Guide: How can car dealers get their website ready for online sales?

Time 4:52 pm, April 24, 2020

It’s the question everyone is asking: How can car dealers prepare their website for online sales to get back to business?

After the government confirmed to Car Dealer Magazine that it is happy for dealers to sell online and deliver cars to customers’ homes during lockdown, the trade’s attention is turning online.

The news has already seen some shoots of activity starting to appear as car dealers get the green light to conduct online transactions and deliver cars.

Many dealers, though, are scratching their heads and wondering how they can get their websites ready for online sales. 

While the industry was beginning to catch on to online sales before the coronavirus crisis – or e-commerce as it’s otherwise known – it could be said it was more of a sedate amble towards a digital future, rather than the sprint it has become now.

Here we chat to the experts in e-commerce, GForces, to get some hints and tips for dealers of all shapes and sizes.

Where do I start getting my website ready for online sales?

It’s a big job and not one that can be done overnight. GForces says really your site needs to be able to provide ‘full end-to-end transactional functionality’.

What does that mean? Well, it means dealing with finance quotes, part-exchange valuations, extras, delivery and collection details, the ability to reserve a car and more.

While that may sound rather daunting, and it is, it will be worth the time and effort. 

GForces chief commercial officer Tim Smith said: ‘All of these features and functionality will enable the consumer to have full autonomy over their purchase consideration, giving them the ultimate choice as to how they may wish to buy online. 

‘It is crucial that all this functionality is “baked” into the dealer’s website platform, providing total trust and transparency for the consumer, especially when it comes to data privacy.’

So I can’t just add a ‘buy it now’ button?

Not really, no. 

This isn’t about simply adding a ‘buy it now’ button and letting sales roll, it’s more about providing your customers with the ability for them to consider every aspect of their car purchase on your website.

Having an account area, where your customers can log in and save cars they like, and importantly a live chat option, so they can talk to you and your staff about anything they need to know, is key.

GForces says this is important because it allows buyers to browse at their own pace and come back at a time convenient to them to seal the deal.

What’s most important to think about when it comes to online sales?

While buyers will want a site that’s easy to use, loads quickly and answers their questions, GForces believes it’s the whole customer experience that’s key.

Smith said: ‘Consumers that want to buy online are doing so for a reason, and that typically will be because they do not want a face-to-face sales experience, are time-poor and just want a simple way to conclude the transaction.’

These buyers don’t want to be ‘sold’ a car, but instead want to be in control of how and when they buy. Digital buyers are different, so don’t make the mistake of selling to them in the same way as you always have done.

Smith says it is important that once the deal has been done, the post-transaction element is streamlined and efficient. This means don’t send a salesperson to do the handover and get the documents signed; this is a ‘digital specialists’ role’, believes Smith.

He warns: ‘At no point after the transaction has been completed online should it return to any form of selling to the consumer.’

What does the customer want when it comes to online sales?

This is about car buying when car buyers want to do it – at a time that suits them. And to do that, dealers need to give buyers all the tools they need to complete the transaction online.

Smith explains: ‘Providing clear and simple quotation calculators so buyers can align their monthly budget, giving a guaranteed part-exchange valuation and allowing them to self-appraise their own vehicle, giving options in a checkout to add accessories and to also choose a preferred delivery method are all vital.’ 

It’s possible to build in finance application software that will provide a credit decision on the dealer website and this is a must.

Smith added: ‘This allows the consumer to control this part of the purchase, which can often be emotive and stressful.’

Do I need to worry about Distance Selling Regulations?

Distance Selling Regulations (now the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2014) are a key consideration when a consumer buys online and elects to have the vehicle delivered to their home, without having had any face-to-face contact as part of the buying process. 

A dealer can ensure that they adapt their terms and conditions of online sales within these regulations so the consumer is aware of their obligations within the 14-day cancellation period. 

Smith said: ‘For example, excess mileage can be charged, any damage to the vehicle can render the vehicle unavailable for return, and collection fees could be levied. 

‘Dealers should not shy away from a distance sale, and should have the confidence in the product that they are selling, knowing that it has been prepared to the highest of standards.’

Smith reminds dealers that the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2014 are there to protect both the consumer and the seller.

What about car finance – how do we deal with that online?

Just as it is important in your showroom, dealers need to offer easy-to-access finance solutions online. These should include PCP and HP deals and should all be contained in a calculator that clearly explains the payments and the benefits.

Smith said: ‘The consumer embarks on their own self-appraisal of finance as part of the online journey, and as part of this, compliance in line with the FCA’s principles of treating customers fairly is paramount. This is achieved through clear content, signposting and terms and conditions within the website.’

It’s worth getting some expert advice on this so that you don’t get it wrong.  

And what about part-exchanges – how on earth do we deal with those online?

It doesn’t have to be an arduous task. You can embed tools for this via a valuation provider that gives buyers a guaranteed part-exchange value. 

Smith advises that this is ‘instant’. Risk can be mitigated by adapting terms and conditions to explain that poor descriptions, incorrect mileage, or issues with provenance will reduce the price offered.

You’ll be surprised how fair customers are, though, says Smith. 

He added: ‘In reality, consumers are more honest at appraising their own vehicle, especially as they will be aware that it will be checked as part of the handover process.’

What’s the best way to chat to customers online?

Live chat is the best tool to engage with consumers online, and it needs to appear when the customers need it most. 

And importantly, you need to be able to man it long into the evenings when customers are shopping on your website.

On that subject, when will customers be looking to buy a car on my website?

You’ll find that the most common time for customers to be looking at online sales is between 7pm and midnight. But as the coronavirus situation continues, customers have more time on their hands, so it’s a pretty even 50/50 split between office hours and after hours.

While they are working out which car to buy – a period that usually takes around six to eight weeks – buyers will be researching across the web. GForces says that dealers offering a full online transaction capability are ‘effectively open 24 hours a day’.

Smith said: ‘Having the ability for a consumer to buy from a dealer when their traditional facilities are closed gives them a unique advantage over their competitors that don’t. More than 50 per cent of the transactions online take place when dealers’ showrooms are closed.’ 

What about pictures and video – how important are they?

They are vital. Creating brilliant pictures and compelling video will aid the car-buying journey.

Online car buyers want to have rich content served up on your website, as there’s a very good chance they won’t want to see the vehicle in person. 

A good video and lots of pictures ‘give buyers confidence the vehicle is as described’, explained Smith.

So which dealers are doing online sales the best that I can learn lessons from?

While you might think it’s the big groups with big budgets that are getting it right in online sales, it’s actually a steady mix across the industry of those dealers who have adopted digital car sales.

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GForces says its clients range from multi-franchise groups, single-franchise and independents, and they are all doing it well and increasing online sales.

Smith added: ‘Those dealers that fully embrace online sales as part of their culture and process are proving that there is more than an appetite from consumers to buy online – it’s rapidly becoming the new way to buy a vehicle.’

GForces will be appearing on Car Dealer Live on Tuesday, April 28 to discuss how dealers can prepare their websites for online sales in more detail.

  • Thanks to GForces for helping us put this feature together. For more information, call GForces on 0844 247 4523. Details about the firm’s NetDirector Auto-e solution can be found on the GForces website.
James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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