Today, dealerships need a website that provides a personalized shopping experience and allows the shopper to have a social connection and feel that they know the people with whom they are planning to do business. How did we get here and where will we go next? Let’s examine the path we took to where we are today and then peer into the future and what our online shopping experience may look like in years to come.
Dealerships started putting up websites in the nineties. Some with inventory and pricing and some without. Many did this on their own with the help from a smart family member. Others hired companies to help them that both specialized in automotive and those that did not. Some resisted the need for a website, but with the rise of website providing vendors and mass adoption, this resistance was futile. Dealership websites moved from an extravagance to a necessity with light speed.
Over the next 15 years, websites came a long way. Inventory was always up to date, staff photos and bios were added, lead forms, landing pages and more made these sites extremely functional and adequate. Chat was added so that customers could get answers to questions in real time and set service appointments without calling and sitting on hold. Everything seemed in order until a great disruptor arrived. This disruption came not from a new dealership website provider or OEM but from Amazon and other online retailers that changed customer expectations forever.
As most Americans became accustomed to a personalized shopping experience for shoes, toys and other inexpensive products, they wanted the same when shopping for more expensive products like cars. Dealership websites needed to move from necessity to customization. Website providers scrambled to provide this type of customer experience on the websites they provide to automotive dealerships.
As if this monumental change in customer expectations for the online shopping experience was not enough, social media stomped in and changed everything again. Customers now don’t just want a customized experience while shopping online, they want to know who they are shopping with personally. They expect to be engaged with the story of the dealer, dealership and the people that work in the dealership and they want all of this up to date on the dealership website. Shoppers now expect to have a personal or “Social” relationship with businesses and their people.
“We switched from a very popular website provider to a customizable site from another provider two and a half months ago, and have been blown away by our new website’s performance! Our bounce rate has been cut in half, our organic traffic is now outranking paid and direct traffic. We have been able to customize every aspect of our website to reflect who we are as a dealership and create a user-friendly experience for our customers. Our web submissions are up 76%, bounce rate down from 45% to 17% and our SEO score is up to 91 from 67. ” Kelsey Caskey Customer Experience Manager Frank Shoop Georgetown.
A new tidal change in how customers shop is taking place now. For almost the entire history of the internet, shoppers would visit third party sites to do their research to determine which vehicle they wanted and browse dealership inventory. This behavior was fueled both by dealerships inadequate research material on their sites and the third parties’ ability to control customer search and keep dealerships out of the top results. This forced dealers to buy their in-market shoppers back from the third party lead providers. The good news is this is coming to an end. Search engines are valuing local business more and dealerships are getting smarter with their search spend and ad design. Look for third party lead providers to shrink in the coming years as dealers steal back their business. The days when car shoppers drove from dealership to dealership might never come back, but shoppers going from dealer website to dealer website is becoming the norm.
Online shopping evolves far quicker than physical shopping. It has evolved more in the last twenty years than shopping malls and markets have changed throughout history. Change has become the new norm and dealerships need to keep up to prevent becoming obsolete.