A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Managing the 24-hour online showroom like brick-and-mortar stores

I think we all need to agree that our Web site shouldn’t be looked at as just an advertising tool, but instead should be treated in the same way as a real storefront dealer.
The exception is that the online location has no property taxes, no electric bill to pay and no building to clean.  It is still, however, a storefront.  If we all agree to this premise then we need to consider how and why we operate it differently than our brick-and-mortar stores. For example, what happens if a prospect walks into the showroom on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May, looking at that 18-foot runabout?  The car outside is a bright, shiny new SUV with a really bright unscratched tow hitch on the back. What if no one approaches the buyer to even get his/her name?  Off he/she goes, down the street to the next dealership.  The owners I know would come unglued at the thought. 

Same scenario, but this person is walking in and inquiring about a red boat.  The red one is not on the floor. It is shrink-wrapped out back, but no one lets the prospective buyer know.  There he/she goes, again, down the block. These same mistakes are made day in and day out in the online virtual “24-hour showroom.”  Avoiding common mistakes can turn a tough economy into a growth year with little change in the way we have done business for years.  As part of a training series for print advertising, sales teams began a discussion about the complexities of the Internet and how to convey these complexities.  As the discussion went on, it became more apparent that the trouble is not understanding the difference, but instead understanding the similarities.

This same fact holds true in managing the virtual storefront.  The store is open to the public, it has inventory to be viewed, as well as areas to ask questions.  The visitors come in, one by one, drawn by our marketing efforts and our sales messages posted on the door (our dealership marketing).  As the prospects enter they occasionally give us information about themselves.  These prospects are more likely to buy than the hull thumpers.  We talk to them, via e-mail, in our virtual showroom and a purchase decision is made.  Now they leave with their new boat in tow. 

This is the process we have followed in the stores for years, but the seeming complexity of the Internet has derailed the process that we count on to grow our businesses each year.  Let’s revisit the shrink-wrapped boat.  After years of online experience it continues to amaze me that in the virtual showroom we continue to see dealerships who fail to display their entire inventory.  In their brick-and-mortar stores this would be an abomination; however, it is tolerated in the “24-hour showroom.” 

I am certain that many reading this posting are looking at their Web sites to see where they stand.  When the forecasters are calling for a downturn we need to be certain we are doing everything possible to be open when the economy turns back up.  What are you doing to be sure that you are managing your “24-hour showroom” like brick-and-mortar?

David Bingham
General Manager


4 comments on “Managing the 24-hour online showroom like brick-and-mortar stores

  1. Donn Beck

    Right on target
    Too many dealers take to easy way and link their site to the manufacturer’s site with a button. It does not in any way represent the inventory they have on hand. This is a dis-service to the consumer who may walk in to see that 22′ boat that was on the dealer’s website.

  2. Bob Melancton

    Well said, online is here to stay and we need to change with the trends if we want to survive.

    • “Over 200 million Americans actively use the internet, which presents great opportunity for advertisers to profit and reach more consumers. Online spending was up 30% in 2005 estimated at $12.5 billion, up from $9.6 billion in 2004, according to the IAB. By focusing more ad budget dollars on online advertising, companies are able to reach a very broad and diverse audience, and can also target local consumers more effectively.”
    (Newspaper Association of America).
    • “Recent studies show nearly 8 out of 10 consumers turn to the web to conduct research before making a large purchase. Never before has your on-line presence played a more vital role in your sales and market share success.”

  3. Ieuan Jury

    Interesting story and comments, I was recently reading another story that talked about Dead Wood, people of the industry that latched on during a period when it was booming.

    During this period of financial down turn most of that has been cut away leaving only those who knew what they were doing, who provided a great service to the industry. I know this better than anyone, I’m a captain in Europe who invested my spare time in building a marine directory MarineDex the idea is that through uses of our system are able to gauge and give feedback on who is dead wood, who is no longer in business and who is great! I’m not finished but I’m working on it and getting there slowly.

    Getting back on subject about dead wood and how it relates to internet; websites with links to manufactures, data that has been scrapped, the time has come. Google recently release Panda an update to work out which sites have content that is borrowed, scrapped or hasn’t been updated recently. Look out; if you haven’t already been affected you will be so, get back on your websites, update the content, update the internal SEO descriptions for each page or watch all your business go down the road.

    I helped a business last week; I explained to them the importance of content, social media and the SEO descriptions of their site (if you don’t know what I’m talking about it ask your webmaster because it is really important) I spent 8 hours updating just their SEO descriptions and they saw first page rankings straight away for a number of key words without blowing the bank.

    If you want to get out in front or stay in business keep pouring information on the internet, blog, write newsletter and stay in touch with the latest changes online and in the industry.

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