Part III: The Naked Truth Exposed [Online Buying]

Online Buying...Should We Do It?

by the AutoHook Marketing Team

This particular blog will cover arguably the most controversial topic inundating dealer forums like DealerRefresh and other automotive digital communities. This is the question of the moment, and perhaps the largest generator of both debate and uncertainty creeping up our industry’s horizon.

After AutoHook’s nation-wide survey conducted over the last three months, the top five digital marketing topics dealers currently struggle with were exposed:

  1. [Social]: Does Social sell cars?
  2. [Video]: Video, video, video…tell me more.
  3. [Paid Search, Retargeting & Budgeting]: What should we expect?
  4. [Online Buying]: Should we do it?
  5. [Data & Marketing Attribution]: Who has it and how do we get it?

The first three topics are covered in parts I & II of The Naked Truth Exposed Series. Check them out below:

THE QUESTION OF THE MOMENT: Should I make my vehicles available to buy directly on my website? Is it necessary if I already have a successful brick and mortar store?

So, what did AutoHook’s Naked Truth defenders have to say about online buying at Digital Dealer 21? First, let’s reintroduce our expert panelists and reveal what they shared on this undecided topic.

Alex Jefferson (eCommerce Director, Proctor Dealerships)

“Where online buying is going I don’t necessarily know, but I do know that it did personally have an adverse effect on us when we integrated with the tool.”

The challenge with online buying is there are two very different perspectives on the topic: the consumer’s perspective, and the dealer’s perspective. Proctor Dealerships recently tested an integrated online buying model on their websites over a one-year time period. The tool gave customers the ability to formulate payments, value their trade-in, and complete most of the purchase process online - the overall goal, of course being to save the time consumers spend physically at the dealership. However, what Alex and his team found is that “people are lazy.” They don’t want to take the time (even in the comfort of their home) to navigate through this integrated, lengthy form.

Alex’s advice? What works best for his stores is integrating separate “get your price” buttons, trade-in tools, and finance or credit apps on their sites. It’s three separate forms, but they are quick and easy to fill out. This process also works better for non-tech-savvy customers, and it has been highly effective for Proctor stores specifically. A single buy online method may be too long and too time-consuming for a lot of people, and it can also negatively affect your conversion rates. As a rule of thumb, it's always best to keep online forms as short and straightforward as possible. The easier it is to complete, the higher your conversion rates will be. Alex tells our Naked Truth audience:

“I will tell you after a year of testing it, our lead volume went down by about 30-40%.”

On the contrary, DD21 interview between Chief Editor of DealerRefresh, Jeff Kershner, and CEO of Drive Motors, Aaron Krane disclosed opposing evidence.

DealerRefresh: What is the feedback like from dealership personnel at dealerships offering consumers this option?
Aaron Krane: Dealership staff love that customers who use online checkout will not only sell themselves but also upsell themselves, while the store is closed. That means orders through Drive Motors convert to a sale at over 10-times the rate of leads, and have a higher PVR than many stores’ averages. Moreover, in the words of one dealership, online checkout customers are “ecstatic.”

Kelly McNearney (Senior Automotive Retail Strategist, Google)

 “All I care about is online video.” 

Kelly allowed fellow panelists, Scott Empringham and Alex Jefferson to answer the bulk of this question. However, she made sure to emphasize the role video plays when it comes to showcasing your inventory digitally, as it can nurture the online buying process.

If (or when) buying online becomes mainstream, inventory-specific video will undoubtedly play a role in increasing “buy it now” conversion. Why? Because if customers can virtually touch, feel, see, experience, learn about, and test drive the vehicle in consideration, it’s possible they’ll obtain enough information on its specs and benefits to click that change-driving “buy it now” button.

During her 2-Minute Interview, live at #DD21 with Flash Point’s Scott Empringham, Kelly McNearney shared Google’s #1 tip to help dealers sell more cars, trucks, and SUVs right now. “If I was opening up a dealership today, the first thing I would do is start making YouTube videos, walkarounds, test drives, and features to show people the inventory on my lot.”

Customers aren’t visiting as many dealers as they used to. Google shows consumers visit 1-2 stores before making a purchase. People know what they want before walking into a dealership. New, inventory-focused video merchandising technologies will only further support that fact.

“People want to make decisions at home, on the couch.”

…And Kelly's right! When you think about it, people don’t want to feel pressure from a salesperson to make any life-altering decisions on the spot. A vehicle purchase is the second largest purchase consumers make after buying a home. There is a lot of emotion, stress, time, money, and energy that goes into their decision that dealers don’t always recognize or acknowledge.   

Scott Empringham (CEO/President, Flash Point Communications)

“I don’t think it’s a question of is it going to happen, it is happening. If you’ve got your fundamentals down, and that’s something you want to experiment with, I say go for it!”

Scott does caution if you haven’t first mastered the fundamentals (things like digital merchandising, relevant photos and videos, a high converting site, simple, high converting forms, etc.) jumping into online buying can be a waste.

Asbury Automotive Group for example, rolled out online buying across their stores, and other large progressive groups like AutoNation and Penske have done the same. Asbury is a Flash Point client with a huge digital marketing team, and they successfully participate in an online buying model today. However, the vast majority of Flash Point customers don’t necessarily have the resources Asbury and similar groups have to make this system work.

Brands like Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevy – those are value-buy vehicles. People want and need to physically sit in the car to determine if it’s right for them. On the contrary, when it comes to aspirational brands like Maserati or Lamborghini, or someone who collects cars as a hobby, people would be more likely to buy these types of cars online. Obviously, Tesla has been doing it successfully for years.

At this time, the best answer experts can provide, when it comes to whether or not dealers need a buy it now button is…it depends. There are stores that have been successful with it, and there are stores that have not been successful with it. The key is to have your ducks in a row (or in other words, a website that converts at a high rate) before rolling out a nation-wide online buying program.

Bill Playford, VP & Partner of DealerKnows Consulting called out the topic in his June 2016 DealerRefresh article, Buy it NOW! The Button that Drives Change.

“I know this is giving some of you heart palpitations, but it’s once again that time to rethink the way we approach our customers. Not everyone will want to utilize a Buy It Now button. But, by not incorporating it into your process, you are disenfranchising a segment of your population who would click this and purchase almost 100% online.”

The key consideration with online buying, and with your dealer operations in general, is going above and beyond to make things convenient for your customers. Make your end model fast and easy. If you can manage one platform great! If not, do everything you can to make your process smoother on the customer's behalf. Build a loyal customer base now, because you never know - they could be buying their future car from you, right off your website.

A huge thank you goes out to DealerRefresh & Flash Point for capturing all the Naked Truth magic live on Facebook. Click here to watch the recording!

For additional resources or information from our panelists, visit