I'm a big fan of sportswriter Peter King, who writes for Sports Illustrated and its website SI.com. He writes a Monday Morning Quarterback column in which he includes a “Ten things I Think I Think” section.
So in Mr. King's format, I decided to do six things (space requirements kept me form doing 10) I think I know about the Internet and auto retailing.
6. We spend way too much time as an industry talking about e-mail responses. According to J.D Power and Associates, online purchase requests have been flat the last several years, hovering around the 22% mark. Most studies show the Internet generates far more phone calls from potential customers than e-mails.
What that means is we're putting a lot of time and resources into answering e-mail responses correctly and quickly. Sure, it's a noble effort, but if I were a dealer, I would spend most of my energy making sure my employees were great on the phone.
5. I think this time next year, posting new-car inventory online will be a common practice for dealers. There will be a debate for a while — some dealers, and consultants argue if you have real inventory online, customers will leave if they see you don't have what they want.
It's a valid argument, but the search engines likely will make posting new-car inventory a necessity. Besides, doing so might help boost your positioning on the search engines.
Also, your customers probably will expect it because the store down the street will be doing it.
Just remember, your website is more than a marketing tool — it's part of your showroom and your vehicle lot.
4. I think DealerRefresh.com should be required reading for all Internet managers. If you haven't heard of it, you should take a gander at it. It's a blog for dealership Internet directors started by Jeff Kershner, who now works for the Mile One Automotive Group.
DealerRefresh can be brutally entertaining and honest; but it also is highly educational and your managers likely will find some good ideas there.
3. You might not like this next one, but dealer review sites are coming in 2008 in a big way and if you're not paying attention, your store could get burned. Don't be afraid of them — embrace them and use them to your advantage. And stay tuned; we'll be doing more on this next year. Meanwhile, check out www.ActonToyota.com to see how one dealer is building market share by using dealer review sites.
2. Here's something I don't have an opinion on — direct selling online. AutoNation currently is piloting a system that allows customers to complete the buying process online in its Atlanta stores.
Lithia Motors is pushing the concept in its used-car superstores branded as L2.
I think it makes sense, but it may still be early for most dealerships to make that jump. Lithia and AutoNation might not succeed with their initiatives, but that doesn't mean it's a bad plan. These groups love to push the envelope and often experiment with some out-of-the box ideas to separate them from their competition.
A good strategy for you might be to let them blaze the trail and make the mistakes — just pay attention and learn from them.
1. I think dealers should start playing with video — in their e-mail campaigns and on their web sites. More than 380 million people watch car-related videos on Google each month, so it's probably time.
It might be a good idea to expand beyond just running stock videos from the manufacturer and your own TV commercials.
Some dealers are doing short video walk-around presentations of specific vehicles and including them in e-mail campaigns. It's easy. Just grab a $200 digital camera, do a quick video, upload it to YouTube. Copy and paste the link. It'll take 10 minutes and you'll impress your shoppers and set yourself apart from the competition.
Just my take on some things I think I know…
Contact Cliff Banks at [email protected].
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