The Shifting Face of Automotive: What Drives Engagement on Dealership Websites?

By: Brooke Kovanda

Every day, more of the car buying process is occurring on dealership websites. As the automotive industry comes to terms with this, it becomes imperative for them to learn about what drives engagement with their consumers. What can more dealerships do to create experiences that cater specifically to their consumers’ needs?




What this means for the automotive industry is that some exciting possibilities for engagement are opening up; everything ranging from the seemingly fantastical (ex: cars delivered to your doorstep for a test drive) to fast-emerging industry standards (ex: completing financing paperwork all online). In fact, more and more pieces of the process are going mobile.


Max Zanan, co-founder, and CEO of IDDS Group says in an interview with, “Uber teaches the consumer that instant gratification is out there because they can get a car within two minutes. This shift is going to carry over into automotive retail.’’


In the same piece, Steve Halloran of CarGurus (like Max Zanan) had much to say regarding the need for instant gratification: “We agree that convenience is the most important thing people are seeking [when car-shopping]. We believe people want to shop for cars the way they shop for most other things. Shortening or lowering hurdles between a user who is looking at an online ad and a car dealership’s salesperson is going to be increasingly important. Transparency is about openness and increasing dialogue between merchants and shoppers. We would love to see more of that if possible.’’


It’s because of this innovation that automotive dealers need to understand what drives engagement and capitalize on moments where consumers turn specifically to them for information. In a conversation our own Felicia Savage had with Aaron Schinke & Eric Giroux (Dealer Socket) at this year’s DrivingSales Executive Summit regarding their car sales tips, both marketers agreed that there’s literally no such thing as too much information. In addition to providing more than enough information, Aaron added “I would make sure everything about your vehicle merchandising is custom, thoughtful, purposeful, meaningful and presented in a way that makes sense to the average consumer. Once you’re doing that, then you can start thinking about working with a technology provider to allow you to purchase cars online.”


Now more than ever, consumers expect information almost immediately. These “micro-moments” give brands the opportunity to provide engaging experiences and content to consumers who will then find the information they need and forge a deeper connection with the brand.


Consumer engagement is being driven by micro-moments, and auto dealers need to understand that consumer behavior (in these moments) is driven by speed and efficiency. If a consumer can’t quickly find the information they need from a brand, they are not going to interact with that brand for very long.


According to Think with Google, “The average car shopper today makes just two dealership visits in the search for the perfect vehicle. That’s because today car shoppers turn to mobile to research models, find deals, and get real-time advice. David Mogensen, Google’s head of YouTube ads marketing and former automotive marketer, shares how to tap into this new auto buying process.”


It’s important for internet managers and web providers to set up their dealership websites in a way that allows them to create engaging experiences that allow consumers to find out what they need to know. “No such thing as too much information” holds true when it comes to complex, high-consideration goods such as cars; however it needs to be found quickly, or else that consumer will look elsewhere.


Creating websites that are intuitive and well organized is a starting point for brands to responding to the changing face of consumer engagement. Clearly labeled pages, easy-to-find deals, special offers, and high-quality pictures of products with in-depth descriptions all help a consumer find what they need on a dealer’s site.


Additionally, other interactive experiences and tools like quizzes, calculators, and assessments allow information to be filtered and personalized to each consumer depending on where they are in their buying journey.


In the past, dealerships would use static forms; which wouldn’t give sales people any indication of what stage of the buying journey consumers were in. Our own Russ Chandler explained the whole static form scenario best: “One of the biggest problems with static lead forms is that they don’t provide direct value to car shoppers. I mean, you can technically say that submitting a form will lead to a follow-up call for more information.. but is a follow-up call they requested really that valuable? Most consumers (or people, rather), like immediate satisfaction. If they’re requesting more information on a vehicle, an offer or a trade-in, they don’t want to wait for answers. They want them right now. Static lead forms don’t do that.”


But now, by utilizing interactive experiences that provide different indicators of where the consumer is in the buying process, leads immediately become higher quality for dealers, and information becomes more relevant for consumers. See how these micro-moments are influencing buying behavior?


“One of the reasons why they’ve been so successful is that they’re giving consumers a legitimate voice. Instead of it being just an exchange of information, consumers feel they’re filling out a buyer profile more than giving dealers contact information in order to be badgered.” Russ Chandler explains. “Almost all the questions asked (‘What kind of car do you want to buy?’ or ‘What is your current budget?’) allow dealers to better assist consumers with their needs. These questions allow dealers to really kickstart the customer relationship.”


Information that provides consumers with the opportunity for prolonged engagement (ex: trade appraisal tools) can give dealers a lift in their consumer’s eyes in regards to their level of transparency and openness.


Consumers will have more goodwill towards dealers because more information and pieces of the buying process will be easily found and understood from the very start.


Nothing will ever replace in-store experiences like test drives and ancillary services like oil changes. By their very nature, micro-moments are quick, real-time interactions. Because they happen so instantly, it’s crucial that auto dealers get them right and capitalize on providing accurate information quickly and efficiently.


Micro-moments are driven by consumer intent at one particular moment, and with the accessibility of information at consumers’ fingertips, they are changing the face of automotive buying behavior and driving engagement.