What Your Merchandising Tells Car Shoppers

Car shoppers want to see more photos and read more detailed sellers notes.  Period.  That’s the key insight we learned from our latest Voice of the Consumer survey.  If you needed another kick to update your vehicle merchandising strategy, let this be it.

In December 2016, we found that 87 percent of car shoppers surveyed said they are looking for cars for sale¹.  We also found that of that 87 percent, 55 percent of those surveyed are researching car pricing and 54 percent are comparing vehicles¹.  Knowing this, what role do you think your merchandising plays in influencing car shoppers to spend time on your VDPs?  Does your vehicle merchandising even entice consumers to send a traditional lead or encourage them to show up to the lot?  Take a step back and evaluate the photos you take of your inventory and the way you write your sellers notes for an effective, cohesive merchandising strategy.

Auto shoppers want real-time information.  We know from our own research that 63 percent of auto shoppers were still researching dealerships after showing up onto a dealer’s lot, and more than half of those visited additional dealerships based on what they found via their mobile devices².  Your merchandising can be a key influencer in helping car shoppers decide where and with whom to do business – and it may not be you.

What Do Car Shoppers Want, and What Can you Do?

Let’s talk specifics about what you can do to better merchandise for the in-market car shopper.  Cars.com continually takes consumer feedback into consideration for updates to the user experience.  A good deal of what we receive deals with available vehicle content.  Car shoppers are asking for more details about vehicles saying, “improve filter options by making dealers correctly load all details about the car.”  Additionally, we’ve heard that we should prioritize search results based on VDPs having full photos, sellers notes, and contact information.  Of course, we will never prioritize one dealer over another in a search.  But, these are responses to our question of how we should improve Cars.com, and it’s in dealers’ own power to do it while helping themselves.

If consumers are clamoring for more information on vehicles via photos, sellers notes, and contact information, it’s those dealers who take the time to merchandise thoroughly and creatively who are gaining in market share, growing their sales, and influencing people to show up on the lot.  It’s also those dealers who completely fill out all vehicle details and features sections on a VDP that can garner more attention from consumers online.

What can you do?  Dedicate resources to take quality photos of available inventory.  While we offer stock photos of new inventory, up to date pictures of vehicles can go a long way in satisfying car shoppers needs.  A well detailed, creative paragraph of sellers notes can also satisfy car shoppers and encourage them to contact the dealership with a phone call or email or even to show up on the lot.  Indeed, it’s those dealers that completely fill out all vehicle details and features sections that will benefit from consumers visiting Cars.com.  Those fields feed into the filters that car shoppers use to narrow down their search.  If you don’t have specifics on your vehicle filled out – you miss out!

If the manpower doesn’t exist at your dealership to cover the volume of inventory, working with your DMS provider can lessen the burden.  Have the conversation with your DMS for more detailed photos taken more often and provide examples and guidelines for your sellers notes.

Consumers are asking for more detailed information on vehicles when they are researching.  If it comes down to a customer comparing one of your vehicles against a competitor who has more information on their VDPs, you may have lost them.

[1] Cars.com Insights, December, 2016.

[2] Behavioral Analytics on Mobile, Cars.com, Q3 2016.

Consumer Insights: 3 Easy Ways to Enhance Used Car Listings


An average of 30 million consumers visit Cars.com every month¹. While some consumers are looking to sell their car or researching the value of their car, about 9 out of 10 are looking at cars for sale.  Most of those shoppers (84%) are looking at used vehicles².

With so much consumer traffic on used car listings, dealers need to make sure their vehicles are in the best position to attract these shoppers. Leveraging our monthly consumer satisfaction, Cars.com has identified some merchandising tips to win with used car shoppers.

Consumers have consistently told us that they look at listings with as much detail as possible, including pictures. Here are a few easy ways to enhance your listings with more information:

Include multiple pictures of the exterior and interior
Vehicle photos are the first opportunity to draw attention to your inventory on an SRP – your first impression.  Knowing that photos are what draws a consumer in to a VDP, keeping them interested enough to read through the vehicle specs and information is the next step.  But, to get consumers to read through, they need to fall for the car and that means showing them every angle both inside and out to allow the consumer to picture themselves in the vehicle.  High quality pictures showing the consumer what it’s like to be inside the car, driving the car, and even what they would look like from the outside can hook them.

Include complete and accurate vehicle specs and prices
Once the consumer has enough investment to click into a VDP based on images and some specs from the SRP, they’ll want to read more.  It is important to note that consumers will often skip over listings that seem incomplete to them even if there are enough photos.  Providing all the necessary information on the vehicle specs leaving no questions unanswered in the consumer’s mind is a good rule of thumb.

If they feel satisfied that they’ve been fed enough information on the vehicle, this could drive more leads.  Of course, there is the old thought that leaving out some content could drive more leads by forcing the consumer to contact the dealer for more information, but given today’s fast paced online marketplace, if you don’t inform the consumer, they may go elsewhere.  Including all information on a vehicle is the best bet.

For used cars, have a free CarFax report attached if possible
Nowadays, there are more opportunities to learn the history of a vehicle before purchase.  Providing the likes of a CarFax on a specific vehicle’s VDP could up your chances of turning inventory.  Doing so can provide a sense of security in not only inquiring on a vehicle by sending a lead, but for purchase as well.  It can only help.

Consumers will often skip over listings that seem incomplete, appear too good to be true, or only include stock images.   When considering one’s own online shopping behavior on, say, Amazon, it’s not surprising to skip over products with one image, a lack of product information, or with few reviews or a majority of negative reviews.  This is what happens to vehicles listed online when they are merchandised poorly.

Consumers want to read about the features of the vehicle, see the vehicle they are interested in from every angle, and learn about the vehicle history when considering a used vehicle.  It’s understandable, then that these are the top areas of interest for consumers when shopping online for vehicles.

Along these same lines, our Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study found that 8 out of 10 Cars.com consumers plan to purchase or lease in the next 6 months as of September 2016³.  Knowing that industry trends are suggesting a drop in New car sales over the next couple of years⁴, these suggestions might seem simple, but including these details could make a huge difference in turning used inventory.

Dealers need to make sure their inventory isn’t ignored.  With consumers’ ability to do so much of their shopping research online and with vehicle listing details having such a strong influence on their decision, it’s important to include as much detail as possible to fully inform them across all online vehicle listingsIf a goal is to get the consumer in person on the lot or to submit an email lead, proper merchandising can be a driver to accomplish this when they online shop.

The effort put into turning a vehicle can pay off in spades when good merchandising is made a habit instead of a chore.  With the right information, vehicle listings have a better chance at attracting the eyes of the millions of consumers looking at cars for sale.

[1] Cars.com Site Data, May 2016
[2] Cars.com Consumer Satisfaction Survey, September 2016
[3] Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study, September 2016
[4] 2016 Auto Outlook: The Thinning of the Media Pack, Borrell Associates, 2016

The Case Against ALL CAPS: No-Nonsense Advice for Writing Vehicle Comments (and Other Dealership Content)

Automotive Merchandising Tips, Automotive Marketing

When writing vehicle comments, pages for your website and other dealership-related content, it’s easy to get swept up by formatting gimmicks that (in theory) draw attention to your words.

The car business is competitive, and it’s understandable to think that extra characters, added punctuation and constant capitalization might provide a leg up on local rivals. But the best approach in writing is usually the simplest. Car shoppers are searching for a dealership they can trust, and that starts with clear, straightforward communication.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you grip the keyboard to hammer out a few lines of copy to promote your store.

Ease Up On the Shift Key

You wouldn’t introduce yourself to a new client by yelling at him or her, would you? That’s exactly what if feels like when you start a sentence in ALL CAPS. If you’re using this tactic at your dealership, let the shift key go.

Aside from coming across as rude to potential customers, using solely uppercase letters in copy makes your writing more difficult to read and confuses your message.

See for yourself:

On top of its standard family-friendly features, the new Grand Caravan offers a host of optional amenities, from heated seats to a Blu-Ray entertainment package, sure to make any road trip a breeze.


When in doubt, stick to standard sentence case and use extended capitalization sparingly.

Ditch Extra Punctuation

Exaggerated punctuation, such as exclamation points, asterisks and misplaced dollar signs, can be jarring for consumers to read. More importantly, those ancillary characters don’t do anything to communicate the actual value your dealership provides. Because car shoppers are both skeptical and judicious with their trust, stay away from ornamented phrases like this: “**COME IN FOR A TEST DRIVE NOW!!!**

Instead, find ways to highlight the benefits of your dealership using common language that will resonate with shoppers in your area.

Example: Treat yourself to a complimentary latte before test driving the all-new Chrysler 300 with one of our helpful vehicle consultants.

Focus on Structure

If you want to emphasize a specific point, use design elements rather than punctuation. This means using headlines to segment ideas, adding line breaks to draw attention to standalone sentences and bringing in subtle graphics like text boxes and lines to section off content. Doing so will drastically increase the readability of whatever you produce and give you more control over your message.

As a rule of thumb, when you create a new piece of collateral (e.g., email template, web page, mailer, etc.), have someone else on your team read it before sending it to customers. Ask what sections they’re drawn to most and adjust the visual hierarchy accordingly. Be sure your prospects are focused on what’s most important.

This same best practice applies when an outside marketing partner designs your materials.

Highlight Customer Benefits

Why should a car shopper visit your dealership instead of the dealership down the road? Hint: It’s not because you’ve got blue Chevrolets.

A laundry list of vehicle features and dealership amenities doesn’t fully speak to your “why buy” message because it only communicates information, not value. Rather than only stating the facts, strive to share how working with your dealership will improve the lives of your customers.

For example, tout how customers will have peace of mind thanks to your dealership’s superior warranty; highlight how busy families will never need to miss work or little league practice because of your store’s complimentary loaner service; showcase how every new vehicle purchase supports a local philanthropy your dealership has partnered and why that’s important.

By focusing on these guiding principles, you can tighten up your copy and begin strengthening relationships with customers.

Still looking for tips to hone your automotive writing chops? Read our related blog post, 4 Easy Steps to Writing an Effective Call to Action.

Stat of the Week: Photos linked to increased VDP views

Cars.com photos, VDP views

Taking great inventory photos is an investment. Not only does it demand the time and energy of dealership personnel, it requires the right tools, appropriate lot space and a locked-in operations process to be effective. And though this basic merchandising practice is a given at many stores, some still question the value of producing quality photos of both new and used inventory, citing stock photos or other alternatives as being “good enough.”

However, a new analysis of Cars.com site data reinforces that taking custom photos of inventory can pay significant dividends. We found that vehicle listings with custom photos get, on average, 217% more VDP views than inventory listings with no photo. As shoppers browse listings and research dealerships online, custom photos instill confidence and provide opportunity to differentiate your dealership from competitors. Just like any other online marketplace (e.g. Amazon, Target), quality inventory photos are a consumer expectation, not a luxury.

Spring Cleaning: 5 Quick Tips to Freshen Up Your Cars.com Account

As you sweep up the lot and straighten the sales floor this spring, remember that just like your physical location, your online presence may benefit from a bit of spring cleaning. With that in mind, we’ve put together five quick tips to help freshen up your Cars.com account and position your dealership for strong sales through summer and beyond.


Winter storms can take a toll on inventory, especially if you’re based in the Northeast or Midwest. Warmer temps may mean melting the snow on your dealership’s lot, but background snow in old vehicle photos doesn’t clear up quite as easily. As you ramp up for the spring sales period, take time to update photos of both your vehicles and your dealership’s exterior for Cars.com, your dealership’s website and other online channels.

Snow vs. No snow vehicle

Contact and Reporting Distributions

Have new staff members been hired or have employees left your store in the past 6 months? Dealership personnel can change fast, and sometimes administrative updates are missed along the way. Take proactive steps to make sure your information is up to date by reviewing your customer contact and reporting distributions with your local Cars.com representative. By ensuring the correct team members are being notified of customer inquiries, new Dealer Reviews and monthly reports, you’ll be prepared to effectively manage your team, your online presence, and successfully engage potential customers.

Call Recording

Cars.com provides toll-free numbers to all of our dealer-partners. The custom numbers not only assist in reporting shopper activity each month, they also include an optional feature that allows managers to record inbound calls to the dealership for quality assurance purposes. To enable this feature, simply contact your local Cars.com representative. Once activated, recorded call reports can be sent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis – perfect for coaching new members of your sales staff or giving praise to veteran employees.


Some estimate that consumer use of chat features is up as much as 60% year over year, however many dealerships still haven’t fully integrated this new form of shopper communication into their marketing and sales process. Through Cars.com, you’re able to have several team members send and receive chat messages through both their desktop computers and smartphones, increasing your availability when consumers look to engage online with your dealership. With minimal set-up and training, you can establish a new and growing communication channel to connect with tech-savvy car shoppers.

Batch and Promotional Taglines

How are you promoting your dealership’s “why buy” message on Cars.com? While many dealerships have strong, dealership-specific marketing messages, not all communicate them through every placement available. By updating your batch and promotional taglines – short messages that are connected to your dealership’s seller’s notes and Dealer Locator presence, respectively – you’ll help tell a consistent story that differentiates your dealership from others on Cars.com.

dealer locator

Have questions? Looking to walk through these tips in further detail? Drop us a line at dealeradvantage@cars.com or contact your local Cars.com representative to review.

Tax refund-shoppers look to cash in on late-model used, CPO vehicles

At an average of more than $3,000 per return, up 3% year-over-year, annual tax refunds can be an excellent motivator for many Americans considering purchasing a new or used vehicle. In addition to things like student-loans and home repair, the revitalized auto market is poised to garner a sizable share of tax refund dollars this season.

But what types of vehicles will be in greatest demand during tax time? Shoppers with average incomes and ordinary credit typically seek out late-model used and certified pre-owned vehicles – cars three to four years old, in most cases. When you run the numbers, it makes sense.

A $3,000 refund turned into a down payment on a $15,000 vehicle equates to a healthy 20% of vehicle equity. Account for shoppers who may also need to use a portion of their refund for immediate expenses, and you’ve got a window of highly sought after vehicles between $10,000 and $15,000.

To take advantage of these conditions, not to mention the benefit of having five selling weekends in March, dealers should look to call out this type of inventory on their lots and in their online advertising throughout April, at a minimum. Highlighting the unique value of late-model and CPO vehicles can help educate customers and differentiate your dealership from competitors, and every detail matters. On used cars particularly, merchandising – taking quality photos, writing vehicles descriptions and pricing competitively – is essential, so make sure you’re back on the lot replacing photos of snow-covered inventory at the first glimpse spring.

Certified Pre-owned, Jesse Toprak

And remember, shoppers place a premium on the peace of mind that comes with CPO vehicles. In a related study, we found that 56% of shoppers view CPO status as being worth an additional $1,000 – $2,500, with 25% of shoppers willing to pay $2,500 or more. There’s also high overlap between this range of new, used and CPO buyers. On the sales floor, there’ll likely be opportunities to convert an on-the-fence new-car shopper into a CPO buyer and vice-versa, so help your team prepared to move through all possible vehicles options.

Although winter weather is still lingering throughout much of the country, as spring approaches, brace for a lift in new and used-car sales. It’s a psychological phenomenon – a slight increase in temperature and a bump in consumer bank accounts will set off the spring and summer buying season in no time.

Comments? Share them below or send a tweet to @dealeradvantage.

Dealer Profile Pages now live for Independent dealerships on Cars.com

Putting your dealership’s best foot forward starts before customers ever arrive on the lot. With critical decisions about which vehicles and dealerships to consider happening online and on mobile devices in the weeks and months prior to purchase, every detail matters – especially when communicating your dealership’s culture and value.

With that, we’re excited to share that, starting today, Independent dealerships on Cars.com will be provided a designated Dealer Profile Page, a dealership-specific page in which they can share photos  videos, feature Dealer Reviews and highlight their dealership’s “why buy” message to prospective customers. Whether you work with a Franchise dealership or an Independent lot, you’ve now got the tools promote your dealership through rich, store-level content.

DPP-Overview - Indy cropped
Sample Profile Page

To get started, log into MyDealerCenter and select the “Dealer Profile” link from the “Admin” tab. Once you’re there, use these tips to create a best-in-class profile that’ll help your dealership stand out from the crowd.

Click the "Dealer Profile" link under the "Admin" tab to get started
Click the “Dealer Profile” link under the “Admin” tab to get started

Contact Information

  • When is your dealership open? Who’s the best person to contact for used-car sales? Use the provided fields to share the hours of operation and contact information for your dealership.

Photos and Video

  • Do you have quality photos of your dealership, your staff or local community events your store has participated in? Use them to show off your store’s unique personality and give shoppers a sense of what it’ll be like if they choose to work with your dealership. (Note: photos should be 624 pixels wide by 416 pixels tall for optimal resolution)
  • Much like photos, a video can help give personality to your store online. Grab the URL from one of your dealership’s YouTube videos or create a new one using your laptop’s webcam to get going, just be sure you’re highlighting the dealership as a whole, not a single unit of inventory.

About the Dealership

  • Does your dealership have a unique history? What’s your specialty, and what value do you provide to customers? What can car shoppers expect if they choose to do business with you? Seek to answer these types of questions in a short 200-400 word paragraph (or two) about your dealership. You may even be able to borrow copy from the “About Us” section of your website.

Dealer Reviews

  • Have others shared positive Dealer Reviews about your store recently? Once you’ve filled out all the “Dealer Profile” fields, hop over to the “Reviews” tab in MyDealerCenter to a select a review to feature on your Profile Page. If you haven’t already, also make sure to respond to the review you’re highlighting and thank the customer for sharing his or her feedback.

After you’ve knocked out all of the new Dealer Profile content areas, jump over to the Cars.com Dealer Locator to view your page and make any necessary adjustments. Updates should be reflected on Cars.com within 30 minutes of making them in MyDealerCenter.

Still have questions or need a hand updating your store’s Dealer Profile Page? Reach out to your local Cars.com rep or drop us a line at DealerADvantage@cars.com.

New vehicle history report options now live on Cars.com

Vehicle history reports have long been an important part of the dealership sales process, educating car shoppers and instilling confidence in used-car purchases. And as the depth of information in history reports has expanded, so have the options available to dealers. Because this, we’re excited to share that Cars.com will now support AutoCheck vehicle history reports in an effort to provide additional choices to our valued dealer-partners. The new features go live today.

VDP check

 Though CARFAX will remain Cars.com’s preferred vehicle history report provider, dealerships that purchase vehicle history reports exclusively through AutoCheck will now have them automatically displayed on their used-car listings. Dealerships that purchase CARFAX history reports will continue to have only CARFAX reports displayed.

For dealerships that purchase both AutoCheck and CARFAX vehicle history reports, only CARFAX reports will be displayed at this time. CARFAX will also continue to be the default vehicle history report offered for consumers to purchase, should a dealership-paid report be unavailable.

For more information, feel free to contact your local Cars.com representative or send a message to DealerADvantage@cars.com.

Digital Sin 5: Underestimating the Value of Online Branding

Cars.com ebook The 7 Digital Sins of Attribution

Following last week’s post on the importance of understanding mobile shopper behavior, this week we’ll be addressing Sin 5: Underestimating the Value of Online Branding.

Sin 5 SoloThe Role of Online Branding

Digital marketing has come a long way since the days of email leads arriving via fax machine, with consumers now making major decisions about which vehicles and dealerships to consider — or eliminate — based upon what they see online. This increased sophistication; combined with consumer adoption, means that digital media can positively showcase your dealership at a brand level.

With consumers spending so much time online for entertainment, research and work, dealers who pass up opportunities to brand online are missing key moments to build awareness and drive consideration for their stores when shoppers are making key decisions.

Let shoppers get to know you 

Digital shoppers aren’t blind to your brand. In fact, shoppers on Cars.com are telling us in no uncertain terms they want to know more about you and why they should buy from your dealership.18 They want to understand the experience your store will offer and learn what sets you apart from other dealers down the street. This gives you opportunities to communicate your brand message and to differentiate your store.

Learn more about the importance of online branding in our new ebook, The 7 Digital Sins of Attribution.

How to write effective seller’s notes using the M.A.R.K. strategy

Dealer best practices digital basics

Listing photos, price and vehicle features is an important part of vehicle merchandising, but they often don’t tell the full story. Shoppers are looking to understand not only what their future car has to offer, but also why it’s the right car for them to purchase.

Effective seller’s notes, or vehicle descriptions, frame the style and noteworthy features of a car into an easy-to-read paragraph. One school of thought is to follow the “M.A.R.K.” strategy – a series of four questions meant to alleviate concerns and motivate customers to purchase. Watch Jacob Solotaroff of Max Systems break down the approach.

M.A.R.K. stands for Mission, Affordability, Risk and Key Differentiators. By addressing those four areas, Solotaroff suggests that dealers may be able to significantly increase the conversion of their online ads – over 90% in some cases. Let’s dig a little deeper and break down questions you can ask yourself to hit on each component of M.A.R.K.

Mission – How should potential buyers see themselves owning this vehicle? Does the future owner want something safe for the whole family or something flashy to stand out?

Affordability – What makes this car a good value? Are there options that can be tailored to fit the customer’s  needs?

Risk – How is this car going to retain its value? Is it dependable? Is it safe?

Key Differentiators – With all things being equal, what makes the car and/or dealership stand out from the competition? Does the dealership offer a special warranty or amenities? Is the car limited edition or equipped with special features?

dodge caravan

With the four areas of M.A.R.K in mind, let’s take a look at the writing philosophy in action.

M – Space and comfort shine through in the 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan. With a second and third row Stow n’ Go storage system, this vehicle is perfect for a growing family on the move. Multiple compartments and adjustable seating configurations make for a great utility purchase, capable of hauling drywall just as easy as taking the team to practice.

A – Starting at $19,995, this year’s Grand Caravan can be customized to fit nearly everyone’s budget. Improving on Dodge’s latest, the updated model boasts standard premium interior and is full of unexpected luxuries.

R – Supporting its four star NHTSA safety rating, the Grand Caravan comes with standard side curtain airbags, as well as optional rearview assist and blind spot detection features. An American standard, this vehicle is sure to keep up with the family from the first day of tee-ball to the high school graduation.

K – On top of its standard family-friendly features, the new Grand Caravan offers a host of optional amenities from heated seats to a Blu-Ray entertainment package, sure to make any road trip a breeze.  Bring the family down to DealerADvantage Dodge and let us show you why our customer-focused, no pressure process can help you drive off in the car that’s best for you today!

How do you make your inventory stand out? Share your tips in the comments below!


Merchandising Tips with Trainer Jack Simmons

Merchandise Faster With Mobile