More than 80 percent of today’s consumers take to the web before buying a car. Not only do they decide what to buy online, but many also determine where to buy, reducing the number of dealerships they are likely to visit in person. In fact, the number of shoppers who now visit only one dealership before making their purchase has doubled since 2004.[1] Will your store make the cut when online buyers head to the showroom? Read more to find out how quality ads and a quality website can keep you in the game.

According to Cars.com’s director of dealer training, Ralph Ebersole, an online shopper’s decision to visit your store is often influenced by his or her experience with your store online, both on third-party sites and your own website. “When consumers go online, they are looking for a dealership they want to do business with,” Ebersole said. “While many factors influence that decision, one of the most basic and easiest to control is the quality and accuracy of information you provide in your ads and on your site.”

Internet shoppers, on average, invest several hours in their online search. As they look at dealers’ ads and websites, they inevitably compare them to determine not only whose car is a better fit but whose store deserves their business. Unfortunately, they are often met with inaccuracies and inconsistencies in online listings and on dealer websites. Whether it is inaccurate mileage, inconsistent pricing, broken links or spelling and grammatical errors, these mistakes can send shoppers the wrong message about your store. While these are typically nothing more than honest oversights, they can leave consumers doubting the dealership’s integrity, service and professionalism.

If your ads fully merchandise the car and are free of errors, that increases the odds of you winning the deal instead of your competitor.

“At Cars.com, we recommend that our dealers take care with each and every listing. From the photos to the sell copy, you are leaving buyers with an impression of your store, and you want to make that as favorable as possible,” Ebersole said. “It’s essential to remember that the sales process begins online.”

Quality Takes a Team

Just as your store’s success depends on the talents and contributions of multiple professionals working together, your online advertising requires more than a solo effort. Ebersole recommends a team approach to accuracy and quality.

“As you prepare to post a new listing — complete with multiple pictures and descriptive seller’s notes — have colleagues double-check the ads for accurate information and proper spelling and grammar,” he says. “While one person can tackle the day-to-day responsibilities of managing your listings, that individual will need a fresh set of eyes to double-check that each ad is up to snuff.”

Studies show that people, despite their best intentions, are more likely to overlook mistakes in copy they write than is someone who is less familiar with how it should appear. Include at least one other colleague in the review process to help call out misspelled words and grammatical errors so they can be corrected before the listing is posted. Absent this step, Ebersole recommends investing in a high-quality word processing program that can identify these mistakes and bring them to your attention. Nobody wants to lose a sale, especially to something as avoidable as a typo.

At Bill Jacobs Auto Group near Chicago, quality and accuracy are everyone’s responsibility. For example, e-commerce director Sharon Poindexter recently held a spiff program to support the re-launch of the company’s five websites. To encourage employees to subject the sites to real-world testing and report any issues, she offered incentives: Up for grabs were $10 restaurant gift cards for each typo, $25 gas cards for each functional error (e.g., a broken link) and a weekly drawing for a $250 Best Buy gift card. In the first two weeks, Poindexter handed out $1,500 in prizes.

“I have so many people that I didn’t know have degrees in grammar,” she said. “Everybody’s involved in making the site look good. Even the general managers have tried to get in on the game.”

Said Poindexter: “We know that if the site’s not right, people won’t trust us.”

Collaboration Pays Dividends

The benefits of this teamwork often extend beyond the improved quality of your online advertising.

Poindexter, for example, found that her program increased both the familiarity Bill Jacobs’ employees have of the redesigned sites when working with shoppers and their commitment to keeping them updated. She no longer needs to hound her internet sales managers to get their current specials and promotions; they bring them to her.

“It is truly a tool they embrace,” Poindexter said. “We all have a vested interest in keeping the sites fresh, keeping them relevant and making it easier for our customers to do business with us.”

For additional tips on keeping your ads accurate, see “Details Make the Difference.”

[1] * Automotive Retailing Today – Image 2006 New Car Buyers Survey Results, September 2006