In today’s interconnected world, consumers have endless options. They can hop online, and within a matter of minutes, find exactly what they’re looking for from a variety of vendors. The days of visiting a single brick-and-mortar dealership, without exploring other shopping avenues, are long past—especially when it comes to major purchases.
The meteoric rise of e-commerce has made it easier than ever for consumers to compare products and prices across multiple brands—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated consumers’ preference for these digital processes. Simply put, the way consumers shop has changed, and these new habits are here to stay.
The vast majority of consumers who have increased their use of digital and omnichannel services in recent years—including home delivery, curbside pickup, and shopping via social media platforms—expect to sustain these activities into the future. In fact, according to a Salesforce study, 70 percent of buyers feel that in order to win their business, brands need to offer connected processes. These include seamless handoffs between departments and channels, and contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions.
Consumers aren’t alone in their desire for new digital buying options. Businesses are buying into these new consumer trends too. As much as 72 percent of business buyers expect their vendors to provide personalized experiences and 85 percent say that the experience they have with a company matters just as much as the company’s products and services themselves.
With so many options available, experience matters more than ever. Today’s consumers are more likely to choose a brand that meets their high expectations in terms of quality, price, and customer service. They are becoming increasingly discerning and demanding, and brands that fail to meet these expectations risk losing market share to competitors.
This article will explore effective strategies and best practices that your dealership can implement to improve the consumer path to purchase—an essential strategy for building customer loyalty, increasing sales, and growing your business.
Thanks to strong consumer influences from other industries, especially from online businesses like Amazon, the auto industry was already trending toward digital retailing in the years leading up to 2020. Almost overnight, the pandemic ushered in a new era of consumerism across business and industry boundaries. Suddenly, more consumers preferred to shop at home, demanding additional digital retailing opportunities and features, and forcing businesses to respond.
Years later, this trend toward digitization continues. A younger demographic, one that has grown up online with the likes of Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, prefers eCommerce and the ability to communicate with brands digitally. In fact, 69 percent of consumers now expect Amazon-like buying experiences — seamless browsing, transparent product information, customer reviews, an easy purchase process, and options for delivery. This new generation of consumers browses business websites all hours of the day and night, paving the way for new sales opportunities to transform websites into full digital storefronts.
On top of this push toward digital retailing, global supply chains have slowed in recent years, impacting dealers in particular. The auto industry has been forced to adapt to fluctuating inventory, creating a scarcity mindset among consumers. Rapid economic growth, followed by inflation and rising interest rates, have also forced many households to change the way they think about buying. All these factors have combined to fundamentally change the way consumers shop for cars, boats, and recreational vehicles—and dealerships must adapt.
The modern consumer path to purchase involves multiple stages. With so many options for shopping, no two consumer journeys are exactly alike. It’s important to identify the various touchpoints that customers use to make a purchase, so you can prepare to meet and cater to each consumer on their preferred path.
Understanding the different stages of the customer journey will help your dealership tailor strategies that address the needs of your shoppers at each stage of their unique path to purchase.
When consumers look for a particular product or service, you want your brand to be top of mind. Driving brand awareness in the age before digital retail was mostly about spending money—the more places people saw your brand on TV or around town, the better the brand awareness. As consumer shopping behaviors and media interests have evolved, creating brand awareness has become much more of a science—and with the right strategy and a focus on personalization, it can be much more effective too.
Just as you want your target consumers to think of your brand first when they have a need for a product or service, you want popular search engines to push your business to the top of the results list when consumers search online. You also want to appeal to consumers by building a strong presence on social media and posting interesting, relatable content.
SEO is the practice of improving your search engine rankings. When consumers type in search terms, businesses that match the search engine algorithms get pushed to the top. When your business appears at the top of the search rankings, your brand becomes top of mind for consumers.
You can improve the consumer shopping experience, and help shoppers find what they’re looking for, by employing a few SEO best practices. These include providing up-to-date business listings, in-depth website content, a clean, easy website navigation experience, and fast webpage load times.
In the age of endless information, consumers research everything they can find when preparing to make a purchase. Businesses that provide detailed answers to their questions and interesting, informative content get noticed. Consumers build strong relationships with businesses through online content, before ever visiting a store or making a purchase decision. Creating free, educational content, in the form of a website blog, builds your brands, boosts your chances of appearing prominently in online searches, and drives more traffic to your platform.
On top of providing relevant content and using tools to help you climb to the top of the search engines, your brand has to appeal to modern consumers. Social media marketing gives your brand a personality that real people can relate to. Today’s shoppers are drawn to brands that feel personable and show, through their branding and messaging, that they have an in-depth understanding of consumers’ needs and expectations. You can do this by sharing relevant, personalized messaging on the platforms your audience prefers, and by interacting with users who comment on your posts or send you direct messages.
The impact of your messaging should reach consumers at every step of the purchase path, but the first and most fundamental purpose of marketing is to build brand awareness and put your products and services on shoppers’ radars. In the age of endless information and shopping options, that means speaking directly to consumers with messaging that meets their exact needs and interests.
By collecting data on shopper preferences and behaviors, you can custom tailor your marketing to individual customers and provide personalized recommendations and offers that are more likely to result in a purchase. You can deliver personalization through email marketing, retargeting ads, and social media marketing. What’s more, today’s consumers practically expect this kind of personalization. In fact, 58 percent of consumers are more likely to convert when content is based on their previous actions.
When consumers visit your website, you don’t know what they’re looking for, unless they reach out to you. But behind the scenes, your website could be working to gather customer data and tell you which pages are receiving the most website traffic. This kind of website technology can track individual consumer actions and capture their specific interests, so you can leverage data to personalize the rest of their journey.
You can also use this data to make business and inventory decisions. Are you seeing more traffic to your used versus new listings? What about your parts and services versus whole units? Do you see significant spikes or dips during specific seasons? Do any of your webpages have a higher-than-normal bounce rate, possibly indicating that a page is presenting visitors with roadblocks.
Website data can help you better understand your visitors, so you can streamline their journey and create a more effective shopping experience that drives sales. By catering your website to their specific shopping interests, you can meet consumer demand and ensure that your customers get the very best experience possible.
Your website is often the first point of contact for your customers. You want to give them a good first impression. That means providing content that speaks to consumers and tells your brand story in an interesting, compelling way that will capture the attention of your visitors immediately.
Your dealership may have the most detail-oriented, friendly customer service in town, and you may have the exact unit a consumer is looking for, but if this information isn’t evident on your website, how are you going to make a sale? If your website content isn’t capturing consumer attention, this startling statistic should capture yours: a whopping 98 percent of consumers have been turned off from a website because of incomplete or inaccurate content.
Shopper behavior is largely influenced by the language you use in your brand description and sales copy. Within seconds of landing on your website, a consumer should have answers to three basic questions: Who are you? What do you offer? Why does your brand have value? When you update your website with content that supports your business, keeps your message consistent and fresh, and answers these fundamental questions, consumers will be drawn to you.
With so many shoppers reaching your website from so many different entry points and purchase paths, your content focus needs to extend beyond your homepage message. While a good homepage is important, every page on your website should promote your brand and present copy that is engaging and informative. And, because not every shopper will visit your website with the intent to buy now (many shoppers are still in the research phase and just looking for more information), it’s important to establish your brand as a thought leader and focus your content on helpful, educational information.
Today’s shoppers are impatient. They want the information they want, and they want it now. Your product pages should cater to this consumer trend by being clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Perhaps most importantly, they should include details that drive purchase desire. Give your website visitors detailed product information, including brand, dimensions, materials, and any other relevant details, to help them make informed buying decisions.
Keep inventory listings up to date by regularly checking inventory levels and updating your listings accordingly. There’s nothing more disappointing to a customer than finding exactly what they want, only to discover that it’s out of stock. Organize your inventory in a logical and intuitive manner, using categories and subcategories to help customers find what they are looking for. Use filters and search functions to make it easy for customers to narrow down their search results.
You should also optimize your listings for search engines by using relevant keywords in your copy, including your titles and descriptions, and by writing meta descriptions for each individual webpage. This will help your listings rank higher in search results and attract more leads.
A picture can paint a thousand words about your dealership—good and bad. Well-written copy and content is important, but it can be immediately subverted by visuals that are either off-brand, off topic, or off putting. Because shoppers are drawn to visuals—they want to envision themselves at your dealership or enjoying their new purchase—it’s important to include professional images of your business and inventory on every page. You may think stock photos will work in a pinch, but these can quickly undermine your credibility and underwhelm your shoppers.
Your images should be clear, sharp, and visually appealing. Take time to capture quality photos and show your customers quality results. Avoid busy backgrounds and keep the focus on the units themselves. Add up-close highlights of any special features or customization, and when possible, photograph outdoors with the sun at your back to avoid casting any shadows on the unit.
When photographing indoors, turn off the flash and use soft, diffused lighting to avoid harsh shadows. You can also take your images to the next level by creating 360 degree spinning images that show your inventory from all angles, as if the consumer is standing right next to it.
Your customers know what they want, but sometimes they need a little nudge to keep them progressing. While it’s true that each customer arrives at your dealership from a different place and each forges their own individual path to purchase, your custom invitations can help them to take the next step.
Take the opportunity at every stage of the car buying journey to motivate your customers to learn something new, interact with your team, or take the next step. Calls to action (CTAs) invite visitors to take a specific action in a friendly, forward way.
CTAs might seem simple and inconsequential, but good CTAs can increase engagement, drive conversions, and make it easier for your visitors to navigate your site. They give your visitors clear direction on what to do next, increasing the likelihood that they will fulfill a desired outcome and keep progressing down the purchase path. When writing CTAs, keep the following best practices in mind:
While being creative with your copy can help you connect with customers and communicate your brand message, avoid the urge to get overly complicated with CTAs. The most effective CTAs are specific and to the point.
You want your customers to take a very specific action, not left wondering what to do next. Use welcoming, actionable verbs to create a sense of interest and urgency.
There’s a time and place for verbose language and detailed explanations of products, services, and industry insights. Your CTAs should be short (two to four words), streamlined, and uncomplicated.
Your website is one of many options today’s consumers have when making a purchase—it’s the reality of today’s buy-anything-from-anyone-anywhere retail environment. You don’t want your website to get lost in the noise of online shopping. You want it to stand out in a crowd of competition.
It’s one thing to get your customers to your website, it’s quite another to keep them there, and keep them coming back. As much as 92 percent of website visitors don’t make a purchase on their first visit. Your website should focus on giving these customers the type of memorable shopping experience that will make them want to come back. That includes giving them a seamless buying experience and displaying inventory based on their unique interests.
Your digital storefront should allow customers to pick up right where they left off with each return trip. Returning visitors should be able to easily locate the inventory they had previously browsed and pick up deal details without having to reinput excessive information. These simple features can help your dealership secure sales leads that might have been lost if they couldn’t quickly relocate the inventory that caught their interest.
Your customers can find just about anything online, including good and bad information about your dealership. You can choose to take the good with the bad and do your best to ignore the misleading and inaccurate information out there. Or you can embrace the culture of online customer reviews and ratings and use it to your advantage.
Either way, there’s no denying that online reviews can both support and weaken your brand image. FinancesOnline found that 68 percent of consumers will choose a business because of their positive reviews. If you don’t have the resources to monitor reviews yourself, utilize the tools to help with the heavy lifting of reputation management, including the following best practices to take control how consumers view your brand.
Consumers are more likely to trust businesses that have recent positive reviews from their customers. Encourage your happy customers to leave a positive review after a purchase and give them the information to leave a review with little work or effort on their part.
Positive reviews can influence your search engine ranking, as search engines take into account the number and rating of reviews when determining where to rank your website. When you take charge of your reviews and encourage customers to leave positive reviews, you get rewarded with a higher organic search ranking, establishing your brand as reliable and valuable.
Great customer reviews can be repurposed as quotes for your webpages, social media, digital ads and more. When your content writes itself in the form of customer reviews, you build trust with your customers and encourage more positive reviews. It’s the gift that keeps giving back—a perpetual stream of positive reviews and new business opportunities.
It’s important to respond to all customer reviews, even ones that aren’t necessarily positive. Responding quickly with concern, and offering solutions to problems, shows prospective customers that you’re empathetic and that you stand behind your brand.
Today’s customers crave communication and interaction with businesses and communities that share their interests and values—even if the means and methods of communication have evolved. When customers reach out to your business, be ready to respond in the way they prefer.
Connect with website visitors in real time using live chat. Use the customer's name and refer to their previous interactions with your business to personalize your communication. This shows that you value their business and are attentive to their needs.
Engaging with customers includes posting quality content on social media channels. When customers interact with you on these platforms, they expect fast responses. Make sure that you respond to queries as quickly as possible or set realistic response times and communicate them clearly to your customers.
If you’re understaffed or you have too much on your plate to follow up with each and every email engagement, consider automating your marketing emails to drive lead engagement while you focus on immediate customer needs.
A decision to explore purchase options doesn’t complete the path to purchase. There’s still more work to be done. The more helpful you can be to consumers at this late stage of the buying journey, the more likely you are to land a sale and create lifelong customers.
Especially in times of economic uncertainty, consumers take pricing extremely seriously. Many will express doubt that a purchase will fit within their budget, and most will want to shop around to explore the best prices available. According to a Wiser survey, 96 percent of consumers compare prices before making a purchase.
When consumers come to your dealership website, reward them with pricing information that is clear and upfront. Remove purchase roadblocks by offering a payment calculation tool, and give them the option to input credit and preferred down payment information to see if they can afford their dream unit.
Thanks to the influence of eCommerce giants like Amazon, today’s consumers expect this kind of helpful pricing information. They don’t want to call the dealership for pricing, and they’re more likely to move on to another website if they can’t find upfront pricing at yours. In addition to streamlining the entire shopping experience and giving customers what they want, this kind of pricing strategy eliminates low-ball offers and encourages serious leads to contact your dealership.
Nothing is more frustrating to a shopper than having to repeat their needs and actions every time they connect with a different sales rep. When shoppers arrive at your dealership, be ready with a record of the actions they have already performed online.
Your CRM should capture each customer’s touchpoints with your dealership, so that when they arrive at your store, you’re ready to guide them through the final steps of the sales process. Instead of wasting time asking what they need and who they’ve been working with, you can immediately engage them in finalizing their purchase.
Improving the consumer path to purchase is essential for dealerships to succeed in today's highly competitive market. Thanks to the endless digital insights provided by technology, modern shoppers expect dealers to be able to anticipate and meet their expectations at each stage of the buying journey. By understanding the customer journey, enhancing the customer experience, and optimizing your website, you can improve your chances of converting potential buyers into loyal, lifelong customers.
9420 Bunsen Way Suite 250 Louisville KY 40220