I love to discuss digital marketing strategies with industry peers and when I see an opportunity that can benefit the larger automotive community I am compelled to write and share.
Today, to the potential surprise of my readers, I’m not writing about search marketing. I’m writing about technology because I am very excited about a new product that creates an innovative process for vehicle inventory inspection and merchandizing.
A dealer’s inventory is the primary eCommerce connection with consumers. Dealers make an significant investment to locate, appraise, purchase, recondition, and market used cars.
The physical infrastructure, human resources, insurance, financing, and marketing costs represent a large risk that dealers willingly take.
However, the attention to detail given to inspect, photograph, and merchandize their used cars on their website often does not reflect the massive investment dealers undertake to be in business. I see a costly disconnect in the auto industry on attention given to vehicle merchandizing.
Is Vehicle Merchandizing A High Priority?
I’m sure that you have chuckled when you have viewed photos and descriptions of some of the worst merchandized cars in your market. You laughed at them, but are you doing the best job to merchandize your cars?
It is clear that some dealers are indifferent to how many photos are taken of a car or how detailed the description notes are displayed on a Vehicle Detail Page (VDP). For some, 3 photos are enough!
Dealer’s who take their own pictures struggle to achieve photo and data consistency primarily due to staff turnover. I won’t rehash previous articles that document the value of adding more photos, videos, and seller’s notes on car VDP’s.
A majority of dealers outsource the inspection and collection of photos for new and used cars they stock. This adds consistency when done by the best outsourced service providers. Dealers like the convenience of not having to worry about taking their own photos or the cost of equipment required for data collection system.
I recently participated in a series of national educational workshops sponsored by Dealer Specialties on vehicle merchandizing. Their company is clearly focused on educating dealers on the importance of vehicle merchandizing. I was very pleased to see so many dealers come out to learn how to leverage the Dealer Specialties system to increase consumer confidence in the cars they have for sale.
However, the convenience of third party services adds a delay in publishing a fully merchandized VDP. Each day a car is not fully merchandized creates lost opportunity costs added to the normal depreciation costs. If a third party service comes twice a week to photograph cars, it is feasible that cars can have “bare bones” VDP listings for 4-5 days. How much does this cost you per month?
Consumers Want Transparency
The Internet has raised the bar on how dealers market and merchandize their cars. Consumers are more informed and demand transparency from car dealers. A VDP that has few photos and weak descriptions is perceived by the consumer as a red flag.
Translation: What is the dealer hiding or not telling me?
Is that the impression a business with a multi-million dollar overhead wants to encourage? Can dealers afford to be sloppy with the merchandizing of their cars?
To complicate matters when you look at the syndication of a dealer’s inventory to their primary website and multiple classified websites, dealers struggle to differentiate their cars from competing dealers. Just search through leading classified sites like Autotrader.com or Cars.com and you can see that there are many choices in each market for the same vehicle.
Tools like vAuto have given dealers pricing strategies to remain competitive and differentiate their cars based on price. I have heard many dealers call vAuto’s impact on the auto industry “revolutionary”. Market pricing tools are now mandatory for dealers who want to maximize their used car investments.
I predict that a new product for inspecting and merchadizing cars from a Canadian company called cDemo will have the same market moving impact on merchandizing that vAuto had on market pricing.
cDemo creates mobile applications that can be customized for data collection and data syndication. cDemo offers a number of mobile apps for dealers but the one I want to highlight is their Mobile Inspector app.
Using an iPhone, iPad, or iTouch Mobile Inspector gives dealers a powerful hand held tool to standardize their inspection data. Mobile Inspector, available in the iTunes store, creates a step by step inspection process that collects data, photos, and video on a vehicle. The inspection follows a dealer-defined set of questions so all inspections have same data consistency and accuracy.
Once a detail inspection is completed, the data is automatically streamed to a web based dashboard where a dealer can send the collected data to multiple channel partners.
Those channels include the dealer’s primary website, Autotrader.com, Cars.com, Automotive Advertising Network, eBay, DMI, Dealer.com, Dealer eProcess, and dozens of other classified websites.
A detailed inspection takes 15 minutes and the wealth of data collected in amazing. The application is dummy proof; even a lot monkey can use it.
For video SEO fans, if a dealer collects a walk-around video on the car they can automatically post the video to Youtube.
The Video SEO is immediate and is also included in the Virtual Brochure. Here is an example Virtual Brochure from Carnival Kia with video integrated. 2004 Chevrolet Blazer 2dr LS
Mobile Inspector Is Cost Effective
The cDemo Mobile Inspector costs $3.50 per car inspection. For example, 100 car inspections a month would be $350 / month. Since Mobile Inspector includes unlimited syndication to third party sites, you could eliminate the need for third party data distribution services.
As the industry wakes up to the rich data set that is available from Mobile Inspector, I anticipate richer VDP pages on major website platform providers using cDemo data feeds. For now, the full benefits of Mobile Inspector will be for users of websites that have partnered with cDemo to expand their data input format. I predict that more companies will jump on board to leverage the richer data set in 2012.
When you add up the lost opportunity costs and the benefits of having extremely robust data descriptions, photos, and videos of all your cars, you can start to see why this Mobile Inspector will transform dealer inventory merchandizing.
This is the solution to properly merchandizing cars in a timely and professional manner with off the shelf technology and innovative software that controls the process.
Customized Electronic Brochures For Each Car
With each car that is inspected, Mobile Inspector creates a Virtual Brochure for the car which uses 100% of the rich data obtained in the collection and inspection process. The Virtual Brochure is placed on a customized web page. The link to the brochure can be emailed to interested customers or linked to a “more information” button on a VDP. You can view an example of the brochure created by the application on this link: Mobile Inspector Vehicle Brochure
Dealers who take their own photos will understand that the cost of an iPhone is cheaper than the cost of dedicated cameras from proprietary data collection services. Dealers have commented that proprietary cameras that are dropped or go “missing” is an expense.
Starting An Inspection
You start an inspection by scanning the bar code VIN Number of the car and adding your stock number.
Then Mobile Inspector will do a VIN explosion and develop the predefined series of steps needed to fully inspect and document the condition of the car.
Dealers can choose the detail level of the inspection. Dealers can choose new and used car inspections. Dealers have commented that by adding real photos of new cars has increased activity and the merchandizing of new cars is well worth the investment of time.
Once dealers see the benefits of the Enhanced Inspection, I think they will invest the few extra minutes to get the merchandizing correct. A full enhanced inspection takes 15 minutes which can translate into less than $5.00 labor cost to your dealership per inspection.
Customized Inspection Questions
The levels of questions and the data that you require is completely in control of the dealer. Do you want to measure tread depth? Add the question and show a spinner wheel of data choices. Do you want to require photos of the seats? Add that requirement.
The app uses iPhone mobile data entry standards to reduce data keystrokes. You can request a demo of Mobile Inspector by calling 1-888-449-4634.
This application is just one of several applications that cDemo has created for the auto industry. The fact that data collection can be standardize and document with photos and videos makes this a game changing use of a smart phone.
Summary Review of Mobile Inspector
Here is summary of the cDemo Mobile Inspector application for the iPhone:
- Available on iPhone, iPad, and iTouch
- Enables dummy-proof data collection and standardization
- Fully customizable questions, answers, and data requirements
- Simplifies field data collection without rekeying back in the office
- Web based dashboard allows cars to be syndicated to all advertising partner websites
- Create detailed online brochures with full transparency to consumers
- Online brochures are webpages that can be indexed by Google
- Video integration with YouTube increase VSEO visibility
- May eliminate need to pay third party inventory publishing costs
- Limited number of website providers that integrate full data set
- Vehicle brochures not an automatic link on dealership VDP pages
- Droid App not available until Q1 of 2012
- Requires staff to collect inspection data
You can get more information on Mobile Inspector by visiting www.cdemo.com. I encourage you to take it for a test drive on your Apple iPhone, iPad, or iTouch device.
The product is still in its infancy so expect updates to their online brochures and list of integration partners. However, it will be a game changer in its current form so snooze you lose!