Is “Call Us” Or “Email Us” Really the Best We Can Do On Our Dealership Websites?
Let me congratulate you for being on DealerrRefresh. That act alone puts you at the forefront of one of the biggest trends to ever hit the car industry: The Internet.
Now let me challenge you with a question:
“Why does your dealership have a website?”
In 1995, NADA recommended that every dealership get one as the future of the industry was going online.
It is now 15 years later, NADA’s recommendation was achieved many years ago; yet what is different?
From a business standpoint, today there are fewer cars sold, consumers have unprecedented access to information, and a hugely improved ability to negotiate. Dealers have many new costs (3rd party leads, websites, CRM tools, Internet staff, paid search) and traditional media is less effective than it used to be (i.e. newspapers, radio).
Yet as our friends in the newspaper industry know all too well, fortifying your defenses is effective against predators but useless against environmental change. This is the Internet, where copies of information are free, everyone could be a customer, your competitors are just a click away, and customer loyalty isn’t merely a consequence of geography.
To treat the Internet as a threat to the way things “should be or were” is to miss the point that it’s a new medium which favors some business models and hurts others. It is this insight which leads to the “ah ha” stage of where I am going with this.
The high level answer to the question of “Why you have a website” is of course that you want to sell cars. Yes you want to sell service and parts too, provide consumer convenience to your map and hours, communicate your about us, etc. but above all we all want to and need to sell cars.
With that single goal in mind, drill in to what you actually do online and see if you like what you find. Specifically, what do you ask consumers to do on your website? Call? Email? Fill in a web form? Chat? A pop-up coupon? Do you present an ocean of VIN decode data, pictures and video then ask them to talk to you?
Is your online competitive presence structured around how well you organize these “calls to action” and how well you respond to what you get from there?
Now put your consumer hat on for a moment. You probably use the Internet all the time. If you were in the market for a car, would you find the functionality that you provide attractive, engaging, and appealing? How about when you filled in a form and then your next point of contact was a phone call from the dealership where you were told that the next step in the process was to set an appointment to come in to the dealership for a vehicle, trade, and credit consultation?
Not feeling the love? Your customers aren’t either. They’re playing this game under protest and they’re telling you with things like 98% bounce rates from your website and non-response to your attempts to follow up.
As an aside, (and please argue with me, DealerRefresh is a blog not a newspaper) it is my opinion that social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter are not going to change how consumers feel about the experience you provide online. To me these services have a role in branding, attraction, consumer engagement, and search engine optimization, but as a profitable sales channel of their own, or as a means to get consumers to do what you want, they are a waste of time.
It is 2010 not 1995. Is call or email and come on in really the best we can do? Is that the future of the Internet for car sales: to use it as an interactive yellow pages that generates leads so we can drive consumers offline and into our showrooms so we can sell the way we used to?
I originally planned on writing this blog post about how dealer websites needed to be fundamentally overhauled so as to have structured workflow with sufficient depth to the consumers’ process and thereby guide consumers down paths to produce effective conversion rates by answering their vehicle need questions, getting them to engage, respond, etc. but that seemed too technical and quite frankly, self-serving since that service (custom websites) with the associated shopping cart product is what my company provides.
So here is my question to you: