Having just added the new Optima to its shiny new lineup -- including the Sorento, Sportage Forte and Soul -- Kia recently created a one-stop online shop at eBay Motors. Michael Sprague, Kia's VP/marketing, talks to Marketing Daily about the program, which puts individual dealer inventory on a special Kia-branded subset of eBay's auto site. While Sprague says dealers don't have to opt in, the rapidity with which they have signed up shows that they appreciate the need to bridge the virtual and physical processes.
Q: What's the idea? Is it that the site creates a bridge between what people are doing anyway online and the dealership without having to leave a third-party site and go elsewhere, either to Kia's consumer site or the dealer's site? One-stop shop?
A: Well, it does help facilitate that process. This is just one more way to be able to showcase products and services we offer as a brand, as we know more and more people are going online at some point during the buying process. So we thought this would facilitate them in making the purchase decision.
Q: Are you going to advertise this?
A: Right now we are starting out with the PR channel and we will see how things go in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully see what kind of interest there is. Then in 2011, we will do more promotions around it. A lot of it is natural traffic through eBay because they get 14 million monthly visits, so there's that natural traffic there.
Q: But are you going to have a link from Kia.com to the eBay site?
A: We are still looking at doing that. We have similar mechanisms where consumers can go to Kia.com and find their local dealers that way. So again, we are still testing this. It will evolve as it moves forward.
Q: So you are not ready to eliminate your own built-in lead program?
A: No, not at all. We see this as an addition to that because people who are going to the Web as part of the buying process are really going in a number of different directions: we see them at third-party sites; we see them going directly to Kia.com; we see them at eBay motors. What we are trying to do is get our hands and arms around all the places where people can potentially find us.
Q: Was the program eBay's idea?
A: They did come to us with this idea. We see it as a natural evolution of where online auto shopping is headed.
Q: Is the difference with this program that by the time someone gets to the Kia environment on eBay, they have decided already on a vehicle and are no longer really cross-shopping or researching competitive vehicles?
A: Yes, the point where someone's actually looking at inventory signals to us that they are getting very close to actually making a purchase decision. They may have narrowed it down to one or two vehicles in our portfolio or one or two of our competitors, but once they start looking at what dealers have, they have pretty much made up their mind that 'Yes, this is the vehicle I want and now I'm looking for certain colors or specifications.'
Q: How many dealers have signed up?
A: We are at about 50% of dealers in the two-and-a-half weeks since we started rolling this out. But it is optional and there may be dealers who may not want to do this -- who may decide they don't want to put their inventory online. That's a business decision that individual dealers are making. But the fact that 50% have said "yes" tells us that our dealers are embracing it. They see the benefit.
Q: Is this the first step in the process of moving all sales online?
A: No. I want to be clear that in no way would this ever replace the actual physical store. We see this as just part of the process, and ultimately, all vehicle sales are through dealers. We want that. We encourage that.
Q: Among dealers who have signed up, are you getting the sense that the ones most interested are those who don't have robust Internet programs of their own already?
A: That's a good question. In general, most dealers now have embraced the online shopping of vehicles and are doing everything they can to attract consumers into their stores -- not just for products but for services as well. Also, dealers recognize that consumers are time-constrained and the Internet allows them to do things during times when the dealership may not necessarily be open.
Q: Are there other similar programs you are looking at either with other third-party auto sites or within Kia.com?
A: This is the biggest one. But again, we are always talking to companies that might have the next big idea.