(Part 1 of a 4-piece blog series on vehicle merchandising)
Every dealership’s biggest asset is inventory. Without vehicles, your dealership would simply be an empty parking lot with nothing to sell. That being the case, one would think dealerships would do everything within their power to showcase these assets for sale. Well, sadly, many dealerships do a poor job of making their vehicles stand out to consumers online. With such a competitive market, and with inventory now available to consumers on a national basis, today’s consumers are spoiled with choice.
Don’t believe me? A friend’s son recently flew from the Carolinas to buy a car he saw in Houston, Texas and drove it back. It wasn’t even a specialty or collectible vehicle. It was a Pontiac Solstice priced at just $7,000. He traveled roughly 1,200 miles to buy a $7,000 car, then drove it back for 17 hours. This is not a one off event. These transactions happen all the time.
How can you ensure that, at the very least, you have a first crack at the business of your local consumers? Here are some tips I have learned working with hundreds of dealers over the years:
- Consistent Format: Shoot vehicles in a consistent format to convey professionalism. Far too often I see dealers, and even vendors they outsource to, simply pull a vehicle forward from the line of cars and take pictures right there. There is no consistent background, or even order to the pictures. They are taken quickly and without much thought as to quality, composition or lighting. It’s simply a “get it done as quickly as possible” type task. This practice can cause vehicles to be poorly portrayed and appear less attractive to consumers. The car may be the most beautiful and flawless car in the world, but if the images are poor, the online customer will never know.
For best results set up a staging area to photograph all your inventory. If this is not possible, simply find a place on the lot that doesn’t have a busy background and has good lighting. Also, include your dealership’s logo. This at least gives you a better and more consistent option.
- Capture Value-Added Features: You’d be surprised how many dealers simply focus on exterior and a few interior views. This can result in the loss of a potential customer that wants to see any value-added features in an easily digestible format. Don’t rely on the customer to discover any special features by reading a bullet-pointed list of perhaps 200 features (air conditioning, power steering, etc.) to get to the ones they are actually interested in, such as navigation, a tow package or other value-added features.
Neglecting to capture images of popular and value-added features is setting yourself up for failure. Serve these up to shoppers on your VDP pages and make it easy for consumers to know if the vehicle has a feature they may be interested in. Don’t force them to dig through your website looking — they probably won’t. They’ll just go to another dealership’s site that makes it easy for them and bye-bye sale!
- Get Inventory Online Fast: Don’t miss out on opportunities! The faster you can get a vehicle on your website, the faster a consumer will see it and become interested. You may not have 40 pictures at first, but at least get a single image online as fast as possible, then go back and get the rest up as quickly as you can. This practice has proven to turn cars faster which, of course, increases sales volume.
- Leverage Manual Camera Controls to Improve Quality: You may not be a professional photographer, but some very basic knowledge of lighting, focus and the best angles to use to take a picture can increase picture quality and show off a vehicle in a more attractive light.
Ever wonder why people take selfies above their heads angled down? Because that practice makes them look better. The same goes for inventory photos. Find the most attractive angles that accentuate the vehicle, ensure the camera is focused on the feature you wish to capture, that the lighting is good and that your images showcase the vehicle well, and you will generate more interest from online car shoppers.
Automatic camera modes have improved over time. However, a completely automatic camera mode is really an attempt to cram a vast array of photographic situations into a one-size-fits-all tool. An automatic camera mode may actually deteriorate the quality of all photos for the sake of user simplicity.
If you have a device available, and are willing to learn, open up the camera and take a look in the settings, or in any other menus presented. Once you find the ‘modes’ settings (Auto, Panorama, Time lapse, etc.), scan for a “Manual” option or something similarly phrased.
Regardless of the application you use, learning to use manual camera settings is a way to better understand photography and improve your inventory photos. The best way to learn these skills is to simply go and take some pictures while challenging yourself to make use of the manual settings you have at your disposal. Yes, you are sure to make mistakes, and will initially take some ugly pictures. But, learning manual photography is a reasonably quick process and should not require more than a little frustration here and there.
Stay tuned for part 2 in this series!