On the internet, the size of your store doesn’t matter. Advertising online equally equips small town and big city dealerships with access to the tools needed to compete for car buyers’ attention. Whether you win the sale—or send a customer to your competitor—hinges on how well you merchandise your inventory and promote your business. Because the web brings other dealers’ cars to within a quarter-inch of your listings, standing out means your ads must do four things. Featuring the lowest price isn’t one of them.

Create a Virtual Showroom
Car buyers use the internet to identify vehicles that meet their needs and locate dealers who have them in stock. Include every car in your inventory—new, used and certified—to drive the most traffic to both your listings and your store. To increase the probability of a sale, each ad should feature several high-quality photographs, descriptive seller’s notes and a competitive price. Car buyers are more likely to take the next step toward scheduling an appointment and making a purchase if you give them the information they need to form an emotional connection with the vehicle.

Sell Your Store
Car buyers typically begin their search with three main concerns: finding the right vehicle, getting a fair price and being treated professionally. Your advertising should describe the customer experience shoppers can expect at your store. Points to emphasize include your business philosophy, community reputation and well-trained sales staff.

At Cars.com, for example, you can include this information with what is called a batch tagline that is automatically appended to each of your ads. Once you’ve sold car shoppers on the quality of the vehicle, this added assurance about the integrity of your store may be just the incentive they need to buy from you.

Promote Your Specials
Once you have car buyers’ attention, be sure to tell them about other vehicles at your store that they might want to consider. Car shoppers tell us that they often purchase a vehicle other than the one that initially caught their eye. By including your current specials, you increase the likelihood that a customer is deciding what to buy from you versus whether to buy from you.

Track Your Traffic
To wisely spend your advertising budget, you need to know which campaigns—broadcast, online and print—deliver the best results. We recommend that dealers complete a media survey during the F&I or delivery process instead of asking car shoppers when they first walk into the store. If you’re looking to identify internet shoppers without a formal questionnaire, consider including a special offer in your seller’s notes or, if local laws allow, using a distinctive price in your online listings to encourage shoppers to let you know they saw your ad on the web.

We’ve all heard the story about the car buyer who simply wants the lowest price. What most car buyers tell us, though, is that their primary concern is purchasing the right vehicle at a fair price from a local dealer. After all, if the car in question ultimately fails to meet their needs, how much money have they saved?

The dealers—large or small—who understand this priority and use their internet advertising to connect with car buyers on this basis position themselves to win more than their fair share of the business. Regardless of the size of your inventory or the location of your store, advertising online uniquely allows you to “listen” to what your customers want and then tell them the full story about each of your listings that matches their requirements.

Additional Resources
Cars.com recently published an executive report outlining a new generation of online advertising reporting tools that can help your store maximize profit and minimize aged inventory. More information about online advertising and internet sales processes also is available at Cars.com’s DealerCenter.