Converting More Online Shoppers to Sales

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1 DEALIX RETAIL STRATEGY BRIEF: JULY 2008 Converting More Online Shoppers to Sales Leveraging recent findings from the R. L. Polk & Co. research study: Consumer Expectations for Internet Lead Marketing

2 Table of Contents Overview 1 Third Party Websites Preferred for Lead Submission 2 Balancing Response Method and Response Time 4 Quality of Response Matters 4 Attracting First Time Buyers 5 Improving Shopper Loyalty 6 Addressing the Defector 7 Conclusion 9

3 O V E R V I E W In a challenging market, dealers need every advantage to maximize each opportunity. There is increasing evidence that all leads should not be handled the same way. More importantly, information is emerging that enables dealers to identify indicators of shopper purchasing expectations. Dealers who best meet those expectations are more likely to convert shoppers into customers. This Dealix Retail Strategy Brief summarizes key findings from a report produced in May 2008 by R. L. Polk & Co. titled Consumer Expectations for Internet Lead Marketing. This summary was designed to illuminate key concepts that dealers may find highly beneficial in acquiring more Internet-based shoppers as well as converting those shoppers into customers. Eighty-five percent of all car buyers are researching their purchases on the Internet. Identifying Internet prospects and moving them to Internet hand raisers" is critical to dealer success. However not all shoppers should be addressed in the same manner. The following explanation of terms will assist in understanding the key concepts and recommendations discussed in this brief. The Polk study segmented car shoppers into three distinct segments: Loyalist - shoppers loyal to a specific brand and dealer Defector - those more likely to change brands or dealers First Time Buyer - shoppers purchasing their first vehicle Each segment represents opportunities for dealers seeking increased sales and conversions. Defectors are the largest segment visiting both third party and manufacturer sites. These customers are the most open to new models, brands and retailers and represent a significant conquest opportunity for dealers. Loyalists are allegiant to a brand and are more inclined to be a repeat customer while first time buyers represent a high conversion rate opportunity. Identifying attributes of these groups and communicating in a method that improves the likelihood of conversion is shown to increase retail sales as reported by Polk. The Polk study defines three types of automotive websites shoppers use to submit vehicle leads: dealer websites, OEM sites, and third party lead sites. Each of the three shopper segments utilized each of the three site categories however each category of site was found to attract different amounts of the shopper segments The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 1

4 T H I R D P A R T Y W E B S I T E S P R E F E R R E D F O R L E A D S U B M I S S I O N While shoppers of each segment submitted multiple leads to different types of sites, each site category was found to attract different mixes of the three segments. Third party sites are utilized the most by all three segments to submit leads. Key Finding: - All three shopper segments use third party sites to submit leads more than dealer and OEM sites. (Fig.1) Retail Strategy Recommendation: Third party sites provide more lead volume to dealers of each of the three shopper categories. Diminishing showroom floor traffic may be offset by increased use of third party lead providers The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 2

5 Key Finding: - All shoppers in the Polk Study, regardless of segment, submitted an average of three lead requests. Loyalists and first time buyers use third party sites more than OEM and dealer websites to submit their leads. The average lead submission rate of three leads supports the widely held belief that Internet shoppers submit the same lead through multiple sources creating duplication issues, yet this practice should not be viewed negatively by dealers. Online shoppers reflect many of the same shopping habits as offline shoppers. Most dealers would not assume that a showroom visitor would not visit any other dealerships as part of their shopping process. Similarly, online shoppers display the same traits and will submit more than one lead. As with the offline process, the dealer who responds the best will likely make the sale. What was not identified in the Polk study was the distribution of the three leads per shopper by website type. Some may leap to the conclusion that the three leads are distributed evenly between dealer websites, OEM and third party sites however no information exists that supports this theory. Shoppers may submit all three leads though dealer websites, OEM sites or on any combination of the three. Retail Strategy Recommendation: Shoppers in each segment represent additional retail opportunities. A balanced dealer lead acquisition strategy should ensure the inbound lead mix is equally balanced between leads originating from the dealership website, OEM site and third party lead providers. Eliminating one of the three sources reduces the likelihood of success. Today shoppers have high expectations and a dealer's responsiveness has a big impact on conversion success. Shoppers who submit leads online and purchase vehicles have an 80% buy rate though not necessarily at the dealership where they originally submitted the lead. The dealer who earns the business is typically the one who is most responsive and best meets the shopper s response expectations The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 3

6 B A L A N C I N G R E S P O N S E M E T H O D A N D R E S P O N S E T I M E Buyers have different expectations for how and how quickly a dealer should communicate with them and it s becoming increasingly important for dealers to identify which leads to respond to first. For the dealer, an indicator of the importance may be in how the shopper asks to be contacted. is the preferred response method of 63% of new car shoppers while the phone is preferred by 26% of new car shoppers. Of those who wish to be contacted by , 47% viewed hours as an acceptable response time. Those who preferred a phone call considered one hour or less as an acceptable response time. Retail Strategy Recommendation: While most online shoppers want an response, this is often the choice of the LEAST urgent shopper. If a shopper has requested a phone contact, this may be an indication of an urgent buyer and should be responded to first. Q U A L I T Y O F R E S P O N S E M A T T E R S A large portion of shoppers value the quality of the dealer's response as much as the speed of a response, and often times they value quality more than speed. Shoppers who value a quick response time more than quality of response tend to have a lower conversion rate than those who value the quality of response the most. In the Polk study, shoppers were put into one of seven "profiles" based on attributes reflecting their primary communication styles and their expectations when interacting with dealers. These profiles were then analyzed to identify buying rates. By looking at the top three buying rate profiles, dealers can find insights that can increase their ability to close the sale. The three profiles are listed in the table below. (Fig. 2) 2008 The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 4

7 Each of the profiles are looking for quality responses that include information on vehicle availability, specific price and incentives. Dealers who provide customers with quality responses will be rewarded with higher conversion rates. This reinforces findings from previous studies that indicate a fast response that lacks answers to the customer's key questions will not win the customer. A prompt, quality response is more likely to win the sale. Key Finding: - Seventy percent of shoppers who purchased from the dealer who responded to their request were responded to in the method they preferred. Retail Strategy Recommendation: A fast lead response does not win the sale. A prompt response that answers all of the shopper s questions by their preferred method of communication (phone or ) will result in higher conversion rates. A T T R A C T I N G F I R S T T I M E B U Y E R S First time buyers have traditionally been overlooked by dealers. This was confirmed by the Polk study that found almost 40% of first time buyers never received a response from the dealer. This represents a large missed opportunity given that 83% buy from dealers who do respond. Today, the average first time buyer is 28 years old. By 2010, the US expects to have approximately 21.4 million residents between the ages of This represents over a 10% increase between 2000 and These new entrants to the market are potential future loyal customers. Key Finding: - Among survey respondents, 83% of those buying a vehicle for the first time purchased their vehicle from a dealership that responded to their online request for information. The most important factor for first time buyers in selecting a dealership is for a dealer to provide pricing information. The second most important factor for this segment is for a dealer to provide the vehicle information that was requested. Most first time buyers feel that two hours or less is an acceptable time to wait for a response. They often want a prompt response and ask for phone follow-up. First time buyers are not as likely to submit leads through OEM and dealer sites. They prefer third party sites by a rate of nearly two to one over dealer sites. Dealers wishing to reach this growing segment of the market will benefit by using third party sites. (Fig. 3) 2008 The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 5

8 Third party sites are unique in their ability to attract first time buyers and these leads are highly valuable because they are likely to convert if the lead is handled well by the dealer. dealers and OEMs may need to place higher emphasis on third party leads to attract first time buyers to their dealer showrooms. R. L. Polk & Co. Retail Strategy Recommendation: Dealers should query each lead to identify if the shopper is a first time buyer. This can be done subtly by suggesting the manufacturer may have special incentives for first time buyers that would further reduce their purchase price or finance rate. I M P R O V I N G S H O P P E R L O Y A LT Y Several recent industry studies report both brand and dealership loyalty is less important to shoppers. Polk reports that 56% of vehicle owners returning to the market leave their previous brand. While consumer loyalty remains challenging, new Polk data provides dealers with insight into how to improve loyalty. There are two key controllable factors that together account for more than a third of influence on shopper loyalty and vehicle selection: 1. The overall shopping and sales experience - 18% influence factor 2. If the dealer was viewed as honest and trustworthy - 18% influence factor 2008 The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 6

9 Loyalists' intent to purchase their past brand from the previous dealer they purchased from was demonstrably weakened if they felt the dealer was unresponsive or responded without providing all the requested information. Loyalists use third party websites to submit leads more frequently than OEM sites and surprisingly even more than dealership websites. (Fig. 4) Retail Strategy Recommendation: Loyalists tend to be sold on the brand yet they are highly sensitive to the overall shopping experience and value transparent communication. When responding, ask if the shopper has owned the brand in the past. Then strive to answer all their questions completely including price and payment terms. A D D R E S S I N G T H E D E F E C T O R The defector represents the largest opportunity for sales conquest among the three shopper segments. With low brand loyalty, dealers must assume the shopper who submitted a lead for their brand is likely to be submitting leads for competing brands as well. Winning the opportunity to do business with these shoppers is contingent on responding to each lead in a timely and complete manner. Each response should include: 1. Price information 2. Availability of a specific model 3. Availability of incentives or discounts 4. Detailed vehicle specifications 2008 The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 7

10 Although dealers have traditionally been resistant to provide price information in communication with shoppers, research in the Polk study and other recent industry studies continues to reinforce the critical importance of including specific price information in the lead response. Polk also found monthly payment information represents an additional 29% of the influence of new vehicle selection alone. Dealers who do not address price questions are essentially eliminated from consideration. The Polk study revealed a direct correlation between satisfaction with the pricing information provided and improvements in conversion to the brand or defection to another brand. Key Finding: - Third party sites were found to be used more frequently by brand defectors and represent the largest conquest opportunity for dealers. (Fig. 5) Retail Strategy Recommendation: Dealership ISR s should be empowered to address the price questions when responding to inquiries. Using a predetermined pricing matrix based on current inventory, vehicle aging, competitive pricing and consumer demand has been shown to increase response time, and ensure price responses meet management approval The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 8

11 C O N C L U S I O N In a challenging market, dealers need every advantage to maximize each opportunity. This summary shows that all leads should not be handled the same way. Dealers who best meet the expectations of each shopper segment are more likely to convert shoppers into customers. This brief is intended to provide you with the most relevant findings from the Polk study Consumer Expectations for Internet Lead Marketing and recommendations on how to apply these findings in the day-to-day operations of your store. To download a complete copy of Consumer Expectations for Internet Lead Marketing go to the R. L. Polk & Co. website at: The Cobalt Group. All rights reserved. 9

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