By David Kain, Kain Automotive

Today you probably go online at your desk, home or just about anywhere to shop for something or to research something with the expectation that the sites you visit will have the information you seek. When the sites you select do not have the information, you likely just click on another and keep clicking until you find something that meets your needs. Consider yourself a focus group of one and apply what you learn in your own experience to what you would want if you were visiting your own dealership online.

Visit Your Own Dealership Online

While you are reading this article, please go to your own website and click along with me. As your page loads up, do a quick assessment of whether you have to think too hard to know what to do when you do a quick look at the site. I typically find myself in a search-and-click mode when I arrive at a site because I have a plan of what I hope to accomplish on my visit. Your website visitors probably feel similarly, and you will want to ensure that it is easy for them to find what they need, whether it is inventory, specials, service or parts, etc.

Try some simple tasks and put yourself in “customer mode”:

· Look for a new or used car in your inventory.

· Look for specials on vehicles, service or accessories.

· Look for your phone number and address, and see if it is easy to locate.

Hopefully you were able to complete these tasks with no problems. If not, do something about it, and contact your website builder the same as you would a tradesperson to fix a leaky roof or a heater in your physical facility.

Now, try some advanced tasks:

· Schedule a service appointment.

· Order a part or an accessory.

· Look for how you submit a credit application.

· Look for the dealership team photos or individual contact information.

· Look for a personal description (i.e., more than the basic specs) on the used vehicle of your choice.

If you think like your customers, you likely have limited time to do tasks of this nature. Most people do not have the patience to read and learn at a website, so they click and move on. Compare your site to simple sites such as, where you are instantly acclimated to what they want you to do – search. Compare to and see the difference. One is a utility (Google), whereas the other is a destination (Yahoo!). Your site is more similar to Yahoo! but should have clear and easy navigation like Google.

When you design or redesign your site, think of it just like you would your physical dealership. Make it easy to determine where everything is located, and provide the signage (i.e., navigation links) to assist your customers in finding what they need right away. I visit so many dealerships and used to think signage was not necessary because, after growing up at a dealership, it was pretty simple; however, I really appreciate it now when I see a sign that says customer parking or service or parts. I know the dealership customers appreciate it too. Put yourself in a customer’s state of mind and see if you can quickly and easily navigate the site; if not, please do something about it. The easier you make it, the more likely your prospects will be to contact you to complete the next steps.

Visit Your Own Dealership Offline

We are always asked to mystery shop dealerships and provide feedback on how the internet or BDC team responds to our inquiries and then suggest ways for improvement. You should do this yourself from time to time, both online and offline. Online is easy. Create an email account under a different name and submit a request for sales, service or parts and see what happens.

An offline inspection may sound silly, but I recommend telling your team you are going to be a customer this week. Walk in and try to talk to someone about what you saw online. Ask your manager and salespeople about the vehicle you saw on the website and see how they respond. Hopefully they will not say, “Let me get our internet specialist or manager to help you.” You would not want them to say, “Let me get my newspaper specialist to help you” if they said they saw an ad in the paper.

Now that the internet has become the primary tool of most automotive shoppers, it is essential that your entire team becomes acclimated to the dealership online. In your next sales meeting, ask one of your floor salespeople to go online and shop for inventory. Click like the customer and teach your team how you want them to respond when someone calls in or walks in after they have shopped online.

Ask your service and parts managers to outline a plan for allowing your online prospects to easily schedule service and to order parts and accessories. Even the body shop should have an online interface. Don’t just have an internet department, design an internet dealership that is a mirror-image of all the good things you do offline.

This article is reprinted with permission from David Kain.