Almost 2 years ago, I wrote an article discussing the death of static lead forms. Although they were (and still are) being used by a number of car dealerships, their popularity and conversions continue to dwindle.

One of the primary reasons why I implored dealerships to relinquish their attachment to static lead forms is because the conversation and benefit was always completely one-sided. The only side gaining any sort of benefit was the dealership, and very rarely the consumer.

To combat the detrimental elements stemming from static lead forms, dealerships began to integrate interactive experiences that offered consumers something of value as an incentive for providing their information to a dealership. This incentive could be in the form of a trade appraisal, a trade-in offer, an evaluation, and so on.

Guide the Buyer

As time progressed, we began to realize something else: that consumers simply DO NOT like being sold to. Instead, they prefer to be guided so that they’re able to make educated decisions on their own. We’ve seen it implemented physically within the dealership showroom, but the concept of guiding consumers is quickly making its way onto retail websites. All of this embodies a concept called “Online Guided Shopping.”

 

I want to be clear not to confuse online guided shopping or selling with Digital Retailing. This strategy goes far beyond the transaction happening online. Guided online selling is a strategy that influences more online visitors to the point that they’re able to buy – regardless of whether it’s online or not.

At its most basic definition, Online Guided Shopping (alternatively, “Online Guided SELLING”) is when a website is optimized to interact with visitors as a guide taking them through the buying process beginning to end. The consumer experience is similar to that of an in-store visit, where a salesperson guides an “up” on the lot through steps 1-10 of a sale.

Online guided shopping, which I explore in PERQ’s latest book, allows consumers to feel empowered by their decisions because they’re, in essence, creating their own pathway. All the options and resources are laid out in front of the consumers. Upon looking at the options in front of them, consumers can peruse the website at their leisure in order to find what it is they’re looking for without it being required to speak with a salesperson.

If you need an example of a website that does online guided selling RIGHT, look no further than sites like Amazon. Online retailers like Amazon have been leveraging Online Guided Shopping/Selling for years. Amazon’s website has a vast database for consumers to easily explore. It’s organized in such a way that a consumer can travel down the purchasing funnel rather seamlessly.

Let’s say a consumer is on Amazon and they’re looking for an ottoman for their living room. That consumer can first sift through different departments (in this case, they select the “home” department), shop by room, shop by furniture type and then shop by brand. Additionally, they can filter through reviews, prices, upholstery type, shipping options, and so on.

Along with automatically providing those options, Amazon’s website can offer product recommendations, as well as additional products and services based on what a consumer’s previous website activity was. Once a consumer finally figures out what they want, and they’ve maxed out the resources they needed, they move to the purchase phase.

As you can see, Amazon’s website doesn’t act like a salesperson, but rather, a guide. Amazon presents options to their consumers and lets them conduct every aspect of their research on their own. Amazon doesn’t force consumers into doing anything they don’t want to, and they don’t hold onto information without providing anything in return.

As a consumer peruses Amazon’s website, they’re only provided with product and service recommendations — and often times, these are simply things that would complement what it is they’re looking for. They’re really only the gatekeepers of the items when it’s time for the transaction. Outside of that, they’re an open book!

 

Why Not Auto Dealers?

Ecommerce websites like eBay, Zappos & Overstock are built in a very similar fashion.

All in all, it’s pretty safe to say that online guided shopping is a type of website strategy that lots of ecommerce websites (regardless of industry) have been utilizing for quite some time. But there’s one question that remains: Why are there so few automotive dealerships leveraging online guided selling?

Even if dealerships have inventory listed on their website, how easy is it for consumers to navigate? Are consumers immediately taken to a confusing page full of inventory upon clicking on “Sedans” with numerous filters? Or are they allowed to click in a section for “Sedans” and then a section for them to choose a brand? Are these sections broken down appropriately for consumers to browse your website with ease?

And what about evaluations or experiences for consumers who are still researching? Do trade appraisals or evaluations even exist? Or are the inventory pages we just discussed full of buttons that lead consumers to “start a deal” or “request a quote?”

If your dealership’s website doesn’t have clear guidance and only offers next steps for those in the purchase phase, it might be time to evolve your dealership’s website strategy —to integrate online guided selling!

Of course, that leaves us with the burning question:

What makes online guided shopping good for today’s automotive consumer?

Yes, automotive is different than Amazon. For most consumers, they still prefer to test drive and finalize paperwork in person. The largest benefit of an online guided selling strategy is that it doesn’t revolve around requiring a salesperson to be present to influence a potential customer. This misalignment between dealer and consumer is the source of the problem.

Dealers proactively force consumers to interact with salespeople because it’s currently their only way to influence someone to buy. A salesperson has the ability to adapt in real-time to what a consumer. They can anticipate the right thing to say and guide the conversation to the right next step. A well optimized online guided selling strategy is designed to do the very same thing but on your website.

The bottom line is consumers don’t want to be told what to do. They want to learn the options available and be educated on how to make the best decision on their own.

I liken online guided selling to pointing towards a diverged road. You’re not telling consumers precisely which path to go down, but you’re offering different paths available and how to decide for themselves. It’s obviously a very simplified example, but explains the point of guided selling relatively well. And online guided selling becomes all the more powerful when you (the dealer) are able to leverage prior information from a consumer to provide the best options to your consumers.

A guide must go beyond the transaction as well. It’s not just about guiding someone through the buy phase but through discovery and research as well. We know consumers visit dealer sites from the beginning to the end of the shopping journey.

If you don’t offer value in the discovery and research phases, then they will quickly leave and head back to websites that do. Every time this happens, you’re allowing your competition the opportunity to take that customer away from you.

Your website must be optimized to guide a consumer from beginning to end of their shopping journey. It’s on dealers and providers of the industry to rise to the occasion and deliver this experience to consumers. There is no doubt in my mind that if they don’t, someone from outside the industry will find a way to come in and do it for them.

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