While virtually every car buyer conducts hours of online research before they purchase a vehicle, the overwhelming majority simply show up on dealers lots with no prior communication. They don’t call, submit a lead or chat with your team. They’re just walk-ins coming off the Up Bus.
This begs the question “What drives today’s walk-in traffic?”
Of course, there are plenty of digital dominators, commandos, ninjas, gurus and conquistadors who claim to have the answer to this question. In fact, they’re lined up outside your door just waiting to separate you from your marketing dollars.
They promise – in exchange for these dollars – they’re going to share the “secret” to driving this walk-in traffic. Moreover, they’re going to solve everything that ails your dealership for the low, low price of just $10,000-$50,000 a month. (The price most often depends not on the “results” they’ll promise, but on how much they think they can get out of you.)
Don’t answer when they knock – there is no secret to driving walk-in traffic in a digital world.
Wait, if there is no secret, then what does drive walk-in traffic today?
I’m glad you asked that. While we’ll touch on a couple additional factors at the end of this post, the answer to what drives walk-ins today is primarily a combination of pricing, reputation and messaging.
Simply put: If your online pricing is not competitive, your walk-in traffic will suffer.
We know from various studies that nearly every car buyer today expects a hassle when they start the car-shopping process. If you’re trying to be too cute with your online pricing – for example, if you’re still showing MSRP and then asking consumers to complete a lead form to find your real price on new vehicles – you’re going to generate a few more online leads at the expense of lots of foot traffic.
Pricing transparency is no longer an option online; and those dealers who demand consumers “Call for Price” are turning off potential buyers in droves. Of course, because these buyers never bother to tell you they skipped your store because of your lack of transparency, you only know about the ones who called.
You think your “Call for Price” strategy is a winner because you generate a few Phone Ups each day, yet you have no idea how many sales you’re losing. Most consumers equate “Call for Price” with “Highest Price;” and they’ll simply eliminate you from their consideration set if you’re unwilling to be transparent online.
It’s important to note you don’t have to be the lowest price – just transparent and competitive. Do this, and most consumers will give you a chance to earn their business… and the majority of those will simply walk-in.
It seems no topic in automotive retail has been overemphasized more than reputation management; so, I won’t go into everything you need to do to improve yours. (If you’re interested in learning how to legitimately earn 5-Star reviews without having to spend a dime, check out this free videos series on managing your online reputation.)
Instead, I’ll just give you a few important tips about your online reputation and how it relates to driving offline traffic:
- Reputation matters. Consumers care about your ratings and they will avoid your dealership if other people claim you’re dishonest, deceptive or unreliable.
- Five-star reviews are fine, but consumers look for the negatives. With so many businesses flooding their online scores with either gamed or coached reviews, many potential buyers will look beyond your great reviews to read the negatives before they commit to a large purchase from you.
- You cannot “game” your online reputation. Providing a great experience every time – and thus not generating negative reviews – is more important than trying to artificially inflate your online score when it comes to driving buyers to your door.
Simply put: A great online reputation – especially one where the reviewers talk about how trustworthy you are and how the entire experience was hassle-free – will go a long way towards keeping you in a consumer’s consideration set… and driving that walk-in traffic you’re missing today.
To be clear, messaging covers everything you say about you – regardless of where you say it. It’s what you say in your radio ads, it’s what you put on your website, and it’s what you put on the banner in centerfield of the local little league stadium.
You control your messaging and, therefore, your messaging should be consistent across all media and should most certainly speak to everything that concerns a potential prospect when it comes to buying a car. In other words, your messaging should be leveraged to drive all traffic, online and off.
Overall, your messaging should highlight the “no-hassle experience” your customers enjoy when they buy from you. (This, because most everyone expects a hassle when they start the car-shopping process.) Additionally, including verbiage that addresses why someone should trust you, how fun it is to buy from you, how much you value your customers, or how genuine and friendly your team is all go a long way to breaking down barriers with today’s consumers… often enough to get them on the next Up Bus.
Of course, you need to live this in real life – it’s not enough to just say it.
More specifically, including honest customer testimonials on your website, in your Facebook posts and in your marketing – testimonials that can back up your claims – can build trust with a customer before they ever even meet you.
Even little things like “trust badging” can improve your messaging when a consumer visits your website. Seemingly trivial icons that read “Great Deal,” “Trade-In Assurance” or “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” can mean almost as much to consumers as more descriptive trust badging like “Ford Certified” or “Carfax One Owner.”
Finally, offering online buying – and properly marketing this as a no-hassle, convenient and transparent way to buy – will actually drive offline shoppers to your store, as well. (You see, most people still want to take a test drive. However, the mere fact that you’re an “honest, transparent, hassle-free dealer who offers convenient online buying” will resonate with every potential buyer; not just those few who want to purchase online.)
There Is Just a Bit More…
Of course, your inventory mix plays a huge role; as does the consumers’ awareness of your pricing, your reputation and your messaging. That is, if your inventory mix is wrong for your market, the other factors will have little impact on your foot traffic. Additionally, if no one sees your competitive pricing, reads your great reviews, or encounters your superior messaging, then they’re not likely to walk in, are they?
Traditional sales strategies – like stocking desirable vehicles and properly merchandising your front line – still matter today. Additionally, exposing this inventory to the most in-market consumers at the right time is critical to driving your sales from walk-in traffic. This exposure, however, doesn’t cost-effectively come from throwing tens of thousands of dollars every month at someone claiming to have the magic formula or the secret to solving your traffic problems. There is, after all, no secret.
Seek out honest digital partners. Seek out those that don’t claim to be Google Gurus or Conquest Marketing Conquistadors, but rather those that will spend your dollars in a transparent way with simple reporting that details the leads they generated, the sales they helped create and the walk-in traffic they drove. It’s really not as complicated as the commandos make it sound.
Author: Steve Stauning
Steve is the author of Assumptive Selling: The Complete Guide to Selling More Vehicles for More Money to Today’s Connected Customers; as well as a respected automotive industry veteran and founder of pladoogle, LLC – a leading training & consulting firm – and the free sales video training website SteveStauning.com. Prior to his involvement with pladoogle, Steve served in various automotive leadership roles, including as the Asbury Automotive Group’s (NYSE: ABG) director of ecommerce, the director of the Web Solutions division of Reynolds & Reynolds, and as the general manager of Dealer Web Services for Dominion’s Dealer Specialties.