How to build the perfect automotive retailing website

  27 February 2018

What set the best apart from the rest in the 2018 Auto Retail Website Report? Editor Steve lays out how the best performers earned top marks

By Steve Johnson, Auto Retail Network Website Report 2018 editor

Arguably, and perhaps in a perfect world, auto retailers should develop their websites towards a level of excellence – set the business apart and deliver a quality ‘customer experience’. By leaving no digital stone left unturned in the quest for the ultimate website, this should result in something truly special for customers to engage and ultimately transact with.

But in general terms, the push and desire among retailers to lift their websites to a new level is not as strong as it should be. Our Website Report experiences remind us that there are a lot of things that aren’t yet ringing all the necessary bells and in tune.

So why do we get an impression that there’s no industry wide push to the top? Is it that to achieve excellence and better is too difficult? Is it a resource issue; either people, budget commitment or time? Is it a lack of hunger and creative input? Or is the climb somehow not viable, even necessary? A combination of several seems most likely. With the added complication that third-party designers and technicians may also be part of the problem, solution and cost.

With all this in mind, we bring you some website ‘wows’ and the qualities we discovered when reviewing this years’ highest scoring retailers. Coupled with some views and opinions of our own, focussing mostly on new and used car sales is surely what matters most.

The search is on

On our website reporting journey, we spend time reflecting customer activity, searching and browsing. And for the most part, everything does pretty much what it says on the proverbial tin.

There are some distinctions that make things more interesting – such as being able to search multiple brands in one pass. Conversely, if by selecting a retailer’s particular brand, a new window opens up, finding a way back needs to be intuitive. Live chat pop ups during the ‘just looking bit’ are good but once closed, repeated offers of “Can I help you?” can be a nuisance.

We reckon that if you offer a personalised video on a used vehicle, the process needs to be explained and the delivery expectation set. Filling in a form isn’t enough. Also good is when a customer is looking for a new car, hook in some matched and relevant used cars that may be of interest. And vice versa.

Test drives

We reckon that customers wanting to book a test drive online need to be nurtured and treated accordingly. So why not introduce how test drives are presented and the experience at your dealership?

Specific model and variant specifics are essential in the booking form, as is a diary facility and route specifics as presented on Inchcape’s site start to build interest. We consider that there’s no need to be capturing lots of personal detail with the initial enquiry – vital contact details only should suffice. But why can’t we see more about what demonstrator vehicles are available – photos even – and/or next best fit choices to whet appetites?

Special offers

Every website promotes the latest new car offers, but more often than not there’s a fall off as customers are invited to take the next step. The usual, bland ‘contact us’ form can come across as weak – losing sight of the fact that the customer is responding to a ‘special offer. In short, more should be done to keep the engagement and interest intact at this time; making it crystal clear that the specific vehicle is locked in to the enquiry. It’s great to see finance calculators, but there should also more deal builders with integral part-exchange valuation tools. Give the customer something to print out for their showroom visit perhaps.

Step change in buying

Although it may only be a matter of time (how long is the question) there are certainly signs that retailers are more than dipping toes in the water to use their website to er…actually sell cars. Best price requests and beat the price facilities at Cambria give customers some online negotiation power. Robins and Day have make an offer on used stock. Trust Ford have a drive home within the hour and bring me home the following day facilities – both set an interesting bar that all the formalities can be dealt with very quickly. We were disappointed that some retailers who offer a reserve option don’t all make it clear about the T’s and C’s of doing so.

Bonus points

Regular, well written and timely blogs are great. They boost customer engagement, connect well with social media and can generate external news stories for the business.

A customer registration facility can make a customer feel valued and provide a dedicated marketing channel. But it falls flat if you don’t promote the benefits of registration. Also, in this day and age, any request for an address should be via postcode look up. Any request for vehicle make model via registration number.

Is perfection elusive? Yes. But that’s no reason not to go the extra mile.

The 10 point perfect website checklist

  1. Does your website look really good, is clutter minimal, easy on the eye, warm and inviting?
  2. Do you check everything works and download performance regularly – for all browsers?
  3. If you put yourself in the customer’s position – what would you like/expect to see?
  4. Is social media activity and independent reviews fully managed… could you do more?
  5. Are customer ‘calls to action’ complete, clear, concise, nicely toned and engaging?
  6. Are stated expectation promises being met e.g. best endeavour response times?
  7. What can you do better than competitors? Look for ‘extra mile ideas to add value.
  8. Are all routine maintenance processes working – e.g. staff names up to date, special offers checked for time expiry?
  9. Do you involve and engage colleagues for extra input and ideas? The website should be integrated with every area of the business?
  10. When is the next major review with your website designer and developer – are you ready to take things on further in the quest for perfection?



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