The web and the changing world of car retailing

The web and the changing world of car retailing
The world is changing, we can see it everywhere we look and a lot of that change is driven by our old friend the internet. We have already seen that traditional forms of advertising in newspapers, magazines and even TV have taken a severe beating of late. The rise of online advertising at the same time as the falling readership of newspapers and magazines across most demographic groups had already weakened the industries in the states and Europe prior to the banking crisis and subsequent recession in 2008. Some analysts have forecast an advertising decline as steep as 20% for the print media and even as high as 30% for the traditionally lucrative world of classified ads. Even the “online” model of free news is likely to change with News International being the first to charge for reading the internet versions of their publications.

In the motor trade we are already seeing signs of this change. In simple terms cars and colours which were considered “untouchable” in a local market are being actively sourced in a national market thanks to the internet car advertisements reaching a far wider audience. Because of the power of presentation and vastly improved descriptions customers are demonstrating their willingness to travel potentially several hundred miles to acquire their preferred vehicle on the strength of the modern internet used car advertisement.

With multi-picture and latterly “showreel” technology we are seeing the emergence of a new form of car dealer marketing. Any imperfections can be shown in great detail in high resolution images as part of a wider description of the vehicle thereby displaying full transparency and giving the buyer the confidence to invest the time and effort in travelling many miles without actually physically seeing the vehicle.

This obviously enables the car dealer to market his stock to a much wider audience. In a virtual world it will also mean that the showroom becomes the website and the ultimate overheads involved in marketing cars are drastically reduced.

It’s already well established that the power and influence of the web is pretty much unstoppable and, rather like SkyNet in the terminator films, has taken on a life of its own. A successful car dealer in 2015 will advertise their stock in a virtual showroom. They will be targeting the local customer by keyword searches and rather than the old fashioned newspaper advertising model of using a massive net to catch a tiny fish they will use search engine optimisation and laser targeted pay per click campaigns to bring in pre-qualified leads. The virtual showroom will be constantly updated with new stock, special offers, finance deals, servicing deals so data capture, although already important, will become vital in order to specifically appeal to a captive audience and a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of the car advert, where it was, where it is now and what it will most likely become. In the old days a local newspaper representative, usually a rather attractive young girl, would sell you a portion of the motoring section where a dealer would advertise a selection of their used cars. There would rarely be any pictures and each car would have the minimal of abbreviated details, mileage and price.

If the prospective buyer didn’t know what, FSH, ESR, EW, CDL, PAS etc then they would just have to guess, or visit the showroom, which was fine for local customers but pretty useless in attempting to appeal to a wider audience. Later there was the emergence of colour newspaper printing which enabled the dealer to include a small, grainy photograph of the car from which the potential buyer might just be able to discern that, yes it was definitely a car.

If a dealer wanted to raise their profile further or advertise an important sales promotion they could dig deep and instigate a local radio advertising campaign (remember the old Currie Motors radio ads “Currie Motors nice people to do business with”).

When dealers first started using the web for their adverts the sites they were displayed on were rarely updated and the stock advertised so out of date that the whole exercise became futile. No one was designated to look after the web and so it always appeared as an afterthought and the website itself offered little value other than displaying the contact details.

Now any car retailer worth their salt will have a slick website to promote their stock. They will have someone specifically tasked with taking care of the updates, images and descriptions and if they don’t, put it this way, they will soon be history.

In fact we really can’t be far away from the talking advert, where instead of a visual description of the spec and condition of a car, the car will literally speak to potential buyers and along with a short movie each car will have a famous voiceover with seductive tones to fully describe it and encourage customers to buy. This may sound farfetched as a concept but if dealers continue pouring their ad budgets into improving their internet marketing – and as we have already seen customers will not even bother looking at a car without several images – this may not be as fanciful as it first appears.

Imagine a world where dealers can display their whole used car stock on line and every car can tell its own story about its spec, condition service history and previous ownership. With businesses being able to interact with their customers and bring them the latest up to date information of the freshest stock just arriving among other special offers, customers will virtually be able to make their mind up before even entering the physical showroom. All we need to do now is invent the virtual test drive then we will really be laughing!

The internet provides car retailers with an excellent opportunity to engage with potential customers and “Business Blogs” are predicted to take off in a big way in the UK as they are already doing in the US. They offer an excellent opportunity to share a company’s expertise, build additional web traffic, and connect with potential customers. In fact our own unaffiliated blog was recently seen as a potential business blog when an offer was made by a major player in the motor trade to “incorporate” us. The offer was respectfully declined.

The internet has changed many things and continues to do so and in car retailing the recession may just accelerate further the dramatic changes in the way cars are sold. Traditional advertising needs to adapt or die and, depending on your point of view, these are either exciting times of large scale change or a scary period which needs to be weathered. Whatever the viewpoint it will certainly be exercising an awful lot of marketing minds in the coming months and years.

Online advertising ‘overtakes TV’

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One Response to The web and the changing world of car retailing

  1. autoinsider September 28, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    The internet can take all the power out of the car dealer’s hands. Used right it can completely level the playing field.

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