Even with the current economic slowdown and credit crunch, car buyers continue to search for the perfect vehicle. Effectively merchandising your listings attracts their attention and encourages them to take the next step toward a purchase by contacting you via an email, a phone call or an in-store visit. Let’s look at some merchandising techniques to help your cars stand out from the crowd.

1. Make better use of photos. It’s a well-established fact that using several pictures with your online ads increases your chances of connecting with an in-market shopper. The question is: Are you using those pictures to your advantage?

“Little things build up to big things with photos,” says Ralph Ebersole, Cars.com’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training. “Dealers often will lead with a three-point photo taken from the driver’s side, but most third-party sites place the vehicle on the left side of the ad, meaning the photo is actually leading them to look away from the ad. Taking the shot from the passenger side brings the eye into the page and causes more shoppers to click on the vehicle’s details page, where they’ll spend an average of 60 seconds. Cars.com statistics show the more time that car buyers spend on the page, the more likely they are to contact you by email or phone or to visit the store.”

Having a complete story is also critical to good merchandising. Ebersole suggests adding a photo or two of the interior and one of the open trunk, the odometer and even the owner’s manual and maintenance records to show they’re available. If there is something wrong with the vehicle, show any problem areas to avoid surprises when the customer arrives for a test drive.

Even the way the photos are shot can make a big impact on the merchandising. “Be aware of the lighting,” Ebersole says. “Either have an indoor staging area or be sure to take the photo at the right time of day to avoid too much glare or shade. Be aware of the background, too. Taking pictures of the vehicle in a row of other cars or with other cars showing from behind, leaves you with photos that don’t look as good as your competitor’s photos that have clean, simple backgrounds.”

2. Leverage Carfax’s One Owner program. Carfax research shows that one-owner vehicles command a 15 percent premium from buyers. Also, they turn up to nine days faster than those with multiple owners.

“The easiest way to take advantage of the Carfax One Owner program is to run a Carfax report as soon as you take a vehicle into inventory,” says Armand LeVasseur, dealer marketing manager at Carfax. “Doing so will add the One Owner logo to the listing on marketplaces where we have partnerships, helping to draw attention to those vehicles.”

According to LeVasseur, dealers typically underestimate the percentage of one-owner vehicles in their used-car inventory. Whereas most dealers would likely answer 30 percent to 40 percent, the correct number at most dealers is approximately 60 percent.

“By knowing what’s really in your inventory and highlighting those vehicles, you can maximize your profitability,” he says. “You can list them for $500 to $700 more than you would otherwise. That’s a pretty good ROI for something so simple.”

3. Promote your specials more effectively. By nature, specials are designed to drive quick action. Yet online specials often are not used as effectively as they could be.

“New-car specials need to be advertised online the same as they are in print,” Ebersole says. “You need to show factory or dealer incentives, finance rates from the factory, dealership events, tent sales, etc. Consumers are looking for reasons to buy from your dealership, and specials will give them those reasons.”

For used-vehicle specials, you have the option of how to list the specials – by price, make, model, age of the vehicle or other parameters. Ebersole says the dealers who do the best are the ones who list the oldest vehicles and then provide a reason why the vehicles are on special, such as “must sell by the end of the month” or “just reduced.”

LeVasseur adds that some dealers have had success promoting events featuring nothing but Carfax One Owner vehicles. “Rather than going the low-cost route, it gives dealers a reason to promote vehicles that command premium dollars,” he says.

4. Get the early advantage on video. According to Cars.com research, consumers who click on video are more likely to contact a dealer by phone or email than those who do not. Yet few dealers are really using video, creating an opportunity for you to stand out if you do.

“Video is fairly easy to do, and it’s not very expensive,” Ebersole says. “It’s also a great way to keep people on the vehicle listing longer, meaning they’re more likely to convert to a lead. Right now, it may be a nice feature to have, but in the future it will be essential, especially as the YouTube generation comes of age.”

An effective use of video is to start from the front passenger side and do a walk-around on the vehicle. Adding narration that describes the vehicle, its history and special features makes it even more attractive.

“Video can also be effective as part of an email response,” Ebersole adds. “When a customer sends an inquiry, you can place a link to the video in your email. It can really give you an edge versus the usual static answer.”

Additional Resources

Looking for additional tips you can implement in your store today to drive more traffic with your online advertising and desk more deals with your internet sales processes? Check out Cars.com’s DealerCenter. Here, you can read previous editions of our DealerADvantage newsletter or listen to archived recordings of our DealerADvantage LIVE webinar series.