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Dealers forge better links with internet customers

The internet has revolutionised the way that consumers choose their next car.

The era of scanning classified ads and spending a couple of weekends touring dealerships has long been replaced by online information gathering that not only encompasses the cars that interest them most, but also background research on the dealers.

James McCarthy is managing director of an independent family-run used car group that has more than 30 years’ trading reputation to uphold, which he says must be reflected in the way that it promotes its stock.

Across the three McCarthy Cars sites in Clapham and Croydon are held similar numbers of cars to a car supermarket, at around 250 units. However, McCarthy says the strength of
the firm’s relationships with its customers is far ahead of that of the pile ‘em high, sell them cheap end of the market.

“We don’t aim to be the cheapest, because being cheapest and offering value for money mean two different things. We are not prepared to sacrifice our standards or the level to which we prepare our cars because every car that we sell has our name on it,” he said.
“We give a high level of service and quality and we’re answerable to our customers. If something goes wrong we fix it. I’d say 65% of our custom comes from direct repeat business or referrals. It’s a long-term strategy we cultivated from day one.”

The company sells around 1,500 to 1,600 used cars per year, with stock typically ranging from one-year-old to eight-year-old vehicles and priced between £3,000 and £30,000.

From marketing on the internet McCarthy Cars has drawn in buyers from hundreds of miles away in Scotland and Ireland. Its boss admits these are in relatively small numbers. Its core customer base is within a 50 to 60-mile radius.

The key factor is being able to display numerous pictures of every car in stock. A minimum is nine to 12 images, showing multiple angles of the exterior and interior and being honest about any wear and tear – one in 10 of its cars is bought online without being seen in the metal. Video footage will be added to its website soon.

When the business is spending around £500,000 a year on marketing, it is vital to be sure that investment is generating the right levels of return.

One strength of using VCars to market its stock is the type of customer enquiry it generates, said McCarthy. He’s been using its services for 10 years. Tracking of the leads has shown that its marketing attracts a very high calibre of customer, he added.

VCars is able to provide its retail partners with live statistics on who is viewing stock and where they are viewing it from, a dedicated 0845 phone number to help track sales enquiries generated, a contact form for out-of-hours enquiries and every emailed sales enquiry is also sent over as a fax. McCarthy said this is particularly useful in helping to ensure that leads have been followed up by the sales teams.

“It’s so easy to pick it up and go checking. No-one can afford to have emails sitting there in the system that are not being followed up. If a customer does not feel that their enquiry is valued, they won’t give you a second chance,” he said.

As an independent used car retailer, McCarthy Cars is protected from the pressures of the September and March plate-change months. McCarthy’s view is that it creates a “bottleneck which isn’t good for the industry”.

“I think it’s something the industry needs to look at again because it means customers get a rushed experience. We’re lucky as an independent that we don’t set ourselves false targets. We aim for measured growth throughout the year. We’re happy if we’re selling two, three or maybe four cars a day.”

Top 20 UK franchised dealer Cambria Automobiles has found that its partnership with VCars is worth every penny. While VCars focus is on marketing used cars, its strength in search engine optimisation means that it has driven leads to Cambria for service and parts business.

Marketing director Ian Godbold said the supplier offers “exceptional” value. “The cost per lead is lower than the average rate in the marketplace, and the quality of leads is high. I think it attracts someone who has done their research and made their decision about what type of car they want and who then just gets onto the VCars website to find that car,” he said.

“The traffic we get is very convertible.”

Cambria has recently added VCars’ postcode analysis tool, which shows the areas customers search from. Godbold said it has been a great help in justifying marketing spend as it shows general managers how their customers are finding their car online before coming into the dealership to buy it.

It also provides useful market insight – Godbold believes many buyers are now searching within a 40-mile radius for their next car, and many buyers typically look at the car online several times, possibly to show their friends or family, before deciding to buy.

“VCars has a really mixed demographic. Our volume sites have sold a huge number of Fords, but we’ve sold Aston Martins from leads generated by VCars.”

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