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Getting inside the mind of the digital car buyer


Digital retail lessons from the US

Chip Perry,  Auto TraderChip Perry, Auto Trader

Car dealers in the UK could learn from their American colleagues, according to Chip Perry, who established America’s brand in 1997 and now sits as a non-executive board member of Auto Trader in the UK.

US dealers are now advertising unregistered new cars online, often showing an asking price that varies from the manufacturer’s list price.

Perry said there is at least 90 days of unregistered inventory available for consumers at US showrooms. There is more transparency around pricing – consumers can see online the average price paid for a new car – and the dealer invoice price has been available to consumers since 1996.

Despite dealers’ fears about the consumer having such information, US dealers’ profitability has not suffered, he showed delegates. There is also more transparency of part-exchange pricing online, and major US dealers are embracing digital retailing – to make their own websites transparent and convenient to consumers, and to allow online consumers to create their desired deal and print it out to take to the dealership. Behind this, the dealers’ profits are secured.

“You might say all this transparency is evil. Actually, done right it gives the consumer a sense of control and a greater sense of convenience in the process,” Perry said.

When Perry established in 1998, he said 80% of consumers would make an enquiry by phone and 20% by email. Today, 69% of consumers walk into the showroom without an appointment, but knowing what car they want. Only 11% email and 20% call ahead.

Consumers use two key webpages on classified websites – they shortlist from the search results page and make a decision from the full page advertisement (FPA).

“It’s possible for a dealer who has 20 cars to have the same FPA views as someone with 100 cars – it’s about marketing your cars well; excellent photos, offering in-demand cars, competitive price and a solid description. The average car in England receives eight FPA views,” Perry said. “The more FPAs the more cars you’ll sell.”

Consumers are discovering dealers from those FPA views.

“Data shows that half of a dealer’s website traffic is generated by Google, but 40% of those visits included the dealer’s name in the search phrase – people are jumping off AutoTrader and searching for the dealer,” Perry said. “Google is the new Yellow Pages.”


Promotions and compliance - how to harness F&I in the digital world

Social Advisors’ managing director Simon RyanSocial Advisors’ managing director Simon Ryan

With the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) monitoring compliance in finance and insurance promotions, dealers need to record everything they do in social media, said Simon Ryan.

While the FCA does not yet stipulate this, Ryan said someone will eventually query a finance promotion dealers have put on Facebook and if a dealer cannot find a record of it, there will be concern.

The FCA’s primary concern is content, and the  main mantra is about being fair, clear and not misleading – this must translate to your social media.

He said digital promotions must emphasise the risks as well as the benefits – for example, that a longer finance term may mean the consumer pays more interest.

“Don’t obscure important information statements or warnings. Consumers are more likely to trust you if you make the warnings clear.”

In the mortgage sector, no promotion can go ahead without saying the home is at risk if the consumer fails to keep up payments, he pointed out.

Content must also avoid jargon or unverifiable claims.

Ryan also spoke of his recent work with Luscombe Motors on its social media strategy to grow followers by 15% and increase engagement and reach. The two-month campaign included posting about events of interest to the local community, unique blog posts with balanced content and no sales pitches, videos, and tips such as on preparing a car for winter, Christmas shopping in Leeds and drink-driving warnings, which local pubs and bars retweeted.

Ryan calculated the activity resulted in three quarters of a million people seeing the Luscombe brand, and website visitor numbers rose by 30%, with almost 20,000 new visitors.


Joined-up digital marketing

Alex Brown,  head of digital marketing and platforms,  HR OwenAlex Brown, head of digital marketing and platforms, HR Owen

Luxury car dealer HR Owen is using digital marketing to get around the expensive constraints of operating from properties in London. Alex Brown said a downside to operating in London is that expanding showroom space is expensive, which means digital has to be the group’s forecourt. As such, it is heavily engaged in web optimisation, social media and electronic CRM.

HR Owen represents brands including Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini, all of which have clear appeal to car enthusiasts. However, it also needs its own brand to shine through to prospective customers, which is why it produces a free customer iPad magazine, Drive, and it publishes original content on its webpages and social channels for every make and model it sells.

Brown said HR Owen is using digital to communicate that it has more to offer than a list of stock, car specs and manufacturer-created materials.

“When we take manufacturer materials and put them online there’s relatively little value in them, because customers have seen them before and Google has seen them before and it’s not original content. Original content is better for SEO and for customers because it’s simply more interesting.”

Some of the original content is also generated by dealership events.

“If it’s worth doing an event, it’s worth the extra effort in putting it online, as it all counts for SEO signals and if it gets shared or liked, the business may get a customer out of it,” Brown said.

Lots of social media is created at dealership level with locally relevant, interesting content, such as customers picking up new cars, customised Lamborghinis, rare classic cars coming into stock, or celebrity customers with their cars. The group is up to 50,000 Facebook likes.

Brown said the aim is to dominate organic SEO results on Google’s first page for key search terms. HR Owen’s organic traffic has tripled in the past three years to become the single largest source of enquiries.

Brown said increased web traffic doesn’t equate to increased sales, as some visitors will be enthusiasts or children dreaming about supercars, but there is a correlation to calls.

“I think that audience of people just helps in terms of clicks, shares and engagement, so when it comes to trying to catch the people who are genuine customers you rank more highly and you’re more likely to catch those people and get their calls.”


Aftersales in the digital sphere

Alex Rose, marketing director, Whocanfixmycar.comAlex Rose, marketing director,

Research by Whocanfixmycar, a vehicle repair comparison website used by 5,500 UK workshops, has shown online aftersales customers can be split into two groups – one that wants a choice of garages, and a second, 40%, that simply wants to make the enquiry online and get the job booked quickly and easily.

“Speed is absolutely the most important factor in what we see. If you respond with a price within an hour, you win three to four times more business than you do if you take a day to respond,” Rose said.

The winning price is on average £11 lower than the average price for a job, so bidding garages have to be in the right area to win the job. However. the garages that often then win the most work are the ones with the best feedback, he said. So dealers must encourage all their customers to review them online.

There’s a perception that franchised dealers cannot compete on price. However, analysis of the data generated from’s 65,000 users shows the price difference between franchised dealers and independents is very small for MoTs and electrical work. Franchised dealers struggle on price competitiveness with elaborate technical jobs, such as cambelt and clutch work, where they are two thirds more costly.

Overall, the price difference between franchised dealer and independent garages is 18%, which isn’t difficult for the franchised dealer to justify given the extra services they provide, said Rose. They must justify it, however, to counter the assumption that the dealer from which the customer bought the car doesn’t offer the best value for money in aftersales.

case study: Targeted TV - taking dealers onto the small screens and into living rooms

Mark Busby, new car sales and group marketing director, Hendy Group

New technology that allows highly targeted digital television advertising could produce excellent results for dealers, said Mark Busby, new car sales and group marketing director at South Coast dealer group Hendy.

The group, which represents six franchises, has become the first  UK business to try Sky’s AdSmart, which allows a TV ad to be downloaded to the Sky box of a carefully targeted customer demographic and incorporated into normal, real-time viewing.

With an ad designed to promote a dealer-created Ford Fiesta special edition, a sales uplift of 50.6% was seen during the campaign. Total Fiesta sales in the same period increased by about 23%.

“There is no way we could justify the marketing spend needed to use traditional local television advertising, but AdSmart provides us with a whole different approach,” said Busby.

At a cost of 5p per impression, the 30-second Hendy ad was viewed about 300,000 times by potential customers, defined by factors such as geography, lifestyle and personal finances. The response was strong, with most viewers watching the ad all the way through.

“We cannot afford to compete with the production values of manufacturers, for example,” said Busby. “Instead, we concentrated on making something that was animated and quirky, and it worked very well.”

An important point was to ensure Hendy Group had a responsive dealer website in order to make the most of the TV ad because customers tended to reach straight for their tablet or smartphone while viewing.

“The next step for us,” Busby added, “is to produce an ad that will appeal to our existing customers.

“This is something that we definitely believe is worth using again. It is an effective, affordable and powerful marketing medium.”


Omni-channel marketing

Sean Meehan, social media marketing manager, BootsSean Meehan, social media marketing manager, Boots

Marketing to customers in 2015 is all about making a connection, said Sean Meehan, social media marketing manager at Boots.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are selling a £3 moisturiser or a £30,000 car, the connection is what matters,” he said. Meehan emphasised the importance of adopting an omni-channel, rather than multi-channel, approach to marketing.

“Using a multi-channel approach is all about you, the dealer, but an omni-channel means that you are meeting the needs of them, the customer. What you need to be doing is facilitating the customer every step of the way. A lot of people think that the customer experience is about what happens after the sale, but really, it is all about the prospect.”

Meehan said an important step in the customer journey was something called the “zero moment of truth”.

“This is the point before the customer starts looking at your goods or products directly in-store or at a dealership, but is gathering information. It is the research phase, when the homework is done.”

Meehan conducted a poll in the room that showed many dealers tended to plan their marketing three to four months in advance.

“This is not enough. There is research to show that many customers start thinking about their next car purchase 12 months in advance. You need to be working to similar timeframes.

“It is the same as making sure that the images of cars on your website are concurrent with the seasons. It is no use having summer stock shots right now. They do not connect.”


Is your sales process fit for the digital age?

Nick King, market research director, Auto TraderNick King, market research director, Auto Trader

Dealers need to  hone their sales processes to get customers to love them. That was the advice of Nick King, market research director at Auto Trader, following research into consumer behaviour.

Online search and winning their awareness isn’t enough because there is so much vying for their attention now, so dealers must truly connect with customers, he said. King advised that if dealers delight customers and create love then they can turn them into fans or friends.

People often choose their car with emotion and justify the decision with logic, so dealers must connect with their emotions. King said there must be more focus on getting the customer into the car quicker as this is the emotive part of the experience.

Dealers also need to offer more “delighters” that build trust. One dealer he cited collected buyers from the railway station and deducted their train fare from the deal, and another called customers that evening to check they got home safely.

Negative aspects to address include failing to respond to calls, a car being sold when a customer visits, or having to deal with multiple people for one transaction.


Insights into the digital car-buyer

Stuart Bluck, head of research & insight and Rakesh Patel, digital sales director, Auto TraderStuart Bluck, head of research & insight and Rakesh Patel, digital sales director, Auto Trader

The average car buyer is not searching specifically for a new or used car, but simply their next car.

Auto Trader’s Stuart Bluck, head of research and insight, and Rakesh Patel, digital sales director, said the current availability of car choice and finance offers is such that consumers are finding it easy to tailor their choices between the two options up until the purchase point.

While much of the attention is given to Google and other third-party influencers, dealers’ websites figure significantly in consumers’ research phase and dealers need to ensure transparency in what they can offer in order to maximise opportunities.

Revealing the findings from research in December into the research habits of 1,300 used car buyers, Bluck and Patel said they were looking for the following, in order of importance, on dealers’ websites:

♦  range of stock

♦ pricing

♦ availability of vehicle of choice

♦ opening hours

♦ contact details

♦ pictures of the showroom

♦ map of the dealership

♦ discounts available

♦ dealership history

♦ pictures of staff.

“Initially, consumers go to classified sites to work out what car they want to buy, not where they want to buy it from. Dealership websites come next as they seek to be convinced you are the business they want to deal with,” said Bluck.

He said consumers look at an average 4.5 franchised dealer websites as they decide who to buy from, so ensuring a website builds trust is essential if they are to visit your showroom.

When asked what the key triggers were for buying from a particular dealer, 88% said it was the right car at the right price; a third because they had bought from this dealer before and 76% because the staff were “friendly and courteous”.


Is your website legal?

Andrew Brennan, intellectual property and technology lawyer, SGH MartineauAndrew Brennan, intellectual property and technology lawyer, SGH Martineau

“You’re responsible for your website. Even if the data is held on third-party servers,” was the message from Andrew Brennan, an intellectual property and technology lawyer at SGH Martineau.  Key points included:


Only use what you know to be your content – don’t just lift content from elsewhere. When advertising social media accounts; i.e Facebook or Twitter – use their exact logos.


To ensure compliance with ecommerce regulations and data protection law, you must let people visiting your website know if you’re using cookies.

Consumer contracts regulations

Consumer contracts regulations apply when a customer has bought something online without ever meeting a seller. Pricing and delivery information must be detailed and if items are of different prices, an explanation into how you came to those different prices.

Right to cancel

You must detail on your website that customers have the right to return goods, at their cost, up to 14 days after purchase. Personalised items, such as number plates, are exempt.

Privacy policy

If you’re collecting data from people, you must register with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Social media and the FCA

Terms and conditions must be included on finance offers. Twitter’s 140 characters make this difficult, but you can use images and links. You must be able to report on every social media interaction. 

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