Since I started my public relations position at an automotive CRM company, I have waded through my fair share of poorly designed dealership websites. The pop-up ads are annoying, the graphics can be garish, and there seems to be a consistent lack of transparency for many dealers. And yet, the biggest problem that I encounter is locating the employees on the dealer website. Obviously, as a dealership trying to sell cars, it makes sense to have the inventory front and center. In my opinion, it makes even more sense to have a friendly face front-and-center of the website to make the virtual shopping experience more personable. This brings me to the question that every dealer should ask his or herself: Can people navigate this dealership website?
As of 2013, 52% of all marketers maintain a Facebook account and 42% of Twitter users provide opinions about products and services regularly. Social media is an emerging and important internet platform for personal use and business use alike, but that does not mean that one should neglect the online presence one conveys through a website. Let’s run through the obvious must-haves for a successful and user-friendly dealer website:
- Honest inventory
- Too often I come across venomous reviews of dealer websites that were out of date with their cars in stock. It is imperative to keep the website inventory up to date, because these days over 90% of customers begin their car-buying experience online. If a dream car is available online but not in person, not only does the dealership lose a sale, it gets a dent in its reputation.
- Honest pricing
- If a misleading online inventory is damaging to a sale and reputation, then misleading online pricing is devastating. Today’s digital consumer will come to a dealership armed with a printout of the online pricing, any coupons or deals available, and competitive pricing from area dealers. If the dealer isn’t prepared to honor these deals, then they might as well take them off the site, because the repercussions are worse than the loss of any single sale.
- While testimonials don’t need to be as prominently presented as new cars and deals, using actual positive customer experience is cheaper than hiring a copywriter and its wonderfully authentic. Video testimonials are great for social media, but a page of quotes and pictures from satisfied customers will definitely do the trick.
- Staff for Sales and Service
- It is important for the dealer staff, both sales and service, to be easily accessible. On the staff page there should at least be a thumbnail-sized headshot with name, title, and contact information for every employee. It gives the dealer an air of confidence. “You can call any of us any time and ask us anything about your car’s needs. We promise.”
- Social Media Handles
- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google + and even Pinterest tiles are pretty standard for any company website, but they remain an important cornerstone to customer interaction. Honestly, it’s free marketing. Live chat is also a great feature if a dealer has the resources to maintain it. If there isn’t enough time or money to create a prompt and resourceful live chat feature, then it’s probably best not to have it.
- Multi-platform Capabilities
- Does the dealer website look just as good on a smart phone or tablet as it does on a computer screen? Pinching and zooming on a smaller screen to access a website is possible, but inconvenient. If a dealer website is best suited for whatever platform a customer may choose, then web traffic is sure to increase.
How to present this information is where there seems to be a great divergence of opinions. Personally, I think that dealers should build a site that they themselves would want to see. Often it seems that advertisers and marketers forget that they are appealing to people, not foreign entities that speak a strange, excited, spastic buzz-word language. There is a sense of professionalism and cool that comes inherently with a streamlined website. Clean and uncluttered are classic, and while there is a lot of information to keep on a dealer website, keeping it organized and easy to navigate will only benefit the business.