Best Practices

Embracing Your Friendly Neighborhood Dealer Website Add-Ons

At one point, I was J. Jonah Jameson. When I left the dealership world and hit the vendor side over seven years ago, I learned from necessity that website add-ons were not a good idea. At the time, many were flash, most made the website load slowly, and few did much more than cannibalize leads that the website would have provided anyway had the add-on not been in play.

Fast forward to the last couple of years and things have changed. Websites are, for the most part, better now than they were just a short time ago to the point that they have become commodities. An argument can be made between adaptive and responsive, but otherwise the debates about proper lead-generation are pretty much behind us. That’s not to say that the website providers in our industry are doing it right. They’re just doing less wrong at equal degrees.

Over the last few months, I’ve been digging deeper into ways to improve website performance. Since my company does not build software, I’ve had to explore dozens of products in order to present to my clients ways that they can improve their website experience. At the end of the day, that’s what it really comes down to: experience. Shooting for pure “lead generation” is no longer reasonable. Yes, websites generate leads, but people are more skeptical today about leaving their information through the various online forms. It’s for this reason that improved experience will generate stronger appeal, more phone calls, and more showroom visits rather than just more lead form submissions.

Here are some of the things that I’ve explored. Rather than direct endorsements of the individual products that I like, this is going to be a general explanation of a handful of add-ons that I would have on my website if I were still running an internet department. If you want specific recommendations, you’ll have to contact me directly. A DealerRefresh blog post is not the place for specific recommendations.

Merchandising and Information Widgets

This is one that doesn’t really have a specific solution, but the need is there. Most dealer websites do a poor job of providing real answers to their visitors when it comes to giving the real details about inventory, specials, financing options, or even service. That’s not a knock on the website providers; they do what they can with the resources available but having a specialist in mind to highlight the information is a better solution.

It goes beyond just having attractive buttons. It’s more than just a list of current incentives. When people go to a dealer website, they want to be able to plug in criteria and receive tangible data that they can utilize.

It’s more than having a list of vehicle features. What makes vehicle A different from seemingly-identical vehicle B? They know that they’re different because they have different prices. Don’t make them play Where’s Waldo with the heated seats.

Lastly, it goes beyond just having a specials builder. Make them come alive. We merchandize the heck out of our vehicles at the dealership. The same needs to be done on websites, perhaps more so than in real life.

Appointment Incentives

For those who have not seen them in action, the various incentive programs out there that give people reasons to show up for an appointment that they make are strong plays. Whether it’s a gift card or something else, they do work to collect better information before they come to the dealership and they increase the volume of people that actually do show up.

There are two primary arguments against these by most dealers who have either never tried them or who have tried and stopped. First, there are people who come in just to get the gift card. This is true and no dealer likes to give away something without a chance of turning it into business. However, the number of “freeloaders” is likely much smaller than most dealers believe.

Second and arguably more importantly is that people would have come into the dealership anyway. Why pay to have them come in?

My counter-argument here is simple: order of importance. Car shoppers will often select three or four dealers that they intend to visit. The thinking is always the same: “We’ll go out looking today, gather information from a handful of dealers, and then make our decision at home so we can make the right choice.”

That’s the intention. The reality is that they will likely meet a real salesperson at the first or second dealership they visit. These incentives will help to move your dealership up in the priority list. Are you seeing a 95% or better show-rate for your appointments set? The reason that you’re not isn’t because half of the people who call to set up an appointment are just prank callers. It’s not because your BDC or internet team are making fake appointments. In many cases, it’s because you were the second dealer they were going to visit and they met a salesperson at the first place they stopped.

Managed Chat

This is the one that will get me in the most trouble. Those who manage their own chat often do so because they feel they can do it better being at the dealership than someone away from the store. In some cases, this is true, but not most. The negatives associated with having the staff manage chat usually outweigh the benefits of having someone there at the dealership to “wing it”.

The benefit of self-managed chat comes down to one distinction:

  • Self-Managed: “I do believe we still have that vehicle. Let me put my hands on it and I’ll email or call you. What is your contact information?”
  • 3rd-Party-Managed: “I do believe we still have that vehicle. Please give me your email and phone number and we will have someone verify that it’s still here for you.”

Both are just as effective. It’s a minor distinction.

The negatives to self-managed chat are numerous. First and foremost is the timing factor. If the person managing chat for the dealership is on a test drive, in the restroom, out to lunch, or even on another chat, then having a chat presence becomes a detriment. People chat as an alternative to instant information collected over the phone. They have a question and they want an answer. They won’t wait 30 seconds, let along 5 minutes as is often the case with self-managed chat.

Other Plugins and Add-Ons

I’ll admit it. This was a self-serving blog post. I wrote this in hopes that you would help me to identify other add-ons and plugins that I can explore. There are so many out there that it’s hard to know where to start.

What plugins have worked for your dealership?

What add-ons would you like to see someone build?

JD Rucker is the Founder of Dealer Authority, an automotive digital marketing agency specializing in social media, search, and content marketing. A ve...