sites, some tricky SEO techniques that anymore have a shelf life of 6 months at best. I have yet to have found a website service that really knocks my socks off with true innovation and world class customer experience.
I'm in not saying we don't have some great solutions out there. DealerOn touts their conversion rates and backs it up with a guarantee. DealerFire offers some of the better "custom" solutions I've seen in the industry, ClickMotive has really embraces mobile with some impressive offerings. I'm not intentionally leaving any other service out. Many have their "feature set" BUT again, I'm not seeing anything truly innovative in regards to customer experience around behavior and conversion. 
Lets agree that "similar vehicles" doesn't classify as onsite behavior. 
Side note: Dominion is about to offer Adaptive websites, one of the more innovative features to date. The dealers that I consult with using DealerOn have been testing some different initiatives around conversion in regards to Website to Walk-in conversion and the initial result are impressive. VinSolutions offers their "VINLens" that I know several dealers find this valuable. 
From the Vendor side:
Building out new platforms and integrating a tighter customer experience based on offsite and onsite behavior takes resources, time and effort. Not to mention possible relationships with outside services. 
Most dealers continue to struggle with updating their specials page (I believe I said this 4 years ago). When something isn't working (even though they are only using or placing 50% effort into it), they are quick to move in another direction - seeking out the silver bullett. 
On average, a large portion of dealers still fail to recognize the true importance of their websites and are only happy when they're paying $500-$700 a month for the provided services. 
Is it scalable, is there a profitable margin and will MOST dealers find the value in the service?
  • D
  • July 23, 2012
I'm excited to see Website Personalization become a topic.  Hopefully it will become a hot topic.  DealerPeak has and continues to evolve the concept of website personalization.  Given our platform contains the CRM as well as the website, we have a unique ability to display information and content based specifically on the user that is on your website.  
For instance, a website visitor can view the salesperson assigned specifically to them.  They can see any emails, and vehicle recommendations that are specifically for them.  They can save a search or save individual vehicles and view them again when they return to the site. They can even look up their vehicle's service history on our personalized sites.
We are now enhancing this.  One area is to dynamically display content such as Incentive and Rebates programs based on the type of vehicles they search.  Also, displaying content specific to certain behaviors such as Form abandonment.  For instance if a person visits the finance form but doesn't not submit it, we can then display an offer for great financing rates on that, and subsequent visits.  We can also turn that into an email campaign.
In addition, because we have, the customer sales and service history in many cases, we can offer up content based on that knowledge.  For instance, if we know a user has a car in their "Garage Profile" that is over X years old, we can then display the same new model vehicle and even suggest payments that would be the same or lower based on the equity they have in their current car.
Again, the possibilities are endless.  I just wanted to chime in and let the community know that at least one vendor is paying attention to this.  We would also love to hear any specific suggestions on what you would like to see as far as personalization.
It's crucial for car dealers to embrace technology as most customers do some or all of the buying process online.
Love the article, as a dealer in montreal, that often needs french services, it is hard to find a website builder that is able to be on top of things when it comes to new trends or technology.
having adaptive marketing for a quebec ford dealer would be a dream come true. @Ford Montreal 
Love the article, as a dealer in montreal, that often needs french services, it is hard to find a website builder that is able to be on top of things when it comes to new trends or technology.
having adaptive marketing for a quebec ford dealer would be a dream come true.
AutoOne Media has just launched a new vehicle configuraor that can be added to any existing website regardless of the website vendor that will automatically remember the vehicle any customer has built or was in the process of building. If the customer leaves the CarBuilder Vehicle Configurator and later returns it will ask the customer if they would like to return to the car they already built or were building. This will only help the user experience and increase leads through this new tool.
  • J
  • August 1, 2012
We've recently integrated the Contact at Once API with our website session data to create a behavioral based chat product.  We tailor conversations to customers based on their activity on the site.  We've seen huge gains in conversion in the past 6 months amongst every dealer on it.  This is definitely the future of online marketing.
  • O
  • August 3, 2012
Not to rain on anyone parade but aren't configurators sorta of "old school"? I've always been leary of them since most allow the consumer to build cars that usually do not exist or are very hard to find. Nothing too new here. 
I would add to your article that using a search based retargeting program would fit nicely with the features you mentioned.    There are third party providers that can target the keywords that a customer has used to search such as "Ford F150" and then display your ad when they visit partner sites very much like Google's Display Network.  I suspect Google will be adding this feature soon but right now it's rather new.
  • S
  • August 9, 2012
This is spectacular! Simply put i appreciate reading your written content everytime I get feed alarm.
That's an excellent idea as well as using geo-ip localization to send visitor coming from an specific state to the page showing cars for sale in that state. But let's face it, it isn't easy to implement or that's what I think, playing with cookies isn't as easy as it sounds. Do you know where I can find more information about the "how to" of this personalizations that you suggest? I'd love to use them on my car search engine thanks :-J
I've really enjoyed reading your different articles. They are so informative and interesting. This post give truly quality information. I’m definitely going to look into it. Really very useful tips are provided here. thank you so much.Keep up the good works.
Configurators have been around but have been executed poorly in the past.
Once you capture the lead, you also have valuable information on what the consumer wants. Most of the time a good sales person can sell them a similar vehicle that is in stock. This is what the number one Honda dealer is the US is doing with this tool today.
Configurators have been around but have been executed poorly in the past.
Once you capture the lead, you have valuable information on what the consumer wants. Most of the time a good sale man can sell them a similar vehicle that is in stock. This is what the number one Honda Dealer in the US is doing with our tool today.