BY TERI KELSH
More and more powersports dealers are recognizing the Internet as a powerful marketing and sales tool, but many aren’t investing enough time and energy on their Web site for it to be as effective as it could be.
According to a Powersports Business survey, of 182 dealers randomly surveyed, 159 say they have a Web site with its primary purpose to market the store’s products and services. Yet many of these same dealers say they haven’t seen the kind of return on their Internet investment they’d hoped.
Steve Weiner, vice president of PowerSports Network, a company providing Internet resources to dealers since 1998, says it’s like any new opportunity: it takes some time to understand how to take advantage of some of its capabilities. “It’s a little bit like having a separate business,” Weiner said. “It’s not like a field of dreams where if you build it they will come. You have to do some things to make it happen, like devote resources, time and energy.”
Weiner says dealers should use the Internet as a mechanism to establish contact and educate customers on what the dealership has to offer. “Studies show that anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the people who will visit a dealership will go to its Web site first.”
Laura Butler, business manager at Sonoma Kawasaki, in Winnemucca, Nev., says “working with the Internet is more of a hassle for the dealerships than it’s worth.” Butler says she doesn’t know how many hits their Web site actually receives, but guesses the site generates around 25 solid sales leads in an average month. Roughly five of those leads convert into actual new unit sales.
Curtis Kroeker, director of vehicles at e-Bay Motors, says dealerships seeing these kinds of results generally reflects how the dealership is using the Internet and its Web site. He says dealerships can increase the number of Internet-generated leads and sales by making the site attractive and user-friendly, and by making their online practices consistent with their regular business practices.
“Be polite, be courteous, be professional, be timely,” Kroeker said. “The Internet is really just another tool to increase the likelihood that a customer is going to buy from them and perhaps continue to buy from them.”
Recognizing that the online customer requires the same kind of attention as the customer in the showroom, Kroeker notes, is one of the most important things to making successful Internet sales. That means having someone available to help them.
“What the Internet enables you to do is establish that first point of contact and begin to set up a relationship with a customer,” Kroeker said. “From there on how you treat customers online should be the same as how you treat customers offline, which means just like it would be unimaginable to run a dealership without a floor sales person or staff, you shouldn’t be running a dealership without an Internet sales manager. If you look to the automotive business, almost every single automotive dealership I know of has at least an Internet sales manager and in some cases an Internet sales staff.”
Some dealers surveyed say they have safety concerns when it comes to dealing with the Internet, including the risk of credit card fraud or confusion with tax issues. But Kroeker says when it comes to online buying and selling, it really isn’t much different then when it’s done in person.
“Sure there’s definitely credit card fraud out there,” he said. “But the fraud risk sellers have is incredibly small and incredibly manageable.”
One form of financial protection Kroeker recommends is simply waiting for funds to show up in an account before shipping the product. And as far as dealing with sales tax: “The short rule here is dealers need to know the tax laws in their state and follow them,” he said. “Typically the way it works is if the buyer is in-state, it’s no different than an in-person transaction in the dealership. If shipping out-of-state, typically those sales taxes don’t apply.”
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Once the Web site is up and running on the Internet, Weiner says dealers should make sure the products and services on it mirror what’s available in the store.
“If information and pictures aren’t available, people lose interest,” he said.
The next step is making customers aware of the site and the services it offers. Weiner recommends sending out an e-newsletter and creating signage in the store.
“The most successful retailers we work with take a proactive approach at marketing and communicating with their customers electronically,” he said. “Using the Internet successfully is going beyond having it and actually reaching out to people.”