This is our manifesto for automotive retailers in the modern age: commerce now depends on data and content as much as it used to depend on Location, Location, Location.

This is real-time merchandizing, where your turn and velocity are only as good as the content available to shoppers online. Vehicles listed without accurate and engaging content literally get left behind. Enough vehicles get left behind, and you get left behind. It’s that serious given that every one of the tens of thousands of US dealers have the same technology at the ready today. And if you happened to have any 2017 new vehicles still in your inventory as of June this year, you know what I’m talking about.

Increasingly in the years to come your merchandizing content for each vehicle will determine your success in the digital marketplace because your physical location cannot supply the competitive advantage to your dealership that 20th century dealerships were afforded by the zip code where they went to work. And while your physical location absolutely matters since it tethers you to your local community, which is your base and foundation, it is increasingly the digital shopping experience that leads customers to your physical location, not necessarily the zip code where they live. This is why your sales-ready merchandizing content is crucial to your business’ success: content itself is the means to entice shoppers into your digital shopping experience which now leads ultimately to your showroom.

So what is “sales-ready vehicle content”? Well, visualize a Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) on your website and consider:

  1. First and foremost, competitive, relevant, and justifiable prices.
  2. Visual content that entices and validates (photos, video, 360-degree spins, etc.).
  3. What we refer to as “Summary Differentiation Content” that not only identifies the product itself but reinforces your prices and identifies key selling features (this includes core vehicle data, traditional vehicle comments, and key/popular features separated from the rest of the options and equipment).
  4. Data about all the Features, Equipment and Specifications that ensures transparency about each vehicle’s capabilities.

The minimum vehicle content you need to remain competitive is well established, and it’s influenced by the fact that shoppers expect sellers to provide transparent product descriptions and product listings (whether they are shopping Amazon, Target, a small business site or even a boutique site):

  • Accurate vehicle data: shoppers are incredibly detail oriented and what used to be considered by dealers to be trivial errors when a feature or option were overlooked or described incorrectly might now be a $5,000 option that the shopper will fight for, sometimes seeking legal action. And the number of trivial data errors in vehicle listings will continue to decrease in the future as vehicles become increasingly, technologically complex. Data errors and omissions will be significant and expensive.
  • Monthly or Weekly Prices: relevant pricing includes both a listing / selling price value (e.g. $19,999) as well as estimated monthly or weekly price(s). There are entire schools of thought related to vehicle pricing, so clearly our reference here is simply meant to represent the need to promote with more than just a list price mentality depending on the demographics of your target market.
  • Photos with Overlays: there is increasing evidence in 2018 (from documented sources like AutoTrader.com, CarGurus, and automotive website providers) that the average shopper views only the first 10 - 20 vehicle photos, and that static images of each VIN (i.e. not stock photos or CGI rendered images) remain extremely popular with vehicle shoppers because real photos validate that the vehicle is in stock, available for sale and free of damage. However, the larger the number of photos per vehicle, the less likely shoppers will view 100% of your photos. Therefore, 10 -20 photos is the minimum you must have to compete and appears to be a popular “sweet spot” for many retailers.
  • Real video: a brief 30 second “walk around video” is the new normal and represents a minimum requirement. Photo Slideshows are no longer relevant to shoppers today and there is only marginal SEO value gained from Photo Slideshow videos. Only real video influences SEO results in popular Search Engines, and the customer shopping experience is measurably better with real video (vs Photo Slideshows).
  • Descriptive Vehicle Comments that Focus on Key Selling Features: while the value of comments may seem somewhat trivial these days, shoppers respond to comments that quickly summarize a vehicle’s key features. Think of it this way: since shoppers now have so much data about individual vehicles at their fingertips, comments are a “go to” resource to quickly assess how and why similar vehicles (model, series, trim, price, etc.) are priced differently. After all, who has time to start by reconciling the “tech specs” of two vehicles that are priced $2,500 apart? You start with summary content and dig in from there.
  • Photo Stream Marketing Graphics: adding “tiles” / graphics to an individual vehicle’s photo stream can differentiate your dealership and influence shoppers

These six points are simply the minimum content required as of 2018. “Nail it” for every vehicle in inventory and, assuming you’re stocking and pricing effectively in response to your local marketplace, you will maximize your return from your vehicle listings. But also remember that the tricky thing about creating sales-ready, merchandizing content like this per vehicle is that it must be curated during each vehicle’s lifecycle. This “curation cost” includes not only management accountability to address vehicles without content (just like you do today when you find vehicles without photos), but the need to fix and replace content for VINs over time. For example, prices will change over time (duh), but photos and video might too for some vehicles. If you are located up North and when Spring arrives you must replace photos and videos of unsold vehicles to avoid advertising “snow photos” on your VDPs. Unless, of course, how epic the vehicle looks in the snow was exactly what you were going for. I mean, own it. But seriously, factor this need to curate your marketing content during the vehicle lifecycle.

But what additional content should you consider in order to evolve beyond the fundamental, vehicle listing, content requirements above?

To answer this question, each retailer must first consider three simple questions before diving into new content generation and curation, which always has a hidden cost above and beyond the price point to purchase the new tech:

  1. Can your people successfully implement new content for enough inventory vehicles to achieve your minimum, initial “coverage percentage” as well as curate going forward day-to-day? Or will it simply overwhelm your team, adversely affecting vehicle listings, and causing employees responsible for content to fall further behind than they already are?
  2. What tangible benefit(s) do you gain with your customers / shoppers when you implement new vehicle merchandizing content? Meaning, does the shopping experience online improve while also benefiting the business?
  3. And based on your answers, will the decision make financial sense? Or do you have to hire additional, full-time resources to achieve the desired outcome in addition to the recurring software cost.

Because what’s worse than not having sexy, VIN-specific, 360-degree, interior and exterior spins on your VDPs? Having terrible 360-degree spins. A significant amount of tech has become so effective at syndicating content in “real-time” that you must make sure that your organization is truly prepared to create and curate new content, and if not, to take the necessary steps to achieve success.

This is a challenge that is not unique to automotive retail. All digital sellers or sellers with digital presence must use sound decision making and judgement to properly implement new technologies and content to avoid inadvertently having a negative affect on listings and the downstream milestones in your Road to the Sale (lead generation, lead follow up, appointment setting, vehicle demo, etc.). Think of it this way: a technology provider can pitch you new tech like 360-degree spins as being effortless thanks to mobile apps and killer UX (software User Experience). To you, it feels like you are making one decision: to buy or not to buy. But if you have 700 new vehicles in inventory and 160 pre-owned vehicles in inventory, you are actually making the decision that your team is ready, willing, able and capable of using the sexy tech 860 times in the next few weeks, as well as another (just guessing here) 500 times a month indefinitely into the future, to ensure all vehicles are listed online with 360-degree spins. Begin with the end in mind: will you produce 100 epic spins, 500 spins with some mistakes or omissions, and 200 spins no one can unsee because they are terrible, turning detail oriented shoppers off? Point made?

When your team is capable and staffed to create and curate new content, then go for it! Because gaining a competitive edge while improving the digital shopping experience is ultimately why you pay for more vehicle merchandizing content. Here are a few “advanced content” options to future-proof your digital shopping experience and to engage shoppers:

  • Exterior 360-degree spins created either from photos or video to engage shoppers and to boost time on site, VDP conversions, etc.
  • Interior 360-degree spins to engage shoppers and increase conversions to drive “lead gen” (i.e. lead generation)
  • Photos with interactive callouts (click-able / tap-able spots) to explain features and options to shoppers visually
  • OEM Build Data to dramatically improve the accuracy of your vehicle data and to avoid costly data errors and omissions

Adding new content ensures that you continue to improve your digital shopping experience across all your promotional channels (i.e. your website, third party sites, social media, etc.) where shoppers find and view your vehicle listings, all of which lead back to your showroom where you convert the digital shopping experience into vehicle ownership! We believe that is ultimately what “your location” is today. It’s not just where you park the cars to get shoppers to buy them. That’s 20th century thinking. Instead, your “showroom” becomes the flash point for your customers where shopping translates into ownership. And while that may sound obvious, start thinking about how the ownership experience in your showroom for your customers will differ from the online purchasing experience that high-tech is promising the public today. There’s inherent value in people buying from real people who are experts and who can curate not only engaging vehicle content but who provide a unique shopping experience.

Said another way, what will Carvana (a “no showroom” / “remote convenience” experience owned and operated ironically by the same company that scaled the DriveTime buy-here-pay-here brand in the US) have on you when you can offer a pleasant, enjoyable, people-oriented, and even educational (think vehicle delivery), ownership experience? The more complex vehicles become, the less likely a “no showroom” ownership experience will be the preferred choice for the average vehicle owner. Plus, there’s no better example than Carvana to reinforce my original manifesto…

So remember, commerce now depends on data and content as much as it used to depend on Location, Location, Location.

And that’s why AutoUpLink Tech has been quietly and methodically reinventing lot services for the automotive industry based on our mission to accelerate sales-ready vehicle content creation for the digital purchase experience. And we’re doing some unique things that traditional lot services vendors avoided to provide our clients with the AutoUpLink Experience:

  • New Vehicle Photo Cloning: we don’t just ring the cash register by touching every new vehicle in stock throughout the model year. We create high quality photos of each Series & Trim-level vehicle (color combo specific mind you) once each year, and then our proprietary software reliably clones the photos for the rest of the year not only reducing content generation costs but accelerating time to market by listing real photos online before new vehicles ever arrive from the factory
  • Daily Service Visits: we’re there at your dealership when you need us. We don’t make clients wait around for us like cable TV companies did 10 years ago. Just saying.
  • Guaranteed Photo Coverage Level: your desired photo coverage percentage is in writing in our service contract. Full accountability from day one for the life of the engagement.
  • Real-time “Uploads”: when your assigned vehicle marketing specialist services vehicles at your dealership(s) she uses our proprietary lot services mobile app, uploading and sync-ing data, photos, and video while she works.

As you can see, AutoUpLink Tech is much more than “picture takers and window stickers”! Our team of experts understands the success criteria for true digital retailing, commerce-driven vehicle content, and how to help your company optimize its digital, shopping experience. Because keeping you competitive is our mission.

So whether your existing service provider on your lot is not delivering a level of service you expect and need for real-time vehicle sales, or your internal “photographers” are not consistently exceeding your internal requirements for creating and curating your content (i.e. Photo Coverage % too low, Video Coverage % too low, spin quality poor too often, etc.), AutoUpLink Tech can help. Whether it’s our tech-enabled lot services, our photo cloning software for your team to use, or any other solution in our arsenal that will improve your digital shopping experience, shout out to learn more today!