Best PracticesOpinions & Advice

Process for displaying Inventory?

I received this email from a very perceptive vendor:

I was wondering if you have ever done an article outlining the importance of good vehicle data on your website?  I have been building up my wish list for a new truck and consistently find a severe lack of option info on sites.  I know there is only so much info that can be had from VIN decoding, and that it becomes a manual chore to get really stellar info populated.  I just have to think that if you are spending all sorts of time adding content to other parts of your site to gain SEO value and sell your dealership, etc…  that spending the time to add options and details about the vehicle would also be beneficial.  This issue is probably more prevalent with trucks…I was curious to get your thoughts on it.

I figured this would be a good one for all of us to answer and discuss. Getting inventory to properly display is a very tough process; not only because of technology (mainly DMS difficulties), but also due to internal processes. This is all especially tedious when you are dealing with multiple stores.

How do you deal with things?

Just to kick things off...

Checkered Flag houses 11 new car franchises and a used car super store (Drivers World) under 7 rooftops with a single DMS box (most dealers have separate boxes). To say things are a bit on the complicated side for us is an under statement. I don't even want to think about the complications a group like AutoNation or MileOne have. I do wish I knew what CarMax was doing though.

We have to separate our DMS boxes based on a Dealership ID number (company number) and a regimented stock numbering system to appease outside vendors. We are an ADP DMS company and have found that certain option codes do not parse into other vendors. HomeNet and Dealer.com have had to write special codes in order to match-up with the things ADP uses, and we have to update these things with every new model year. This is especially the case for color codes on Honda's. HomeNet uses a 2 digit code while ADP uses a 3 digit code. And god forbid a manufacturer comes out with a brand new model - chaos!

Now that I've set the stage for just a few of our own difficulties, let's look at internal process:

<b>New Cars</b>
Manufacturer drops MSO number into their own system >> admin updates ADP with an "in transit" status code >> car arrives at dealership >> lot attendant stocks vehicle in and "for retail" status code is updated in ADP >> vehicle PDI'd and placed on the lot >> VIN decode and options uploaded to HomeNet >> eMarketing Coordinator checks to make sure things decoded correctly in HomeNet >> inventory is sent to various aggregators on the Internet

<b>Used Cars</b> - depends where sourced, but let's look at a trade-in

Salesperson enters trade info into iMagicLab CRM >> Used Car Manager re-enters info into vAuto for appraisal >> deal is done and trade is re-entered into ADP >> vehicle goes through reconditioning and marked as "for retail" in ADP then on the lot >> eMarketing Coordinator takes photos and notes any "extra" items/options the vehicle has >> eMarketing Coordinator updates HomeNet with any "extras" and uploads images >> eMarketing Coordinator prints window stickers and places them on the vehicles >> Used Car Manager prices the vehicle in vAuto >> vAuto updates pricing in HomeNet >> HomeNet sends to the various aggregators on the Internet

------WOW------

What a PITA! Can you imagine how many times things get missed, the ball gets dropped, or something goes awry?

This is what we've come-up with and it seems to work the best. It is far from perfect. I can say that we are working on a more efficient system that will be rolling out in February, but it won't be worth commenting on until we've got a few months under our belt with it.

<b>VENDORS:</b> please do not call or email me with ways to make our process cheaper/faster. It isn't that I don't want to hear about it, I just get too many calls and emails with those kinds of pitches already. We plan to stick things out with our current vendors. Please add a helpful comment to this discussion instead that will benefit the industry - not just Checkered Flag.
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    Wendell Dossett
  • January 29, 2009
I find it interesting that most sites have no vehicle options input by the dealership at all. Even people who are featured as leaders of our industry, check out there sites for info or selling copy. Odd. I would think this is what sells the interest, call, email, vehicle. Interesting features of that particular vehicle should be sold. People don't go down through the generated options listing, at least the ones I have asked about. Some seem to think that it could be wrong, just a computer generated listing. Putting a real piece of selling copy in there generates interest(marketing) and thats what real human beings want. They want to be sold on whats on the front of the cereal box, not on whats on the side in small print.

I guess it would boil down to having a professional who understood what makes this vehicle stand out and then actually putting it into print. Sounds like work! Well, it can all start when the car is appraised - What the previous owner was saying, what the appraiser said, what came out of clean up and service. Pull a Carfax. Then you would look at it and put all these interesting pieces of info together and Kapoweee, a Story-Features- Why buy me!- Why buy from me!

What the emailer was asking is why he cant get info thats relevant and informative to his search. On properly displaying it, sounds like some may be so big you cant check and adjust, sounds like work.
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    Dan
  • January 29, 2009
This is an important topic, and reading Alex's account of what they go through brings into perspective the effort required to provide good information to potential customers.

Here's my 2 cents as someone both in search marketing, and who recently purchased a new car.

Often car shoppers do not want to pick up the phone or visit a dealership, they want to browse what is available at various dealers online and go from there. When I was shopping I had a few models in mind, but also had a number of options I deemed absolutely necessary in any vehicle I would purchase. I did find plenty of instances where I just didn't know if a particular vehicle included what I required.

May a dealer have missed out on a lead because of that? Absolutely.

So, what to do given the enormous amount of work that can go into vehicle listings...

An initial thought is to determine how much a lead is truly worth (how good are you at closing a deal?), how much time would be required to include all options on every vehicle, and how much would it cost to include all that data (fees, man-hours, etc.)? Does it add up? Is it worth it?

One way to reduce the amount of information to include on any given vehicle is to create pages which do include all that data, and track search traffic related to them. If after an appropriate amount of time you discover no search referrals for a particular feature/option then leave it out on the details page. Instead, focus on the ones that are bringing you visitors.

That information can also be had through keyword research, and you can even drill-down to your state for this, but nothing is better than data right from your analytics (there may not be enough data to register with Google at a local level: http://www.google.com/insights/search/#q=ford%20f150%20options%2Cford%20f150%20supercrew%2Cford%20f150%20sirius%2Cford%20f150%20moonroof%2Cford%20f150%20trailer%20brake&amp;geo=US-CA&amp;cmpt=q).

Also try using Google's search-based keyword tool. Input a URL for the manufacturer's options' page for a specific model, type in some options, and see what's given as a result (http://www.google.com/sktool/#keywords?site=http%3A%2F%2Fbp2.forddirect.fordvehicles.com%2F2009-Ford-F-150%23page%3D%2FInterior%2F&amp;q=supercrew%2C%20sirius%2C%20moonroof%2C%20navigation%2C%20trailer%20brake)

You can also utilize data from your PPC program.

It will likely still be a lot of work to input the options people are looking for. So, I would certainly recommend including all available options for every model somewhere on your website (like a page for each model) to try and capture those customers who, like myself, need (err...want), and are willing to pay for, certain options. This can help capture them, but may not translate to a lead since the page is not an available vehicle.

Dan
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    Dan Morgan
  • January 29, 2009
I work at a Toyota dealer. We have the main Toyota/Scion store plus 2 off property used car lots that sell all non-Toyota's usually, except for high mileage stuff. Our ReyRey DMS system is good for having location codes for the different lots. We have gotten pretty good at the system of when the car is traded in, where the status is then changed to in service. As it's going through service it still shows on the site(s) but just doesn't have pictures. Once it is through recon then pics are taken and usually the day after I upload them to the ReyRey FTP that then goes to the vehicle and then out to the site and our 3rd parties.

I particularly like how Reynolds works with the model and trim of the car which then shows up verbatim on the website. We noticed very quickly when we got the new site that we could do that and it really helped us market the vehicles on the site better, showing models like "limited" "le" "xle" and also showing some options "LA" "Bluetooth" "Nav".

I then set it up with our 3rd parties to make sure they showed certain information in the comment area of each vehicle which in turn helps customers know what they are looking at, and it's less time for me having to go into individual vehicles to update their options.

Of course we could always have more comments but at least we have some, rather than none at all.
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    Andrew Wright
  • January 30, 2009
It would be great if there was a web based resource, preferably something that integrates with our DMS, that we could access to see the original equipment packages and options on a car we trade or buy at the auction (Maybe a PDF of the window sticker). Does anyone know of something like this? As we all know, the VIN will only decode so much information. Look at the number of packages and options on Ford trucks or BMW's. There are literally thousands of combinations. I am a big fan of as much detail in a listing as possible. I am currently revamping and enhancing my stocking in process in an effort to display more accurate information for the customer. This a great discussion topic. So much time can fall by the wayside if the process is not streamlined. Great post Alex.
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    JIM
  • January 30, 2009
Great topic.On used vehicles I vin de code thru the DMS but i have found adding text ie Manufacturer reviews etc from the initial source feed (for me DLR specialties) will up load dms and satillite sites. You may have problems with interface between different programs,or the amount of space provided to download information. Usually you can work that out. It has been well worth the effort.
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I wish I knew as well, but at least if you can get the extra options to a model, like leather, Nav, rear DVD, parking sensors, etc, etc...you can hopefully market the vehicle correctly on the website(s) by showing it all under the comments area.

My Cars.com rep sent me a good document that the salespeople that actually trade in the vehicle, fill out about the condition, extras, etc. Now getting that used is the hardest part...
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    Glen Garvin
  • January 30, 2009
When it comes to used vehicles, to get a really good display of equipment - the stuff that people care about - it takes a manual effort. The VIN explosion process can be great and when a human takes the time to select the appropriate trim and important features, it really differentiates the vehicle on-line.

I've heard from many a consumer who uses the vehicle photos to look at options to determine if the vehicle has a certain piece of equipment or not.

In my opinion, the best practice is to assign (inspect what you expect) a person to this process. Whether that is an employee, appraiser or third-party vendor doesn't matter as much as getting someone to take it seriously.

Differentiation with video, photos, pricing and marketing is all part of the on-line advertisement... why leave out the important differentiating features?!
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    Gerald
  • January 30, 2009
Great topic. Commenting on equipment IS important, but I see few (none almost) even putting vehicle specific comments on their pre-owned inventory. This is time-consuming, but very important, yet few are doing it. It is relatively simple to do after sitting in the car, take notes on the condition, options, etc., what appeals to you, and spell it out in the listing. At the same time,you can use the observations to ensure optional equipment is listed as well.
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I have to agree with Gerald, that the easiest way to make an impact on how your customers perceive your used cars online is to manually write the comments. What is a customer looking for in a car? One owner, non smoker, low mileage, navigation system. These are the things you want your customer to read first, because those are what they look for and search for. Regarding the SEO of your dealer website inventory, you need to use a tool that is part of your website (not a third party tool), preferably one that allows the SERPS to index each individual car page.

Now in a perfect world I would want more control on what the Search Engines see. I would like an inventory tool that allows me to select which keywords I want listed in areas of the page that SERPS look for (e.g. title tags, meta tages, emphasized words, etc.)

For example on our inventory all pages get indexed, but the title of the page is the Year Make and Model of the vehicle. Same for the meta tags which simply have the Year Make Model and some generic text the same for each car. What I would like is a way to change all SEO related pieces of each individual car page to include certain keywords I believe customers use to search. Too much work? Not necessarily if the tool gets designed right.
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As a reference also take a look at CarMax. They allow you to search by features, because they make sure certain options are always called the same. This allows a customer to look for all sedans below 15K with less than 50k miles and leather seats and navigation system. No more searching through all cars to find out which have a navigation and which ones do not.
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Here are my 2 cents... everything starts at the DMS and good VIN decoder... for a new car if your DMS contains OEM Model No, OEM Color Codes, and OEM option codes a good VIN decoder will do a great job in decoding the data and providing the color matched images. Receptionist will not cut as the DMS data entry manager :)

For used cars you need a good process and great online inventory manager and as Glen said a reliable staff person... responsible for used car inventory... images, features, comments etc...

Or you can out source it to likes of DSI, CDMData, AutoUpLink etc... but really research the local franchise for these companies and choose the best one.

BTW checkout this service... http://www.dealerassistnow.com they will write the description, update the prices, add clear call to actions on the ad... etc.

Andrew... checkout the AutoTrader.com Build Your Car tool... it can give you all the option and available colors on the vehicle... to get the codes... get firebug and view the HTML field label... I know it s cumbersome but it's Free! For a paid product checkout Chrome NVD.

Regarding CarMax feature search I found it bit too much... they dumped lot of features in there and did not categorize them. I guess one can always find faults in the best painting.
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I have to agree with Gerald. I think Dealers are forgetting that they still have to sell the vehicle. Technology is not the answer to everything. I recently got a call from a customer who was very upset because the lost a deal "based on our VIN decoding” Apparently the listing showed options that the vehicle didn't have. I went through the process of explaining the importance of selecting the proper trim, verifying options etc. and the dealer was adamant that they did that part of the process correctly. So I pulled out the stock number and went through the process with the dealer. There were 12 different trim possibilities for this truck. I asked some specific information about the truck and then narrowed it down to one trim level. We exploded the VIN and then verified the options. Turns out his employee selected the wrong trim level. He then explained to me that the person he put in charge of this process isn't "a car guy". He's a techy. Here's my point about this story. Would that same dealer put that "techy" in charge of all his print listings 10 years ago? Absolutely not! In fact most dealers I know did this themselves because they were the ones that bought the vehicle at auction, or valued the trade and they felt that they knew they could "call" the vehicle better than anyone else in the dealership. Plus, they would create the print listing with a marketing flare..I read these comments earlier "none-smoker" "one-owner car" etc. It's important to remember that you are still trying to "sell" your inventory.
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Sorry my first post...I should look at my typos closer before pressing submit.
J
Great tread!

Who cares about SEO, PPC, Video and all that stuff if your SUV's don't list 3rd row seating as an option?

Let's play mystery shopper.
So you have a customer looking at your 08 Avalanche LT. He's got a print out of an 08 Avalanche LT from a competitor of yours.

Yours is an LT3 and his is an LT1. BUT! You don't know it because your options gathering team hasn't been held to high standards.

If your customer is smart, he'll work you on this "LT vs LT" angle and grind you on price to close the sale.

Extra options INCLUDED on a LT3 vs LT1
-Leather
-Heated Seats
-Memory Seating
-Pass. Lumbar
-InDash 6disc Changer
-Bose Audio System
-Rear Seat Audio Controls
-Integrated Turn Signal Mirrors
-(Nav &amp; Backup camera not avail on LT1)


Gathering options is boring, laborious, grunt work, but... it sells cars. Gathering options correctly has a higher ROI than any PPC/SEO campaign.

Gathering Options correctly and crafting custom comments is why small dealers can have a big internet marketing advantage over the larger stores.

We do it all in house and it's a very frustrating task to do it right... everytime.

Joe
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I dunno Joe you can always play the numbers game on volume vs quality.

We have personally tried to do Window Sticker service and it is a pain... and gave up. Process that should normally take no more then 10 minutes turns into a full day thing. Have the car but dunno where the keys are. The car is somewhere on the lot... boy try finding a car in winter on a huge lot. Car has not been conditioned for sale... you have had this vehicle for a month... why oh why... :(

I love flow charts so I created this little flow chart using Gliffy free service... check it out and create your own and share plz.

http://www.gliffy.com/publish/1593683/
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thnx Umer.

We have &gt;1000 used units between 3 stores and we have 3 eMarketing Coordinators (cool title Alex, thnx!). 2 are car guys and one is the photo specialist.

No doubt about it, you have to be a car nut to do the job right. You got to know where to look for ABS, Airbags (front, side curtain), LATCH child saftey, Auto hill-hold brake feature, StabiliTrak, Flat tire monitor, Traction control system, Windshield Wiper Deicer, Rollover Protection System, and on, and on...

Litterally thousands and thousands and thousands of features and options, THEN, fit it all on to a 8.5 x 11 window sticker!

HA! Are we having fun yet??!!
Great Topic and just what we need to get back into focus here on DR. :) Thanks Alex

I'm going to speak as if I was still at my previous single point Mercedes dealer for the sake reference. Then I'll get to the more serious stuff.

I'll talk used cars here to begin with.

I knew each and every single used car on the lot inside and out. Many times I was the one taking the photos and this was an excellent opportunity to get more acquainted with each vehicle.

First, I would hunt out the window sticker. If I had the window sticker, I was golden because I could then copy over the option codes into Homenet. If I didnt have a window sticker I would print out the available options for that vehicle and while sitting in the car try to pinpoint which options or packages that vehicle had. If time permitted I would take the car for a quick drive as well (If I was not the one that appraised it) Yes it took time and yes I know this is a much more difficult task with a higher volume store.

Returning the to vehicle edit page in Homenet (I'm not plugging Homenet but it's what I used) I could choose the exact options each vehicle was equipped with. These options would then save into the "Uncategorized Standard Equipment" field (this is the field that is exported by default to your site and other 3rd party sites). I would then get a copy of the CarFax - 1 OWNER, if it was a used Benz I would get a copy of the service history as well.

This is the information I would use to merchandise the vehicle. It's NO DOUBT a hands on process and you have to WANT to do it. This is where it usually falls short at most dealers.

At times I would have someone else take the photos of the car and I would do my best to write the description with out touching the car but I was surly going to miss out something that I could say about that car that would in return add some value.

Don't forget your photos can help showcase the options as well. I would always take photo of the Navigation, Sunroof, Automatic Trunk open button, etc and of course the window sticker if I had it etc.

As for SEO value. I did have AAN (drivemb.com) build the site so each vehicle was on a page that would index. It would grab the vital vehicle information and dynamically generate the URL string and title tag and with time I wanted to take this a few steps deeper but never got to it.

Example: http://drivemb.com/2008-mercedes-benz-e-class-e350-4matic-sedan-c-1726.htm

Did this work? Yes, it did..there were several times I would do some long tail searches to find my inventory pages in there. Once I had traded on a Toyota and it was showing up before the sister toyota dealers website for some relevant keywords. Plus the analytics was telling me the story as well. That really is another subject though.

Back on subject..

Why has no one built the right relationships with the manufacturers to get VIN to option/package/color specific decoding? Anyone?? We have to be able to establish a standard across the industry for this.

Actually Homenet was on right track with Mercedes. They dial into the Mercedes Vista inventory system and extracts exact options and packages for used Mercedes as far back as I believe 2002. You still have to manually bring this information over from the "other" tab into the vehicle details/comments but all the accurate information is there. Why can't we do this with all the manufactures?

Can you imagine the power this company would have with detailed VIN explosion down to the exact options/packages and colors. I realize this would never be 100% (dealer installed options and Ford and Fleet vehicles would be a monkey wrench) but it would be a huge benefit.

In regards to DMS >> Homenet (or any other inventory program and can read the manufacture codes) I've been quite successful USING BOTH ADP and Reynolds. From my experience, as long as you can get who ever is entering the new car information into the DMS trained to do it accurately most inventory systems can match this information in their system. I do believe there are different levels/upgrades with in the inventory modules that could be a baring factor on this.

What about full online transaction? We will need to get way better with our data before this move to the next step.
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Jeff, if their is right data in the DMS... Chrome (DealerTrack company) has a very good VIN to option/package/color specific decoding available... I have gone threw OEM web certification on the first run using Chrome.
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Dan,
I agree with the statement of having the process is easy, however having the people that follow the process is a whole other game. As we all get better at adding technology or trying to better use the technology we have already been using, it becomes more apparent that training all of or people to productivly use what we have becomes the challenge. We all know that having great pictures and compelling descriptions are a huge part in being successful in todays internet driven market. It becomes easy to take for granted when times are good that we have good people. When times tighten up however it becomes more apparent how we have some of our people using what we have or the biggest mistake a dealer can make today.....having only 1 internet person or 3 internet savvy employees with cool titles. (sorry Joe) The challenge today is having everyone from the top down and yes the bottom non-believers up on board with the technology available. The market becomes more internet driven every year and for those dealers or salespeople that don't want to embrace that fact, I feel for you.
J
Note to the group:

I am in a beta with HomeNet assisting with mobileIOL (mobile options gathering tool). It's headed up by Jeff K's good pal Phil Penton.

We've been badgering HomeNet for months to get into the trial, but they refused to release it until it was ready.

I am use to the extra work from beta testing. You need to be organized and be a good communicator as you discover flaws and errors and spend hours working with the developers trying to create solutions.

I wasn't prepared for what happened next.
This MobileIOL has been as close to a flawless testing experience as I have ever seen. This is my 1st beta where I can count the problems on 2 fingers. (now if only my new web site was that easy, I have 64 tweaks &amp; fixes scheduled for it!!)

Shout out to Phil and the HomeNet team for a great mobile data gathering tool and the easiest Beta ever!

Joe
@Umer, thanks for the confirmation on that. From ADP to Rey, if I can get accurate information (or get the dealer to enter accurate information), most of the time it will sync correctly with Chrome.

The best dealers with the best process, are the dealers that have the GM dialed in on it and are holding their departments accountable for what needs to happen. To reinforce what you have said Craig.

Training on technology - keep your people trained on technology/tools.
J
In response to Jeff's last post, I would second his statement about entering accurate information into the DMS. The more accurate the option codes, package codes etc.. the easier it is for dealer service providers to provide VIN decoding from a "style selection" stand point, as well as to list the optional equipment translations and rich content descriptions.

As many DSP's know, when you have access to this information through DMS polling reports for current inventory you can triangulate in on styles, and reduce the amount of work that needs to be done at the IVM level whether it is self service, or full service. (I think both types of services/solutions have been mentioned here).

Alex mentioned some of the complexities of working with this data, the differences between the OEMS etc, and there is no doubt that it is complex. There is a lot that needs to be done with data transformation and rules base to handle the differences not only in OEM, but DMS available data either auto-populated, or dealer manually entered.

From an SEO standpoint, as long as those inventory pages are able to be picked up by search engines as being connected to the dealer website there is a pretty large advantage to having massive amounts of revolving content. Again Jeff describes that well.

Whether the dealer has generic model listings as stand alone, or as lead in to actual inventory, or just a "search new inventory" page - the value of investing the time to list the vehicle with as much information is very high. With so many great solution providers out there, certainly unless the particular franchise/store "owns" the local market - the more data, the more rich listings, the more SEO benefit is going to make a tangible and measurable difference. (I'll leave the quantifiable metrics solution discussion for someone else!)
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Hey Jeff, I just looked at your drivemb site. Great site, great SEO! You are definitely going down the right road with the detail pages on your vehicle listings. Don't forget to pay some attention to the listings pages. This is a great opportunity to get many more relevant pages indexed by the search engines.
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    Jeff Kershner
  • February 2, 2009
@Chris, thanks for the comments. I was no doubt headed down the right road (so I had hoped) but I have since moved on and no longer employed there. My hands are clean of drivemb.com though I do miss having the ability to dedicate time and effort to one site.
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The first point to address this issue is that people are always part of the process! Crap in gives you crap out and expecting a Vin-decoder to provide the details needed to exactly list all equipment is not an option since they do not provide equipment detail to that degree and they admit it; no surprises there.

That said, there is also value in recognizing that some equipment is "weighted" more than others in a car buyers mind and bogging them down with too many details might actually bury the equipment that matters and confuse their buying decision.

As a result, most vendors that rely on "automated" processes have to build in some algorithmic formula to select the equipment that has the highest "conversion" rate or interest for conusmers. Other vendor applications that tout more "granular" comparisons utilize multiple Vin-decoder applications cross-referenced to other 3rd party resources to accomplish an "apple to apple" comparison. Without naming names, I know that some are using that capability as a "differentiator" to define their application in the market because I represent some of them. In their cases, I agree - it is nice to offer more information as long as it is relevant in your application and it improves the "transparency" in the process for your online customers; be they auto dealers or car shoppers.

All of that said, a picture is still worth a thousand words and a video a multiple of that. Any "holes" left in a vehicle equipment list can often be overcome by a comprehensive picture list or video showing everything that a customer needs to know - or at least the ability to narrow down their shopping comparisons to a short list to move forward to find out. There is wisdom in giving a customer just enough information to require them to contact you to find out more! Of course, give them too little and they will simply move on to a more informative site.

The bottom line is that people must inspect what they expect in most of today's inventory posting applications and consistent labeling of equipment is still a dealer focused priority when selling across multiple franchises but tomorrow promises to be better as vendors and OEM's recognize the importance of providing more comprehensive vehicle information online that can be carried across multiple verticles and online channels.
B
We deal with this issue all the time on the new car side with my company's shopping cart service. Early on we received (loud and clear actually) the consumer feedback, "that what exactly is it you want me to shop and buy online."

If it helps, here is the process we teach as part of our implementation. Most dealer services use an order-guide based product to explode VINs and tell consumers what each option code is.

The process to use in your dealership to handle stock ins is to make sure that the factory options per the invoice are entered. There are tools such as from VIN Solutions to facilitate capturing these for used cars.

What you have to be careful of are the exceptions (naturally). Here is the list we know of:

1) ADP has no field for exterior nor interior color codes. We have our dealers enter those two in the options field as the first two options on every vehicle and parse them out from there.

2) The EDS DMS now owned by ADP and used by all Saturn stores only has room for 4 factory options.

3) AutoSoft only has room for 10 factory options and their export tool doesn't allow the export of the trim code (although their CEO Charlie Prophet who I met at NADA last week has offered to correct this and automate the whole process for us)

4) Sometimes there are factory integration points to help with this. The industry standards organization run by NADA, known as STAR, has a standard around how this data is supposed to be structured and how to handle its interplay between the OEM and the dealer. Few OEMs have adopted it.

5) Reynolds is a better DMS than ADP for this since if you set it up correctly, you can get sub-option codes for packages and preferred equipment listings... but beware... some OEMs have implemented it correctly (i.e. Chrysler)... others have not (GM just uses text for the sub-option codes... text doesn't mean much to an order guide database). Where it is not an integration point, Reynolds also sometimes has a data service you can subscribe for so you don't need to build and maintain these tables manually... but beware... Reynolds takes shortcuts on the packages / preferred equipment groupings essentially making them useless to your web providers unless their service can look up the sub-option listings.

Which brings up the exact point to the concept we were launching at NADA for the OEMS who don't have one of their own...

A contextual, side-by-side comparison of trim level differences and options.

As the precursor to shopping online

Be an online consumer who wants to consider the Saturn Astra. Is a configurator going to help you with what you need to know to be comfortable shopping for your Astra? Would you leave the configuration process comfortable that you had the Astra you wanted? That a better choice wasn't available? What would you do in a configurator where you were flexible as to whether a car had a particular option or package that you wanted?

http://www.ai-dealer.com/GM-Saturn-2008-Astra-Options.html

Think about that as the entry to consumers viewing your vehicles. What should your website look like if it was built to educate them so they could shop online (vs. send you an email inquiry)?
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    Alan
  • February 3, 2009
Yes,to properly merchandise both new and used takes work. Dealers, ask your salespeople that are sitting around playing "quarters" to "adopt a car". When a trade (or new) comes in, you assign a handful of cars to each salesperson to write up great selling copy on each vehicle. Tell the story: extra equipment, warranty information, owner input, carfax info such as one owner, not wrecked, low mileage for its age, maintenence records, etc. Tell the story as if you were selling your own car, or what you would naturally say to a customer on the lot to get the sale. The key is to get the customer emotionally attached to the vehicle. Have a contest with the salespeople--whoever comes up with the best copy and sells the quickest wins, regardless of who "actually" sold the car. Gift cards, free tickets to the ballgame, whatever. It takes time and work. Next time you're on the internet looking at similar vehicles, read what some independent stores write. They usually have the time, and pour their heart and soul into their vehicle descriptions to get them sold. P.S. you can usually get original equipment/trim package info from edmunds.com. Do the research, do the work, merchandise your vehilces and you'll sell more.
D
This is my second favorite topic. Joe you are dead on in that quality and accuracy is important to properly merchandise your inventory online. The device you mentioned in your post makes it very easy to get the packages correct because you can check them off right in front of the car.

You can drive as many people as you want to your site, but the question should be “Are they going to get what they came for?” and “Would they come back”? To paint this picture consider someone comparing your vehicle to another one. If you only send Price and Photos, what do you expect to be shopped on? If you send the right photos, highlighting the unique features and flaws, an emotional description i.e. "no strange odors, never smoked in", and the proper option packages and what’s in them, people can now shop you on those highlights rather than your price. These are the things you would draw their attention to on the lot. Why would you not do this for your online marketing as well? Don’t more people see your cars online than walk your lot? Too many dealers think of their online marketing as just sending data. Would you show a visitor to your showroom the stock # and VIN to a car and expect them to get excited? Probably not, but you spend thousands of dollars per month to market your inventory this way online. And I bet you take more photos or write longer descriptions for eBay? Why? Someone please tell me.


I also like Alan’s idea of having each salesperson adopt a few vehicles and tell that particular cars story. A good inventory tool should also have proper package data and allow you to distribute real content to all of your online sites, not A/C FWD like so many, and not just the package name, but what’s in the package. Out of the hundreds of dealerships I encounter in a week less than 10% are doing this. Most still do not have written descriptions or comments.
J
Unfortunately the manufactures do not publish the build data on any brands that I know of except Mercedes Benz. I have been running an Inventory Management business for several years and we pride ourselves on providing our dealers with the best possible option information that is humanly possible. Yes there are those times when we just have no idea what option package a car or truck has installed but if you take enough pictures of the car, the online shopper will in most cases be able to see what options the car has. We take 25 to 35 pictures of every car and that really helps. I have been told by some of my dealers that customers commented on the number of photos and came from far distances to purchase a car because they were able to inteligently make an informed decision.
J
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    Jeff Colby
  • February 5, 2009
Great thread!
I would like to point out that really, there are only two major vin decoding companies out there. They both do a sufficient job. The actual problems are in two areas.
1) The software we use to obtain the information from the vin decoding company. Many times this info is passed through several software apps prior to being published i.e. DMS, IMS(HomeNet), then off for pricing analysis, then to the website or an online classified. The vin decoder may decode and be capable of sending 200 fields of info however, the software, DMS, IMS, website host etc. might only post 100 of those fields or less. Make sure the software apps that you use are capable of posting, at least, a majority options data.
Many times if a dealership requests alterations, as Jeff mentioned above with HomeNet making revisions to accomodate ADP, a software company will make the changes you need, don't be afraid to ask.
2) Data collection is still very much a hands on process. Usually this task is delegated to the vendor or individual responsible for producing the window stickers and taking photos.
A vendor should be familiar enough with their software to know fields/options that are not decoded and be sure to note those options in the appropriate places.
The responsibility of these vendors has gone from - photos, data collection and window stickers to - photos sometimes, data collection never, (most are completely dependent on decoders), and window stickers when you complain about not having any.
Hold these vendors to a higher standard, tell them what you want. If the vendor doesn't produce I'll bet there is another vendor out there that will and probably at a better price.
If you are doing photos, data collection and window stickers in-house, unless you have two cracker jack associates both on long contracts, find a vendor.
J
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    Jeff Colby
  • February 5, 2009
p.s.
I own a photos, data collection, window sticker company. So I'm not coming down on vendors but I have noticed a decline in standards over the years with competitors.
J
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    john oconnell
  • February 9, 2009
Jeff, Maybe this is going off on a tangent but in regard to inventory and more to the point new is there a combination you would reccomend to revamp a site? I am interested in a combo for both polling and data, configurators, etc basically the whole inventory / display/ research piece. I am also curious as to who has the most or best / easist source of rebates and build data as well focus on new. As many of your pros can tell I am a "newbie so please go easy.
John, that's a lot of questions and a long conversation. Give me a direct call when you have the time.
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    SUE
  • August 7, 2009
I have had claims pay without submitting the disposal form. So, now I would like to go back and attach this form, how do you do that?
S