As dealers work to satisfy customers’ virtual retailing goals, including fully remote sales, they should remember that their manufacturers’ websites can boost their success.
Manufacturers’ sites that have solid customer service scores spur clients to work with their local dealers, according to a J.D. Power study conducted from July to September 2022 that involved 26,960 new-vehicle registrations.
Solid manufacturers’ websites create opportunities for a brand’s dealerships, Jonathan Sundberg, director of digital solutions at J.D. Power, tells Wards.
“When you go to a website and have a good experience, you are much more likely to seriously consider that brand,” Sundberg says. “The more people considering the brand, the more opportunity (dealers) have for customers to walk through (dealership) doors and purchase vehicles. Consideration creates opportunity.”
When shoppers use certain manufacturer website tools, specifically build and price, vehicle compare, 360-degree view and calculate payments the likelihood of the shopper to consider the brand increases by 11 percentage points, says Sundberg.
How Dealers Can Profit
Dealers can use this to their advantage, he says. When customers visit dealerships knowing the exact vehicles they want to buy, dealers can spend “less time educating the customer and more time building the deal, because the customer is informed,” he says.
In 2022, more consumers found the exact vehicle they ended up buying on both mass-market and premium-brand websites than in 2021, according to the 2022 J.D. Power study. Meanwhile, fewer consumers found the exact vehicle they purchased on the dealership website in 2022 compared to 2021 in both the mass market and premium segments.
Stellantis Sites Come Out on Top
So, which manufacturers excel at creating websites that satisfy customers? Stellantis brands took the top honors in the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study released in mid-July.
The analysis is based on responses from 10,202 new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was conducted in spring 2023.
Alfa Romeo ranked highest among premium manufacturer websites, followed by BMW and Infiniti. Among mass-market brands, Ram took the top spot followed by GMC and Jeep.
The functionality is the same but the look and feel of each Stellantis brand website can be unique, Chris D. Glenn, VP of U.S. dealer relations and retail strategy for Stellantis, tells Wards.
“Such flexibility also allows us to update our messaging and our new offerings to remain competitive,” he says.
Stellantis brands’ websites offer EShop, a digital retailing tool launched in April 2020. It allows customers to view store inventory as well as the price of each vehicle. Customers can also get trade-in values, view accessories and review payment and financing options, says Glenn.
The EShop tool also has links to certified dealer websites, and its leads consistently generate the highest closing rates, he says.
Allowing the consumer to complete some purchase process steps through EShop contributes to a “smoother process and less time at the store,” says Glenn.
Stellantis also has a field team that works with its dealers to ensure timely and high-quality responses to leads and digital inquiries, he adds.
To be sure, Alfa and Ram aren’t the top sellers in their market segments.
For the first six months of 2023, in the premium market Alfa sold 4,701 units, BMW sold 170,414 and Infiniti sold 32,286, according to Wards Intelligence data.
In the mass market, Ram sold 270,735 units in first-half 2023. GMC sold 286,613 and Jeep sold 335,487.
“While digital presence plays an important role in our retail strategy, we operate in a highly competitive retail environment,” says Glenn, noting websites are only part of a sales strategy. “Much goes into establishing a competitive position.”