When discussing success in Digital Marketing, there are few elements more important than excellence in vehicle merchandising. I am defining vehicle merchandising as all of the content, descriptions, imagery and videos associated with individual units of online inventory. Unfortunately, I find that many dealers fail to understand the importance of merchandising, and instead look for the lowest cost method for getting photos and inventory online.
Perhaps the dealer is not truly thinking like a consumer, and the way a consumer wants to shop for a vehicle. These dealers may not think of themselves as being in the eCommerce business, and are simply doing the minimum requirement to “check the box” on inventory listings. I think the important distinction for dealers to recognize, is that unlike other digital investments that only affect certain advertising channels, investments in great vehicle merchandising impact 100% of their online shoppers. Every single online shopper to your inventory will be viewing your content, so isn’t it worth the investment?
When you look at your overall advertising spend, effective vehicle merchandising is not a large percentage of the budget. For instance, if a dealer spends $60,000 per month on advertising, only $2,000 of that budget will be needed for complete vehicle merchandising, including new and used photos and video. That is a mere 3% of your ad budget. Only 3% to impress and create preference for your inventory with 100% of your digital shoppers. Keep in mind, the goal is to differentiate your vehicles from your competitors’, and great merchandising is certainly a key part of that. To me it’s a no-brainer; I hope you agree.
If you agree that great inventory merchandising is key to digital success, then what are some best practices for standing out among your competitors? Much of the advice in this article will reference the recently published “2016 Auto Shopper Influence Study” from PCG. This study, published in February 2016, surveyed over 1,500 U.S. consumers from December 2015, through February 2016. The survey questions were designed to explore the influence of merchandising strategies that include investments in photography, video, and more. Here are my recommendations based on the results of that survey:
Capture a large number of photos – Consumers indicated they were more likely to visit a dealer website containing more photos vs. a dealer website containing no photos, or containing only a few photos. Specifically, 95% of respondents preferred up to 30 photos for used cars, and 85% of respondents preferred up to 20 photos for new cars. Consumers clearly prefer a large number of images, especially on used vehicles. When dealers skimp on photos, consumer trust goes down since they feel the dealer is not being transparent regarding the vehicle condition.
Actual new car photos – 74% of survey respondents indicated they expect to see actual photos of the new cars, vs. relying on OEM stock imagery. When a consumer sees actual images of the new car, they know that it is very likely that the new car is actually in stock. In addition, they can have confidence that the trim level and options are as listed in the description, since they can see it themselves in the actual photos. Capturing actual new car photos will also build trust in the dealership, and truly help you to stand out in a competitive marketplace.
Video – Three-quarters of both new and used car shoppers indicated they would watch a vehicle video from the dealer if it showed the interior and exterior condition of the vehicle. Since so few dealers are taking advantage of individual vehicle videos today, this is clearly an opportunity to differentiate. Smart dealers have made sure these videos also contain plenty of dealer branding, including compelling “why buy here” statements and imagery.
Rich descriptions – As consumers grow accustomed to great content on the web, simply listing vehicle options will no longer help you differentiate your vehicles. Consumers want to hear a unique story about the vehicle of interest. What makes the vehicle special? What makes it unique? Whether you use some of the great automated story-building tools, or enter your seller’s notes yourself, make sure you take the time to tell your story about each and every vehicle.
Some of what I’ve outlined may be outside of a dealer’s comfort zone. After all, it was only ten years ago that simply including a few vehicle photos was enough to check the box on merchandising. Today consumers have choices, and are accustomed to seeing great content on eCommerce sites. Consumers shopping on popular retailers such as Amazon.com expect to see a large collection of actual photos, along with detailed descriptions, and detailed videos. If dealers want to truly enter the eCommerce business, they must embrace these best practices, building trust with their shoppers through sincerity and transparency.