In 1996, I helped design and build the first website for my father’s GM dealership. The “interweb” was in its infancy and most car dealership didn’t even have dial-up Internet service, let alone a website. I’ll be honest, we had no idea what we should build, and thinking proactively about how customers would interact with what we built never even crossed our minds.
In January of 1996, there were fewer than 100,000 websites and only a handful of those were car dealer sites. We had no data on which to base any of our design decisions. We knew we were heading into unknown territory and we were doing it blindfolded. Today, there are nearly 1 billion websites and we have more data than we know what to do with. So much, in fact, that sometimes we forget what’s behind that data: real people… real SHOPPERS!
We recently completed a usability study with REAL in-market car shoppers to determine how they engage with inventory on dealer websites while researching their next purchase. Participants in the study were recruited from the local Seattle area and consisted of people currently in-market for a new vehicle. The goal was simple— to find out directly from the mouths and mouses of real shoppers what makes car shoppers click when browsing your vehicle details pages (VDPs) and vehicle search results pages (VSRs).
What shoppers showed and told us was pretty surprising. So surprising that we then quizzed dealers, presenting them with a series of questions similar to those we asked shoppers to see how compatible their answers were. Over 1,275 dealers took the quiz. We found that what shoppers wanted and what dealers were doing rarely matched up. So, I’ve put together the top four best practices that can help your dealership create an online inventory shopping experience that converts.
Best Practice #1: Care about color as much as your customers do
100% of the customers we surveyed chose to sort your vehicles by color before filtering by price, available rebates, transmission type or any other feature. They wanted to see the actual color of your vehicles in the search results listings. They also wanted to be able to search and filter by color.
Conversely, 63% of dealers who responded to our dealer quiz assumed that price was the feature that customers cared most about when browsing your site. Only 26% of our dealer respondents correctly identified color as a shopper’s #1 priority.
Yet every single participant made color a top priority when browsing your inventory. So be sure that visitors to your VSRs can easily search and filter your inventory based on color.
Best Practice #2: Use actual vehicle photos
The study produced some compelling evidence that stock photos leave shoppers with the wrong impression. 70% of shoppers in the study did not click through from a VSR to a VDP on a vehicle listing with a stock photo. Those participants subsequently reported that the presence of stock photos on vehicle search results pages left them feeling as if those vehicles were “all the same”. Consequently, vehicle listings with stock photos had a much lower click through rate than those that featured actual photos.
A flattering photo of the actual vehicle sitting on your lot can go a long way towards communicating what’s unique about that vehicle. So it’s critical to always include actual photos for each vehicle on your VDPs and VSR listings.
Best Practice #3: Help category shoppers find their vehicle
Very few of the participants knew the model names of vehicles they were interested in. Of all participants looking for an SUV, very few knew which model names were SUVs. Yet 48% of dealers who responded to our quiz were operating under the impression that shoppers were identifying with vehicles by their model names.
Help category shoppers find their vehicle by adding filtering functionality to your VSRs that enables visitors to filter your inventory by the different categories you sell. You can also add links to your homepage or navigation such as See All Trucks or View All SUVs that can help drive category shoppers directly to the specific type of vehicle they’re looking for.
For Your VSRs
Most of the shoppers in the study expressed confusion as to why there were options to get a price quote, ask a question, or complete a finance application on the vehicle search results page at this stage in their inventory browsing. Here are two tips to follow when constructing your VSRs that can help streamline this process:
1. The study showed that conversion from a VSR to a VDP increased as clutter and distractions on the vehicles search results page decreased. Rcopy, including any excessive content placed above the vehicle search results that pushes the vehicle listings lower on the page. Participants were frustrated when their search results did not appear directly below the navigation.
2. At this step in their browsing, shoppers in the study were interested in seeing basic vehicle features (and ONLY basic vehicle features) in an easy-to-scan bulleted format. Here are a few of the features shoppers expected on the vehicle search results page:
- Exterior & interior color
- Transmission type & number of gears
- Engine size & cylinders
- Number of doors
Take 5 minutes to review your website today. Have you perfected these smart practices? If you haven’t, do it now! Your shoppers will thank you, in the form of clicks and conversions.