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Doug Van Sach

Doug Van Sach Vice President, Strategy & Analytics

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Dealer Websites Fail to Meet Customer Expectations

A recent Affinitiv survey of 1,000 automotive consumers reveals that dealerships are falling short when it comes to delivering personalized, online shopping experiences to customers. In the same study, we analyzed a sample of 100 dealer websites to better understand the current level of personalization that dealers are offering.

Why the focus on website personalization?

Seventy-five percent of customers said they visited a dealer’s website prior to making their last vehicle purchase. Because this is often the first point of contact with your dealership, it’s critical that your website meets consumer expectations—and to understand how these expectations have drastically changed in the last few years.

Every day, consumers interact with non-auto retailers who provide a highly personalized online shopping experience. Amazon, Nordstrom and Apple are role models that consumers expect dealers to follow. Additionally, dealers must adapt to a new generation of buyers who have purchased virtually everything they ever needed online.

As consumer demand drives the growth of digital retailing, many dealers are being forced to retool a car-buying process that now begins on the website.

Personalization Gap

Our study revealed that 76% of recent car buyers said it was important for the dealer website experience to be personalized—yet only 26% of respondents agreed that dealers provide a highly personalized experience on their website. This large gap will have to be bridged in order to attract and retain car buyers who prefer to shop online.

Personalization is not as simple as remembering a customer’s name or giving customers the flexibility to search for vehicles with specific characteristics. Personalization requires a deeper understanding of customer preferences and an online experience tailored to each individual customer.

A key first step for dealers is to understand the specific aspects of the website that need to be customized. We asked customers what part of the website experience they wanted dealers to personalize and the top three items were (1) Vehicles of interest (2) Vehicle features and (3) Vehicles within my budget.

Vehicles of Interest

Sixty-five percent of consumers want websites to personalize vehicles of interest. In our website analysis, only 47% of dealer websites proactively recommend vehicles of interest based on a customer’s browsing behavior.

While some websites recommend “similar vehicles” to consumers when viewing a vehicle detail page, the recommendations typically relate only to the last vehicle viewed and did not reflect a consumer’s complete shopping history on the site or specific vehicles features they clicked on.

Vehicle Features

Fifty-eight percent of consumers said they want to be able to get vehicle recommendations based on specific features of interest, but in our sample not a single dealer website recommended vehicles based on features of interest.

Considering its high importance, recommending vehicles with relevant features is one of the single greatest opportunities for dealer websites to increase conversion rates and better meet the expectations of online shoppers.

Vehicles Within my Budget

Taking a consumer’s budget into consideration is critical to personalizing the online experience, since 52% of consumers expect a dealer’s website to help them find affordable vehicles. Additionally, 62% of consumers said that finding a vehicle with a specific monthly payment was as important, or even more important than finding a vehicle within a specific price range.

However, our analysis of 100 dealer websites found significant gaps when it comes to payments and the vehicle search.

* 9% of websites allow customers to search by payment range

* 55% of websites allow customers to estimate payments based on their true buying power, which includes the current equity position in their vehicle

* 11% of websites incorporated the credit score in the payment estimate

If websites aren’t dramatically improved to elevate the shopping experience and make personalized recommendations based on a consumer’s browsing behavior, dealers risk alienating potential buyers before they ever visit a showroom.

To remain competitive, dealers need to move beyond traditional approaches that attempt to optimize the same experience for every customer. Screen website vendors for personalization features and challenge vendors to demonstrate how their websites react to browsing behavior and deliver relevant vehicles with the right mix of features within a customer’s budget.

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