• George Nenni

10 Tips for Online Vehicle Merchandising

Updated: May 1


I do the grocery shopping in my house. It makes my wife happy and also allows me to indulge my curiosity of effective consumer marketing. I find it amazing how successful marketers position their products for retail success through: display, shelf space, and messaging. For automotive dealers, the challenges are similar. Consumers have choices. The Internet allows car shoppers to see virtually all matching inventory both inside and outside of their local market. J.D Power reports that 78% of consumers shop online for new or used vehicles, and AutoTrader.com reports that better merchandising delivers an increase of 55% in VDPs per vehicle. Dealers that effectively merchandise their vehicles –by describing value at a competitive price, will outperform those dealers who aren’t paying attention.

Here are my top 10 tips for effective online vehicle merchandising:

  1. Hire Quality People. Since many of the tips and processes involve human beings, find the very best people you can for your dealership. As with other aspects of your business, it comes down to building effective teams. The grocery displays are only as good as the person who assembles them. You need to find dependable, detail-oriented, productive technical staff to capture photos, videos, and descriptions of vehicles in a way that appeals to online shoppers. You will likely spend a lot of time training these people, so hire right and get a good long-term solution.

  2. Use comprehensive VIN-decoding software. The merchandising process begins with VIN decoding. There are plenty of poor choices. In order to avoid them, select one by giving each vendor 10 VINs to decode. Choose the one who can most accurately decode your makes and models. Inaccuracy will create liabilities and unhappy customers, so spend some time getting this right.

  3. Get a great camera and learn how to use it. I recommend a Digital SLR camera made by Nikon or Canon. Usually, the stock 18-55 mm lens that comes with it will work perfectly. Take the time to learn how to use the camera outside of the automatic settings, since that is where you can achieve the greatest sharpness and image density. I also recommend either staging your vehicles or using a background-clipping service. Either way, vehicles will be presented online in a much more professional way if the distracting background elements are removed.

  4. No Stock Photos for New Cars. Many dealers still approach vehicle merchandising using stock imagery instead of actual new car photos. Consumers today want to see the actual vehicle they may purchase. A recent study by Kelley Blue Book shows that 90% of new vehicle shoppers prefer to view real photos of vehicles on the dealer’s lot, rather than stock photography.

  5. Use Live Video. There is something very powerful about a consumer seeing his or her next vehicle in motion through video. Give your shoppers the ability to virtually touch vehicles through actual video and not stitched photos. According to an eMarketer survey, vehicle shoppers are three times more likely to respond to a vehicle video than pictures alone.

  6. Create compelling vehicle descriptions. Most dealers decode the VINs, add in some options, and post their listings. What truly increases engagement with shoppers is “telling the story about the vehicle” instead. This process sets each vehicle description apart in the eyes of the consumer. What is unique about this vehicle? Why is it so special and perfect for this shopper? Many advanced systems use Artificial Intelligence to not only improve the vehicle descriptions but also improve efficiency.

  7. Price vehicles based on real-time market conditions. Shoppers are not just looking at your vehicles; they are likely shopping other vehicles at dealerships across your market. With this in mind, make sure you’re pricing vehicles competitively with real-time market conditions. There are many choices for market-based pricing. Since it has almost become a commodity, don’t overpay for simple software that ensures competitive pricing.

  8. Identify top-selling, over-stocked, and under-stocked vehicles. A good grocer knows that having the right goods at the right time provides the best chance for a sale. There is a tremendous amount of inexpensive data that can help ensure that dealers are finding the right vehicle for each buyer. Identify vehicles that are scarce and under-stocked in your local market. Also look at vehicles that may be more popular with the profile of your typical customer.

  9. Access the vehicles needed to match customer want lists through Equity Mining. Many dealers are busy trying to find ways to buy more leads when, in fact, their CRM contains some of the hottest leads they can find. Equity mining solutions can help find great opportunities for acquiring trade-in vehicles that fit with demand in your market. In addition, it creates an opportunity for increased new or used vehicle sales. Work your database, folks. There is gold in your CRM.

  10. Integrate performance measurement and market segment reports. How can you know which merchandising elements are yielding the most success? You must measure. This incredibly important step teaches you the optimal number of photos you should be capturing and where to best market your inventory on the web. You must measure, make adjustments, measure again, and continually adapt. Since everything on the Internet is measurable, obsess over metrics that will tell how each vehicle’s merchandising actions are affecting end results.

You may not enjoy going to the grocery store as much as I do, but I promise you that if you begin to pay close attention to how successful retailers are merchandising their goods, you will learn a great deal. We are all consumers. We need to put ourselves in the position of a car shopper and work hard to make that experience as special as possible. In the sea of competition that all dealers face, make sure your inventory is positioned to be unique to each potential buyer. Happy Marketing!

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