It’s no secret that dealerships invest a significant amount of money on their advertising. You could probably open your email right now and find a new opportunity to spend $1000, but should you? What happens when you have seemingly great campaigns but you still aren’t getting results? 

As a Customer Success Manager at sMedia, my role is to help dealerships maximize the efficiency of their advertising spend and evaluate campaign results to ensure that your dollars are working as hard as possible. I do this using sMedia’s Engaged Prospect Metric, good data and my own industry experience but here’s the thing, 


You can spend endless amounts of dollars on ad budgets and negate even the best campaign if your inventory is poorly merchandised. 


I’ve seen dealerships throw big budgets at Google, Facebook, and classified sites and not stop to consider what they’re advertising. Do you remember all the work you put into your newspaper ad copy and photos back in 2008? And yet how much time do you spend on your own website inventory listings? Your customers are visiting those listings, they’re making their purchase decision based on the information you present on those vehicle details pages. 


What information are you giving visitors to your vehicle details pages? 

Is it just a redundancy of what can be found on your OEM’s site? 

How are you compelling customers to choose your dealership and your inventory? 


Digital shoppers want more and better, and dealerships have to rise to that. On Amazon I can buy a $5 phone case, get 10 photos, read 32 reviews and a complete product spec. Yet when I shop for a $30,000 car I have to ask your BDC or sales team for actual photos, fill out a form to request a video and “come on down” to get the price! Shoppers don’t want to see a stock photo and the MSRP of the vehicle they’re considering – they already have this information, they know it’s in their price range and it’s an attractive vehicle. 


Customers want to see multiple images, inside and out, of the car their next car. They want to know your price. They don’t want a list of standard features, they want to know how this car will make their drive better, safer, easier. The information you present online about your inventory should help shoppers take mental ownership of the vehicle. 


Before you throw more money at a new vendor, or increase your ad budgets, I want you to take a long look at your inventory merchandising and website experience. Is your inventory delivering the information that shoppers want? Is shopping your website an enjoyable, easy experience? Are you providing your shoppers with a compelling reason to buy from your dealership?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then your advertising dollars are not as effective as they should be. 

So what should you do?


Focus on photographs

At a minimum, you should have 24 photographs for every vehicle. This includes a full 360 exterior including trunk/box, and interior.  And yes, you should absolutely do this for both new and used inventory. Your customer already knows how the 2019 truck looks, they want to know how their next truck looks, what does the havana brown shine in the sun? How about that leather interior? 

Did I mention accessories? You added aftermarket accessories after you photographed it the first time? That means you need to shoot it again.

For those of us trying to sell cars in colder climates, you get to shoot your inventory twice a year – once for summer, and once for winter (or sell it before the next season hits). There’s nothing worse for a customer than seeing a winter photo in August and thinking “what the heck is wrong with this vehicle that it’s been sitting for so long?” If they’re considering two vehicles and one dealership has fresh summer photos but the other has winter photos, which do you think they’ll be more likely to visit when they only visit 1.2 to 1.8 dealerships on average? 

And the most challenging part of photographing your vehicles – process. How do you create a flow inside the dealership to get vehicles from clean up/PDI to your photo taker in a minimal amount of time? And then how do you figure out which vehicles need retakes? Your DMS or website inventory system should have a report that tells you which vehicles in inventory need photos, use a spreadsheet and track it. Reprint that list every week. I would recommend as a goal that 75% of your inventory has photographs within 2 weeks of arrival. 



Are you telling the vehicles’ story? Are you talking about the features as they relate to the shopper? What about reviews? In today’s age of social proof, reviews are more important than ever, can you quote a positive review about this vehicle or provide a link to a review video? Better yet, can you have your sales team do a walk around video or test drive video? 

If you’re not using the description to answer the questions a customer would have in their first conversation with a sales person then you’re not using it effectively. 



MSRP is not enough anymore. Customers can find MSRP with a quick Google search. They want to know the price that they’re going to get or at the very least a ballpark of what they can expect price-wise from your dealership. Consider adding in dealership incentives on your inventory online. Do you think it’s possible that customers only want to haggle because they know you’re holding out or because they’ve been trained to do that through years of common industry practices? Do you charge an admin fee? Do you talk about it upfront on your website? 

Do you know how your prices get updated and flow to your various partners

You don’t have to have the lowest price but you do have to make sure that your pricing is up to date, easy to find, and honest. 


Inventory Mix & Volume

You can’t sell what you don’t have. Stock up, and proactively keep your inventory at a level that will sustain your sales goals; what percentage of inventory are you turning over in a month? Want to sell more cars? Then you need to stock more. Did you have a really good used month? Then get to the auction or run a trade promo. Have inventory on the lot that hasn’t moved or even had a lead? Get it off your lot, call the wholesaler or send it away, do not keep a dog on the lot because you think it should be popular, use data to drive your inventory decisions and take the emotions out of it, most of your advertising partners can provide a report on demand and results by stock number. 

Here’s the bottomline, your customers are researching online before they buy. You have a multi-million dollar physical retail location but you rely on digital traffic to succeed. Inventory merchandising online should be a major focus. We’ve all seen leads and even foot traffic to the dealership steadily decline over the last 10 years. With these statistics do you think shoppers are taking the time to ask you for real photos, pricing or vehicle details? 


If you’re not investing the time in proper inventory merchandising but you’re paying to direct customers to your website or to advertise your inventory digitally then you’re causing inefficiencies in your advertising budget.