If a picture tells a thousand words, how many pictures does it take to sell a car? More than one, Cars.com has found, with multiple photo listings generating 31 percent more contacts than single-image ads. How can you best use multiple images to turn browsers into buyers?

Photos are among the most important pieces of information online shoppers are looking for. In fact, they are the single most requested piece of content within the listings pages on Cars.com, making photos essential to drive sales. Without images, shoppers are likely to bypass a listing, reducing your ability to compete online regardless of price, service or inventory.

Said Cooper Williams, sales manager for Subaru of Dallas, where 32 pictures per car are increasingly the norm; “We get a lot of quality leads. It’s just visibility. The more photos you have, the more exposure you’re going to get. (Car shoppers) are just one click away from another car. The more information you give customers, the more they can make decisions.”

Create an online test drive
Once you’ve used photos to hook a shopper into a listing, images work to build an important emotional connection between the car and the car buyer. By giving buyers the complete picture with multiple images, you increase the quality of contacts you’ll receive and eliminate questions customers would otherwise have about the vehicle’s appearance and features. Taking this extra step saves time for you and the shopper. Multiple images are the next best thing to a test drive, improving the odds that interested buyers will be closer to a sale. And because you have created a connection with the buyer, you spend less time negotiating and are more likely to walk away from the sale with full gross.

Give the complete picture
Today, using multiple photos is standard industry practice. Last month, we surveyed DealerADvantage readers to determine how many pictures you use with your online classified listings. Just 1 percent said they would leave the vehicle to the customer’s imagination. The overwhelming majority of respondents — 91 percent — use two or more photos; nearly half include nine or more.

With more dealers using more images, it’s important that you have the right shots to stand out online.

What to show
When using multiple photos, what you show is as important as how much you show. At a minimum, an effective ad should show the vehicle from all angles, including the interior, the engine and the trunk. Most third-party classified listing sites offer ample capacity at no additional charge — AutoTrader (29), Cars.com (32) and eBay Motors (32) — so there’s no reason not to give prospective buyers the complete picture of the cars you sell.

The photos we recommend include:

  • Driver-side front three-point angle
  • Passenger-side front three-point angle
  • Driver-side rear three-point angle
  • Passenger-side rear three-point angle
  • Under the hood
  • Odometer
  • Driver’s seat
  • Front passenger seat
  • Left rear passenger seat
  • Right rear passenger seat
  • Trunk or cargo area
  • Wheel
  • Tire, showing available tread

Special features deserve special photos
In addition, you can highlight unique or optional features that add value to the vehicle and are likely to pique buyer enthusiasm. For example:

  • Upgraded sound system
  • MP3 player integration/capability
  • Satellite radio
  • Decorative trim (e.g., chrome, stainless steel or wood)
  • Navigation system
  • Emergency assistance system (e.g., OnStar)
  • Trip computer
  • Second driver-side door(certain cars and trucks)
  • Moonroof or sunroof
  • Built-in DVD player and monitor system
  • Rear heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system
  • Upgraded trim and accessories
  • Performance enhancements (e.g., aftermarket suspension and engine components)

Show the good — and the bad?
Most dealers tell us that customers will simply walk away if the car they see at the store differs significantly from the one they saw online. For this reason, it’s best to include photos of any material damage (e.g., dented/rusted body panels, missing trim/accessories or torn seating). While providing these photos may seem counterintuitive, this kind of disclosure helps build credibility for your store. Doing so also establishes the basis for the asking price as compared to similar models that shoppers may see online, and many buyers can see beyond cosmetic damage if it means they will save some money.

One thing you’ll want to avoid is including your phone number on the photo. If your inventory appears on multiple sites, you will be unable to gauge which classified listing service drives traffic to your store. Also, you’re likely to confuse the customer with a number that may not match the main contact phone number listed elsewhere on the ad.

DealerADvantage LIVE
To learn more about how multiple pictures can drive sales at your store, please listen to the DealerADvantage LIVE webinar Cars.com hosted earlier this month. A recording of the session, hosted by Cars.com training director Ralph Ebersole, is available online at: DealerADvantage LIVE. This monthly webinar series focuses on tips and techniques franchise and independent dealers can use to boost traffic and sales and to make the most of their online advertising investment.

Because the Internet is a visual medium, photos play a critical role in merchandising your inventory, differentiating your store and driving more quality traffic. With the nearest competing model less than a quarter-inch away, it’s important to put your best shots forward.