The Internet has changed the way consumers purchase products in so many ways, it’s hard to even remember how things were before. For those who don’t remember (or never knew), buying a car was a days- or weeks-long process that involved in-person visits to many different dealers, asking for specifications and brochures for many different makes and models, and then, once deciding, crossing your fingers that the car with the specifications you wanted was available. The only thing that seems to remain is the test drive (and, in the age of virtual reality, that may be going away as well).
Search, and its ability to help people find what they want, when they want it, has been revolutionary for the auto industry. Where shoppers once visited different Web sites to find the car they wanted, they are now plugging their desired features into a search engine and shopping from the results. In a survey of 2,000 car buyers done the past year, DealerSocket found 44% of consumers visited zero to two Web sites today, compared with nearly five sites five years ago.
“It’s different than it was five years ago,” Peter Ord, national sales director for DealerSocket, a customer-relationship and information technology provider, told Wards Auto during a media summit recently. “Today, search results take users directly to a make and model that’s available at a dealership. You don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Yet the automotive industry has adapted to its new reality admirably, and the way it has could provide lessons for businesses in other sectors. Here are some of the lessons:
Yep, just like everyone else, the automotive industry has been upended by the mobile revolution. According to Wordstream, more than half of consumers (52%) are using their smartphones to search for a new car, and 9% are using a tablet, which is based on mobile technology. Only 41% are using a desktop or laptop. In response, the industry has been quick to adopt a Google’s new mobile ad format, Mobile Automotive Ads, intended to create a showroom-like experience with a carousel of pictures and prominent information about features and fuel efficiency.
Promote Your Location
For all the change the Internet has wrought, the local dealer is still an important piece of the process. Half of automotive shoppers make a decision on a product or point-of-purchase based on the proximity to their home or office, according to WordStream. Location targeting features and information are critical to reaching these consumers and reeling them in.
Know Your Real-Time Inventory
Once consumers have found a dealer close to them, their next step is to head to the company’s Web site (for at least 69% of them, according to WordStream again). Of them, 71% don’t take further action if the Web site they visit lacks relevant, current information, including vehicle inventory. Those that don’t have the most-up-to-date information are clearly missing out to those who do.
With mobile playing such importance in the car buying process (and cars being a relatively complex and heavily researched product), it should be of little surprise that 60% of consumers who perform mobile automotive-related searches will make a phone call, according to Google. Enabling click-to-call capabilities — not to mention having the phone staffed with well-trained, well-informed employees — can help bring the customer into the fold.
Get on Amazon
Many consumers’ searches begin and end with Amazon. Though you can’t buy a car through the Web site (yet), the company recently launched Amazon Vehicles as a research destination for cars, car parts and accessories. While the site will compete with car manufacturers’ official sites, there’s little doubt that presence on the world’s biggest shopping site can only help get in front of consumers.
True, cars are more considered purchases than dishwashing liquid. But there are similarities, especially when it comes to product awareness and trial, with many other industries. Perhaps taking a page from the auto sector’s ability to adapt to search will pay off in other sectors as well.