The power of the Rehash Tool

A little effort can go a long way.

And what dealer wouldn’t commit a little bit extra to double, triple, even quadruple his/her contract closure rate with Santander Consumer USA?

That “extra” would be using the SC Rehash Tool on the Dealer Extranet.

Some dealers already know that, but there are many more who are missing out on this opportunity to boost their results by finding the “best structure for our customers to fit their needs and ours.”

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300A recent survey of one SC region, for example, showed that dealers using the Rehash Tool closed deals with SC at about twice the average closure rate for the region, with the most successful prospector achieving a whopping 52 percent closure rate.

“Closure rates were much higher for dealers who used the [Rehash Tool], because dealers have the ability to make infinite changes to the deal structure in order to find what combination works best for them and the customer versus taking or leaving our initial approval,” said an SC Regional Sales Manager.

“We are putting the buying power into the hands of those dealers who want to seize the opportunity to make their own approvals,” the RSM added.

The art of tweaking

Credit applications aren’t an exact science – many require a little retooling before getting approved.

But instead of spending the short time you have with your customers on the phone with a buyer, you can update numbers, revise the type of vehicle, add backend, etc. You simply plug the information into the rehash tool and receive a new structure in real time.

And the Rehash Tool is available 24/7, allowing you to work deals on your timetable.

“We love the Rehash Tool because it allows us to maximize profit and capture each deal,” said Elford Nolan, finance director for Jack Miller Kia in North Kansas City, MO. “Within minutes we know how to best structure for our customers to fit their needs and ours.”

‘User-friendly experience’

While the Rehash Tool is a good reason to use the Dealer Extranet, there are others, including tracking your deals in funding to see if you need additional documentation, uploading stips that go directly into the funder’s queue, printing a purchase letter with total funded and applicable fees, and accessing the dealer resources section containing documents important to doing business with SC.

“One of our greatest assets is our Dealer Extranet, especially for high-volume dealers,” said Stephen Rivelli, an ASM in the Bronx, NY. “The ease of use and the multi-functionality of it, from rehashing an application to funding, allows my dealers a fast, user-friendly experience.”

For more on the Rehash Tool, see the video below, ask your ASM or contact SC’s sales department.

 

Vehicle recalls, online sales leads and the big risk in digital marketing

What worries car owners about recalls

Millions of vehicle owners who don’t respond to recall notices are worried that dealerships will try to sell them additional repairs during their visit.

That’s based on a survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

The UMTRI survey, which involved more than 500 participants, found that nearly four in 10 were worried about sales pressure – the highest response rate among 10 concerns cited.

“There is general recognition of the problem of low response rates,” UMTRI’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle said in their report, Consumer Preferences Regarding Vehicle-Related Safety Recalls, which also suggested possible ways to increase response to recall notices.

READ MORE

052517 IL Vehicle recalls, online sales leads and the big risk in digital marketing

 

No time to waste with online sales leads

Five minutes.

That’s the optimum amount of time for responding to a sales lead.

With such a narrow opening, less than 40 percent of automotive dealers respond to queries that quickly, based on data from a study by Conversica, a sales-and-marketing software provider.

The study said that the 49 percent of the dealerships who responded to queries met the five-minute standard and that 94 percent of those who responded did so within 24 hours, but that nearly 20 percent of dealerships surveyed did not respond at all to online queries.

READ MORE

 

Taking a big risk in age of digital retailing

Now is the time for dealerships to embrace digital retailing.

That was the message from Mark O’Neil, chief operating officer of Cox Automotive in a recent interview with WardsAuto before he spoke at the 2017 Automotive Forum in New York.

He suggested that the ability to do car deals 100 percent online is about a year away, WardsAuto said.

“Fundamentally, the consumer has learned to engage digitally in every other retail category – shoes, pizza, mortgages, electronics, books, pick any category,” O’Neil said, according to WardsAuto. “But the auto industry has held back in letting them do it.”

“When customers want something, they always get it,” the executive told WardsAuto.

READ MORE

 

Four ways to boost online lead engagement

Promptness, personalization, persistence and performance.

They are the way into your online prospect’s heart and “crucial to the success of your dealership,” according to Conversica, a sales-and-marketing software company.

“There’s an abundance of research on the importance of these Four Ps for lead engagement, but we wanted to find out whether dealers were putting this information into practice in the field,” wrote Alex Terry, Conversica CEO, in the introduction to its latest Sales Effectiveness Report.

The good news for the auto industry from Conversica’s “secret shopper” survey was that of the nine industries examined, “automotive had by far the highest proportion of top-tier scores.”

READ MORE

 

Millennials want cars after all, survey finds

The car culture is alive and well among millennials.

And younger shoppers in general prefer luxury brands to driving in the mainstream, according to The Harris Poll of 102,617 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over conducted earlier this year.

It’s a different picture than the one often described concerning millennials and car ownership.

“Millennials may not be as indifferent to American car culture as is often suggested,” said Harris, based on its annual EquiTrend Study of consumer choices of the strongest brands across 10 industries, and “their aspirations for luxury are driving the U.S. automotive brand landscape.”

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Millennials want cars after all, luxury brands most, Harris survey finds

The car culture is alive and well among millennials.

And younger shoppers in general prefer luxury brands to driving in the mainstream, according to The Harris Poll of 102,617 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over conducted earlier this year.

It’s a different picture than the one often described concerning millennials and car ownership.

IL-BLOG_70510-12 (051817 IL Millennials Want Cars After All, Luxury Brands Most, Harris Survey Finds)_WP

“Millennials may not be as indifferent to American car culture as is often suggested,” said Harris, based on its annual EquiTrend Study of consumer choices of the strongest brands across 10 industries, and “their aspirations for luxury are driving the U.S. automotive brand landscape.”

Seven of the top 10 car brands for millennials are luxury brands, Harris reported, versus five each for Generation X and baby boomers. The bad news is that millennials (consumers born from 1977 to 1995) actually still are less likely to own cars than older generations.

Still, Harris struck a positive tone in a press release accompanying the report.

“Millennials are changing not just what we want to drive, but how we drive and how we shop for cars,” said Joan Sinopoli, vice president of brand solutions at The Harris Poll. “While maybe not a full-blown romance, the flirtation with cars as part of our culture is alive and well with younger generations. Millennials aspire to luxury, and nowhere is this more evident than in the automotive industry.”

While the Harris report didn’t identify the top 10 brands for millennials specifically, the overall leading luxury brands, in order, were Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Genesis, Lexus and Porsche. Top non-luxury brands were Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, Subaru, Nissan, GMC and Mazda.

“Mercedes-Benz has millennials to thank for its brand-of-the-year status in luxury automotive,” with 72.5 percent identifying it as a top brand, Harris reported.

A previous Harris Poll indicated that “millennial car owners share many attitudes about vehicle ownership with other age groups,” according to the website nerdwallet.com. And while millennials were surprised by the costs of owning a vehicle – and some believe it’s a hassle – “this doesn’t seem to affect their choice to own a vehicle or their plans to purchase one in the future.”

And, if a millennial shows up at your dealership, nerdwallet reported, they are more likely than other groups to have compared their options online beforehand.

So, get ready. The millennials may be coming to your dealership after all.

Four ways to boost your online lead engagement starting right now

The Four Ps.

Promptness, personalization, persistence and performance.

They are the way into your online prospect’s heart and “crucial to the success of your dealership,” according to Conversica, a sales-and-marketing software company.

“There’s an abundance of research on the importance of these Four Ps for lead engagement, but we wanted to find out whether dealers were putting this information into practice in the field,” wrote Alex Terry, Conversica CEO, in the introduction to its latest Sales Effectiveness Report.

033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)To accomplish that, Conversica commissioned researchers to visit the websites of 538 companies across nine industries – 59 of which were from the automotive industry – for a “secret shopper” survey.

The good news for the auto industry was that of the nine industries examined by the researchers, “automotive had by far the highest proportion of top-tier scores, with nearly four in 10 dealerships (38 percent) receiving an overall ‘A’ grade,” said Conversica. “For comparison, the real estate industry had the second-best proportion of overall ‘A’ grades at 14 percent of respondents.”

Here is the company’s take on the Four Ps:

  • Promptness – “You need to be fast if you want to be first … This is the single most influential variable in the study, and even a few minutes can make a big difference.”

“The likelihood of conversion drops significantly during the first three minutes after the lead’s inquiry,” the company reported, but less than half (49 percent) of the dealerships contacted responded in five minutes or less, and nearly 20 percent took more than an hour.

TIP: “In a category where minutes matter, even small improvements can have big impacts. Automated delivery solutions can make improvements in promptness relatively painless.”

  • Persistence – “One or two [follow-up] tries are rarely enough … The bottom line is that maximizing contact maximizes the likelihood of response and qualification.”

“Attempting contact just three times instead of once will double response rates; companies with the fastest growing revenues were most likely to attempt contact with a lead five to eight times, [and] overall response and conversion rates continue to grow at the eighth attempt and beyond.”

TIP: “Increasing the number of attempted contacts does not have to dramatically impact the cost and effort involved in follow-up efforts. Research has shown that even a few more attempts can significantly improve the odds of conversion.”

  • Personalization – “Prospects want conversation, not promotion … Personalization scores represent the degree of customization employed in email responses.”

Response rates improve when prospective customers receive an email from an address associated with an individual rather than a company name (31 percent), that includes a signature (22 percent), or that resembles a personal letter (137 percent) rather than appearing graphics heavy.

  • Performance – Email follow-ups that land in a prospect’s spam or junk mail folder look like non-responses to the recipient.

TIP: “Personalization and performance go hand-in-hand. Personal design factors not only make leads more receptive to the message, but they also increase the likelihood of it getting past spam filters … Performance grades suffer if emails aren’t frequently updated and adapted.”

Underscoring the significance of the Four Ps, Conversica said that 90 percent of all companies in the survey receiving an overall “A” grade received an “A” in personalization, while 80 percent scored an “A” in promptness, and almost 60 percent received an “A” in persistence.

None of the companies surveyed received an “A” in performance although 95 percent scored a “B”.

“Simply put, no matter how well a dealer scored, there is always room for improvement,” said the Conversica report. “Agendas and priorities can vary greatly from organization to organization; however, incremental improvements … can have a disproportionately positive impact on the bottom line.”

How well would your dealership score on the Four Ps?

Dealerships doing business as usual running high risk in age of digital retailing?

Now is the time for dealerships to embrace digital retailing.

That was the message from Mark O’Neil, chief operating officer of Cox Automotive in a recent interview with WardsAuto before he spoke at the 2017 Automotive Forum in New York.

He suggested that the ability to do car deals 100 percent online is about a year away, WardsAuto said.

033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)“Fundamentally, the consumer has learned to engage digitally in every other retail category – shoes, pizza, mortgages, electronics, books, pick any category,” O’Neil said, according to WardsAuto. “But the auto industry has held back in letting them do it.”

O’Neil’s message comes down to “if the industry doesn’t [change], someone will create a disruptive technology that will put the current dealer or manufacturer at risk.”

“When customers want something, they always get it,” the executive told WardsAuto.

Looking at the data

Although dealers might say they already have embraced digital, “when you look at the data – we look at how enabled websites are to transact electronically – they are woefully under delivering,” O’Neil said.

“Everyone has embraced using digital for merchandising and increasing brand awareness. The industry has done a terrific job of letting customers use the Internet to research, shop and get pricing. But not, ‘OK, now I want to buy it.’ That’s a huge leap. The dealers who enable that will thrive.”

O’Neil said that “all the pieces, absent one, now exist” for 100 percent online transactions.

The missing piece

“That missing piece is the secured, legally binding contract. But we’re getting real close to that,” the executive told WardsAuto. “The four tools that are available online are getting a real payment, getting pre-approved, financing, seeing an F&I presentation – and selecting products that fit needs – and getting an offer on a trade. By embracing those four, you’re 80 percent of the way there.”

O’Neil’s comments echoed a recent report in Automotive News, which cited industry experts who believe that the 80 percent or more of “dealers who lag behind [on technology] must catch up or face a fate similar to that of independent bookstores in the era of Amazon.”

Dealership concerns

Among dealership concerns with going fully digital are the loss of personal contact with prospective buyers and the perception that the sale of F&I products will be hurt, the report suggests.

Although Automotive News cited one dealer, David Kain, president of Kain Automotive in Lexington, KY, who said that “the studies we’ve seen show that consumers actually buy more F&I products using iPads in a dealership on their own than a finance manager can sell them.”

See WardsAuto’s full report on its interview with the Cox Automotive executive.

No time to waste with online sales leads, ‘secret shopper’ study suggests

Five minutes.

That’s the optimum amount of time for responding to a sales lead.

With such a narrow opening, less than 40 percent of automotive dealers respond to queries that quickly, based on data from a study by Conversica, a sales-and-marketing software provider.

The study said that the 49 percent of the dealerships who responded to queries met the five-minute standard and that 94 percent of those who responded did so within 24 hours, but that nearly 20 percent of dealerships surveyed did not respond at all to online queries.

Researchers submitted inquiries through 59 dealer websites as part of a broader “secret shopper” study of 538 companies from nine industries.

IL-BLOG_60629-11-(Dealer-Matters-Logo---Animation) (1)

“Internet leads are an expensive resource, crucial to the success of automotive dealerships,” said Alex Terry, Conversica CEO, in a press release about the survey. “Our annual report offers a snapshot of how dealerships are handling leads today and how that behavior is changing over time.”

“We compared real-world execution with best-practice research to help dealerships see where they’re performing well, but also to pinpoint processes that need to improve,” he explained.

Overall grades for lead follow-up skewed higher for the automotive industry than other industries, the report showed, with 38 percent of dealerships receiving an “A” and 52 percent getting a “B” – a total of 90 percent – compared to 67 percent for other industries.

The study showed that almost three quarters (74 percent) of dealerships which responded used four key elements cited by Conversica: a personalized greeting, specific mention of the inquiry, contact information and responding at a time similar to the inquiry.

“But weaknesses persist in the auto sales process,” according to Conversica.

“While the auto industry as a whole performed well compared to other industries, there was still plenty of room for improvement,” suggested Conversica. “One in five (19 percent) did not respond at all to a direct sales inquiry from their website, and 75 percent failed to make the eight or more attempts that research demonstrates are needed to engage an Internet lead.”

Breaking down the numbers further, 24 percent of dealerships made one to two attempts to reach leads, 14 percent made three to four attempts and 19 percent made five to seven attempts.

Only 25 percent of those who responded made the recommended eight attempts per lead.

“While a steady stream of leads from your website or other sources looks like a huge success, you shouldn’t pop the champagne cork just yet,” wrote Conversica’s CEO. “Now is when the real work begins: Engaging each and every one and turning them into revenue for your dealership.”

More details of the survey are available in Conversica’s online report: 2016 Sales Effectiveness Report | Lead Follow-Up in the Automotive Industry.

Top five uses of the Dealer Extranet

Easy access to the right information is key when working to put deals together.

No surprise there. But what may surprise you is all the different ways the Santander Consumer USA Dealer Extranet can enhance your deal-making abilities.

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300The Extranet is the next best thing to having your buyer on the line. You have real-time access to information and systems that can get things done. If logging in to the Dealer Extranet is not a part of your regular routine, you could be missing out.

Here are five of the top uses of the Dealer Extranet:

  1. Rehash applications with the Rehash Tool – If you need to update the numbers or revise the type of vehicle being purchased, plug your new info into the Rehash Tool and receive a new structure in real time.
  1. Track deals in Funding – The Extranet will allow you to check the status of your deals in Funding and see if you need any additional documentation to complete your deals.
  1. Upload stips – Speaking of additional documentation, uploading stips is a lot faster and easier with the Dealer Extranet. You bypass the hassle of faxing, and the stips go directly to the funder’s queue.
  1. Print a purchase letter – Get a breakdown of the total funded amount for your deal. The purchase letter shows all applicable fees, participation and discounts.
  1. Access the Dealer Resources section – The resources section is a one-stop area for important documents. Just about any document a dealer needs to do business with SAF can be found on the Extranet.

These are only a few of the benefits of the Dealer Extranet. There are many more ways to optimize your callbacks. Of course, we think the Extranet is great, but don’t take our word for it.

Listen to what one dealer had to say about why the Dealer Extranet is such a great tool:

Many vehicle owners worry about sales pressure if they respond to recalls

Millions of vehicle owners who don’t respond to recall notices are worried that dealerships will try to sell them additional repairs during their visit.

That’s based on a survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

The UMTRI survey, which involved more than 500 participants, found that nearly four in 10 were worried about sales pressure – the highest response rate among 10 concerns cited – and even more than not having access to the vehicle while it’s getting repaired.

050417 IL Many vehicle owners worry about sales pressure if they respond to recalls

Overall, nearly 20 percent of vehicle owners don’t respond to recall notices, according to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration – about 10 million each of the last three years.

“There is general recognition of the problem of low response rates,” UMTRI’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle said in their report, Consumer Preferences Regarding Vehicle-Related Safety Recalls, which also suggested possible ways to increase response to recall notices.

Besides worrying about sales pressure (38.4 percent) and loss of access to a recalled vehicle while it’s getting repaired (37.2 percent), the UMTRI survey found these concerns preventing response to recalls:

  • Having to wait too long to get vehicle repaired (35.9 percent);
  • Uncertainty over importance of actually getting the repair (30 percent);
  • Not knowing when (or how soon) repairs are necessary (26.4 percent);
  • Uncertainty over whether the recall applies to owner’s specific vehicle (26.2 percent);
  • Not knowing what to do or who to contact after receiving a notice (25.8 percent);
  • Uncertainty over whether repairs are optional or required (22.5 percent);
  • Not having experienced the problem described in the recall (19.4 percent).

Other findings relevant to dealers in the UMTRI survey include:

Effect of vehicle age, safety risk and distance to repair facility

  • Owners are more likely to get “relatively new vehicles” repaired (82.8 percent who rated importance at 10 on a 10-point scale) and “relatively old vehicles” (50.4 percent).
  • Vehicle owners who perceived a higher risk level (10 on a 10-point scale) were two to three times as likely to get repairs as owners who perceived a lower risk level.
  • Survey respondents who resided less than 15 minutes away from a repair facility were about 20 percent more likely to respond to a recall notice than those 15 minutes or more away.
  • The less time it takes to schedule recall repairs the more likely owners are to get them done.

Sivak and Schoettle also reported on vehicle owners’ preferred methods for recall notifications and the options that could increase likelihood that they will respond to recalls.

Preferred method for notification safety recalls

Mail (73.8 percent) and email (64.3) percent were most favored by far.

A third or fewer respondents favored notification via text message, notification at dealership when service is performed, phone call, advertising campaigns or public-service announcements, notification during vehicle registration or inspection, or other methods.

Options increasing likelihood of responding to recalls

Ability to go to any of the manufacturer’s dealerships (58.9 percent), ability to bundle recall repairs with regularly scheduled service or maintenance (52.1 percent), some type of incentive such as a free oil change or free gas fill up (50.6 percent), or ability to use own mechanic or repair shop (42.1 percent).

Of course, it ultimately is up to the vehicle owner whether he/she gets a recalled vehicle repaired. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give the reluctant ones a nudge.

For your dealership, it could be a win-win, creating customer goodwill and more revenue.

Tax season may be over, but Sizzlin’ Summer has just begun

Keep up the momentum.

Tax season may be over, but there still is good reason to push forward into the summer, according to ASMs and RSMs at Santander Consumer USA (SC).

And they are ready to help dealers maximize business through some of the hottest months of the year.

“Everyone is tempted to relax after the rigors of tax season,” said TY COTHREN, an SC regional sales manager for a five-state region stretching from Colorado to Wisconsin. “But we have to keep pushing – not lose tax-season momentum – or we will miss our opportunity to grow.”

“Although the outlook for auto sales are positive in 2017, they are not expected to continue at the same pace of 2016,” said DESTRY WOOD, ASM for northwest Washington state. “Every deal will count.”

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300“My main focus over the summer months is to keep tax-season momentum going as much as possible,” said BILL SMITH, area sales manager for northeast Pennsylvania. “I remind dealers what Santander did for them during the months of January through April, so please continue to give us all your looks and a chance to earn your business … don’t try to guess what contracts we will buy.”

Other members of the SC team also spoke of keeping up tax-season momentum to build business.

But ASMs CONNIE ZEIGLER, who works with Dallas dealerships, and ALICE RODRIGUEZ, whose area includes West Texas and parts of eastern New Mexico, have other ideas as well.

“Since car sales have been a little light so far this year, the goal is to help my dealers increase customer traffic and sales opportunities, and Santander’s direct mail program is a great option to provide quality customer leads,” said Zeigler. “I want to make sure all of my dealers are aware of this program.”

“It’s a good time to get dealers to focus on their portfolio balance, because the normal deep tax-season buying can tilt some dealer portfolios negatively,” said Rodriguez. “I plan to push for more near-prime applications and contracts to ensure that portfolios strengthen over the summer. I hope to engage dealers to assist in the remedy, leveraging relationships I have built over the years.”

Other ASMs and RSMs suggested a variety of ways they can help dealers drive business:

  • PATRICK CIAMPO, an RSM whose region covers four states in the Northeast, plans to “circle back after tax season and give dealers a closer look at what Santander offers and how to best use our program, because, in many cases, we can help these stores sell additional units and make larger profits on their car deals.” He cited S-Guard, RoadLoans and direct mail, noting that “many dealers don’t realize we do much more than auto finance.”
  • STEVE VANHOOSER, an inside sales manager for a four-state upper Midwest region, attributes to recent program updates “a steady increase in the number of stores giving SC a chance to earn all their business, especially in the prime and near-prime marketplace.” He also emphasized the importance of getting stores to use the Dealer Extranet and Rehash Tool when they’re working with SC to make the funding process easier and more efficient.
  • ROBERT CUMMINS, whose RSM responsibilities comprise Texas dealers and inside sales, said, “We have seen a strong response to our program during tax season, and there is no reason dealers cannot benefit from our program throughout the year. … For example, if there is a lull in customer traffic at the dealership, the Santander direct mail program can generate leads.”
  • JEREMY BEATTY, an ASM who covers eastern Long Island, N.Y., also expects to “target dealerships who are a good fit for our Direct Mailer program, which can yield a high return on investment and does not require dealers to have an elite status with SC to sign up … Every dollar counts these days and dealers will appreciate our efforts to help them be more profitable.”
  • ROBERT PLEMEL, ASM for northeast Ohio, said, “My main focus will be to add value by increasing overall profitability for my dealer base … including training our dealers on systems and credit structures that will increase their bottom line.”

Ultimately, much of the sales team’s planning goes to several key ideas.

“Market share is really difficult to gain and very easy to lose,” said RSM Cothren, “so we want to fortify the relationships we built in Q1 and not watch them wash away with the outgoing tax-season tide.”

“Relationships are the key,” said VanHooser. “My stores know I’m there for them and their businesses.”

“That means enabling dealers to leverage our program to its fullest,” said Zeigler.

What you need to know to turn used-car shoppers into buyers

First commandment to turn shoppers into buyers

Know thy customer.

Three simple words that are easier said than done for dealerships that sell used cars.

“As dealers, you want to match up the right car with the right customer as quickly as possible,” says the introduction to a CarStory white paper based on responses to a recent survey of used-car shoppers. “It helps you move cars, and it helps turn shoppers into repeat, happy customers.”

So what did CarStory find were reasons Americans were seeking a used car instead of new?

The top two reasons far and away, followed by the percentage of shoppers who chose each, were: save money, 60 percent, and get a good deal, 53 percent. In fact, four lesser reasons also made some reference to savings, including getting more features for the money, 26 percent; reducing insurance costs, 19 percent; minimizing depreciation, 17 percent, and avoiding hidden fees, 13 percent.

Value-based propositions

Only two of the top eight reasons cited by CarStory (surveyed shoppers were allowed to select more than one reason) involved something other than saving money. Those were getting a special model you can’t buy new, 32 percent, and getting exactly what you see, 26 percent.

So, first and foremost, be sure you are making a strong value-based proposition.

In “How to convert used car shoppers to buyers,” CarStory also reported that eight in 10 used-car buyers (81 percent) want to know vehicle condition, followed by accident history (77), service history (75), listing price (74), value of the vehicle (73), make (72) and mileage (71). Also important are price compared to the market, dealership’s reputation, selling prices of similar vehicles, mileage compared to similar vehicles, comfort features, cost of ownership and fuel efficiency.

Vehicle descriptions matter

But dealer vehicle descriptions fall short for most shoppers, according to the survey, in which 47 percent of women and just 38 percent of men felt they got all the information needed to make a decision.

“Understanding what information your customers need to make a purchasing decision can help move them along the buying process,” says CarStory, which provides independent reports about the value of individual vehicles and features in specific markets.

Understanding what customers are feeling, meanwhile, can take a positive experience even further.

CarStory found that used-car shoppers who answered the survey were mostly excited (49 percent) or optimistic (44 percent) and, to a lesser extent, satisfied (28 percent) or happy (23 percent).

The trick, of course, is to make sure they stay that way during and after the sale.

The most important three-letter word

The WOW factor.

That’s what car dealers must achieve in the used-car sales process.

Car shoppers today go through a lot of steps before deciding what they’re going to purchase, so grabbing and holding their attention are major challenges for dealerships.

“This implies that dealers have just a few opportunities to really wow potential buyers,” says CarStory, which conducted a three-week survey of used-car shoppers, and not much time to do it.

“Today’s auto shoppers use 24 research touch points in their car-buying process,” says CarStory, citing a Kelley Blue Book report, in a white paper, How to Convert Used Car Shoppers to Buyers. “Every time a consumer leaves a dealer website to find more information, it is a lost opportunity.”

Following are the most common steps from CarStory’s own map of the buying process, in order, with the percentage of shoppers who referred to it in the survey (most frequent in boldface):

  1. Search for vehicles online, 86 percent
  2. Calculate the amount I can afford to spend, 68 percent
  3. Ask friends and family about purchasing a car, 36 percent
  4. Read online reviews, 53 percent
  5. Check vehicles’ market value, 59 percent
  6. Narrow down the search, 52 percent
  7. Consider other vehicles, 60 percent
  8. Sell or trade another vehicle, 31 percent
  9. Ask a dealer for recommendations, 14 percent
  10. Read auto magazines, 13 percent
  11. Check accident history, 59 percent
  12. Test drive a vehicle, 74 percent
  13. Call dealer to pre-negotiate, 20 percent
  14. Negotiate price at dealer, 56 percent
  15. Negotiating financing at dealer, 41 percent
  16. Drive the car home, 76 percent
  17. Share vehicle purchase on social networks, 7 percent

The process offers a key lesson to dealerships selling used cars, according to CarStory.

“The best way to capture most shoppers [is to] engage them in the online research phase,” says CarStory, referring to the most-typical first step by consumers in the used-car-purchase process. “But how long do dealers have to capture a buyer’s attention before that buyer moves from the online research phase to, say, Step No. 6, narrowing the search? Not long.”

“To better understand consumer attention span … we looked at the average number of search results pages (SRPs) and vehicle detail pages (VDPs) that consumers across our marketplaces view,” says CarStory. “And then we looked at how many leads, on average, consumers submit.”

The results show that out of 7.8 million unique consumers who viewed SRPs across 350 marketplaces, 4.1 million made it to at least one VDP, generating a total of 182,533 leads, says CarStory.

That means eight visits to your website generate five VDP views and just one or two leads. So, go out and wow your prospects, then be prepared to make the most of those results.

And now the most important number

Consider nine your lucky number.

So suggests a white paper on results of a customer survey by CarStory.

“From our survey, we learned that most people who buy a used vehicle do so to save money, or at least to get more bang for their buck while minimizing depreciation,” says CarStory in its report. “Based on this, we looked at ways that dealers could price vehicles to improve consumer interest.”

And what pricing insight did the survey provide? That the number “9” is better than “0.” Seriously.

“We looked at ways that dealers could price vehicles to improve consumer interest,” says CarStory in its report. “We started with an obvious question: What effect does ending a price in 9 have on consumer interest and conversion? This, of course, is the oldest trick in the book and one that is detailed in the journal of Quantitative Marketing and Economics.”

Yes, it really works

“We found that dealers that end their prices in 99 convert shoppers from the search results pages to vehicle detail pages much more often,” reports CarStory. “Prices that end in 99 versus 00 showed a 16 percent lift in SRP-to-VDP conversion. Prices that end in 999 performed nine percent better than those ending in 000. … Take away: Always end your price with multiple 9s.”

But, apparently, the number nine isn’t just important in used-vehicle pricing, according to CarStory. It also comes into play in the number of photos dealerships should use to maximize impact on shoppers.

“The first best practice when it comes to images: represent the car accurately … [because] misrepresenting the car online will just lead to disappointment and frustration in person,” says CarStory. “Second best practice: Use fewer images [on non-dealer websites] that show the vehicle highlights, including the hero shot, dashboard, seating configurations and key features.”

Post fewer images?

And by fewer images, CarStory apparently means nine. Not 10. Not 20. Certainly not 30. Just 9.

“Using fewer photos may seem counterintuitive, but we looked at lead submission rates on vehicles based on the number of images the posting contained,” said the CarStory report. “We found that nine images offered optimal lead submission potential. Postings with nine images saw a 50 percent higher lead submission rate than those without any images, 56 percent higher lead submission rate than those with 20 images [and] 71 percent higher lead submission rate than those with 30 images.”

“It appears that consumers are suffering from image fatigue,” said CarStory. “We see some listings with 40 images. When you share so many images it forces the consumer to navigate the picture carousel to find the ones that best tell the vehicle’s story.”

Now, what’s your lucky number?

When words matter most for sales funnel

Words matter.

Especially when you’re asking someone to take action on your website that keeps them engaged (increasing your chances to convert them into a customer).

“The first step towards acquiring a new customer [is] getting them to raise their hand and take an action,” says CarStory in its white paper. “Providing the right call to action (CTA) is yet another way you can convert a shopper to a buyer by winning their attention and their clicks.”

CarStory even compared specific CTA words and phrases to see which words generated bigger responses.

The calls to action to which shoppers are most likely to respond by category?

Double-check that CTA

They are “Check price” (about 36 percent of shoppers survey), “More information” (about 27 percent), “Contact the dealer” (about 14 percent) and “Schedule a test drive” (10 percent). Some CTAs that didn’t fare as well: “Check availability,” “Make an offer,” “Save/add to wish list” and “Request financing.”

But even knowing the right categories for your CTAs doesn’t mean your work is done.

“In the price category, the CTA ‘Check price’ outperformed every other option by three to 10 times,” CarStory said, with about 46 percent of respondents saying that would move them to action. Fails included “Is this a good deal,” “Get an e-quote,” “Free price check,” “Get an awesome deal” and others.

“If you are using anything but ‘Check price,’ now would be a good time to update your website.”

In other CTA categories, similar action wording did best with prospective customers:

More information: “View details” was scored 31 percent better than “Vehicle details,” even more over “See more details,” “Get information” or “Request more information.”

Contact the dealer: “Email dealer” generated a greater response than “Call dealer” or “Contact dealer.” Added CarStory: “It is interesting to note that consumers flagged ‘email dealer’ … when, in fact, most sites don’t allow you to send an email, but rather have you submit a lead form.”

Scheduling a test drive: “Schedule a test drive” outscored “I want to test drive” or, simply, “Test drive.”

Or, as CarStory says: “Calls to action – they are not all created equally.”

We’ve made you a list, so check it twice

We know what you’re thinking …

Now that you have read the first four parts of this blog post, what you really need is a checklist that hits the high points of the series to ensure that you are making the most it.

(Although, for details, you still will have to go back and read parts 1 to 4 above as needed.)

The checklist is divided into four parts – pricing, value, attention and merchandising. Here’s the checklist from the CarStory white paper and where you can find details:

Pricing

  • Understand where each vehicle falls in the market and make sure you’re highlighting the points consumers value most (Part 1).
  • Always end prices with a 99 or 999 (Part 3).

Value

  • Never miss an opportunity to highlight “must have” features (Part 2).
  • Always include seller comments and remember to highlight reconditioning details (white paper).
  • Provide consumers as much of the information as they need, otherwise they will leave your site or your lot and find it somewhere else (Part 2).

Attention

  • Always include the right images, but only nine to 10 at most for your marketplace partners. You should absolutely include all images directly on your website (Part 3).
  • Update your calls to action to include a strong verb-plus-direct-object construction (Part 4).
  • Don’t overwhelm the user with too many CTAs – focus on the ones that will move buyers through the process (Part 4).

Merchandising

  • Focus your merchandising efforts on the [top five] areas that matter most to consumers (Part 1):
  • Vehicle condition
  • Accident history
  • Service history
  • Listing price
  • Value

“Dealers can do a lot to improve the way they communicate to consumers with better information, pricing and merchandising,” says CarStory. “By doing so you will help consumers move through the sales process more efficiently, help your inventory stand apart and, ultimately, drive more sales.”

This checklist and this blog post should help you get and stay on track.

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