As technology has advanced, vehicle pricing through informational third-party sites has become more front and center for consumers. Just think about most third-party sites…what is the primary message they have in common? Price.
With vehicle pricing tools, such as vAuto becoming the main way dealers value and price their inventory, some unique features tend to get lost in the shuffle. Let’s face it, vehicles are not all the same, even those that are the same make, model and mileage. So, how do you convince a customer searching through hundreds of vehicles on a third-party listing service that your vehicle is priced higher because it is a better value?
The answer? Great vehicle merchandising.
Dealers typically operate in a similar manner when it comes to vehicle merchandising, with a standard process for photos, exploding a VIN, etc. The only way many dealers make a vehicle stand out, is price. If I were a realtor, I could remodel the kitchen and upgrade the house to increase its value. You can’t really do that with a vehicle and that is why most dealers leverage price to make their vehicles stand out.
As an industry, we understand the value of images when it comes to inventory merchandising. We’ve progressed from the days of no photos, to a couple, to some dealers who now display 40 images or more. Video is also increasingly used for inventory merchandising. The problem is that, because of these standard processes, the vehicle images tend to have no character or personality.
Sure, you can take very high-quality images and video. However, most dealers still resort to price to differentiate their vehicles and make them stand out because that is what EVERY other dealer does. When a customer is browsing for Honda Civics, they have a few hundred, maybe even a thousand different combinations of features and specs to choose from. Most dealers have tons of images and a video – but there is nothing to differentiate one from the other, so the customer is forced to weed out vehicles and narrow down their choice purely by price.
Well, guess what? That doesn’t have to be the case!
If a customer were on your lot looking at a specific vehicle, no salesperson would simply show them a random list of every standard feature and let them sort it out for themselves. Yet this is exactly what is happening online. Don’t force the customer to identify vehicles that contain the features and options most important to them by wading through lists of hundreds of features generated by VIN explosions and fail to do the one thing that a salesperson would do with the customer in front of them: sell the features of the actual vehicle.
If that customer were to ask the salesperson why the vehicle is priced higher than similar vehicles they researched on their smartphone while on the dealership’s lot, the salesperson would point out the differentiators for this specific vehicle that justify the higher price.
Perhaps the truck is lifted, has a heavy-duty towing package, navigation, or a specific trim level. There are countless reasons why Ford F-150 A is different from Ford F-150 B. You wouldn’t leave it up to the customer to figure it out, but would explain it to them right up front by highlighting what makes the vehicle special. You certainly wouldn’t rattle on about how the truck has air conditioning and power windows (but that is what many of your VDPs do online). The reason listing features off is so effective in person is because the salesperson shows the right features at the right time to the right customer.
The same concept applies to online vehicle merchandising. The problem is that it is easy to get caught up in the same process for how every vehicle is photographed, videoed and captured for display on your dealership website or third-party partners. As a result, this process can get routine and mechanical. To solve this problem, stop and ask yourself the single most important question:
What’s special about this vehicle?
Taking the time to identify special attributes for each vehicle, then ensure that any features that make THIS vehicle different from others are included in the images. Doing so, makes it easier for a customer to identify and discover that vehicle. The vehicle immediately becomes more engaging and this adds value for the customer while researching and shopping. It makes absolutely no sense to fail to take a picture of a tow hitch on a truck, forcing a consumer to wade through options to figure out whether the truck has one. Or, why would you omit the fact that this truck has Blind Spot Assist Level 4? Including this data front and center cleverly combines rich media with relevant data, more effectively merchandizing the vehicle online, setting it apart from competing vehicles. Another question to ask is, what if those features which are simply impossible to explain online in a normal way? Well, the good news is that OEMs have already created media to do just that. However, many dealers aren’t taking advantage of these resources to help better sell these vehicles.
For example, on recent Porche 911 Turbo models, the front suspension is so low that the front of the vehicle scrapes when entering a driveway. Well, Porsche included a feature called the “Front Axle Lift System,” where a customer can push a button which lifts the front end slightly, allowing the driver to pull into their driveway without the front-end scraping. Even if a consumer were to read this feature in the laundry list buried below the fold of a VDP, they may not know what it is or simply what it means. If you have one of these in stock you would be wise to include the rich media created by the factory to highlight and explain the feature. This builds value in the vehicle and increases consumer interest.
The bottom line is that it is important to treat each vehicle differently in your merchandising process. Don’t shoot a Rubicon the same way you shoot a Civic. They have different buyers, interested in different features. By treating each vehicle as an individual – highlighting the features and options that make it special, followed by placing those features front and center in the description with images and rich media – you can differentiate your vehicle online without resorting to lowering the price in order to compete with another dealership’s offer.
Shifting a customer’s mindset, primary concern and interest away from price, and towards the vehicle’s features and benefits, increases the likelihood that the customer will focus on the vehicle for what it has to offer, rather than how much it costs. When you begin the conversation, the customer will already know why your vehicle is priced higher than other, which reduces friction in the sales process, creates a better customer experience, and equally as important, turns your inventory faster.
This can all be accomplished by asking one simple question, taking a few more minutes with each vehicle, and simply doing what every salesperson does with every customer standing in front of them – sell the vehicle.