Dealers are bracing themselves again this week for another visit from Trading Standards, this time to look at internet advertising. Tired of receiving complaints about misrepresentation of cars being advertised they have tightened up on the current rules to insure that all dealers, but especially franchised ones, play by the rules. How is this beneficial to the consumer? Of course anything that ensures that buyers are not being misled into buying something they don’twant can only be a good thing. According to a source of ours, who works for quite a large multi-franchised group in the midlands, from now on they cannot advertise demonstrators until they are within 1 month of being able to be sold. Currently regulations state that a car registered to a company as a demonstrator cannot be sold as a used car until it is 3 months old and has covered 3,000 miles and this was initially introduced to stop car makers and dealers pre-registering cars and selling them immediately as used cars thus creating false registrations and skewing the market. They have also swooped on dealers who advertise new cars with dummy registrations (making the car appear as if it has already been registered when in fact it hasn’t) and, although in some cases customers may have been getting a good deal on what was effectively a new car, the fact remains that advertising something as one thing and selling as another is not correct.
With internet advertising accounting for nearly 70% of all used car enquiries (and rising) the fact is that traditional mediums such as newspaper, radio or direct mail are becoming virtually obsolete such is the power of on-line marketing. Being that it costs a fraction of alternative forms dealers are trying, quite understandably, to cram in all their cars as they have not got the advantage of being able to advertise their demos and pack cars anywhere else other than their own websites, which clearly have considerably less ‘hits’ than the millions which log on to Autotrader for instance.
The problems have derived, for many dealers, from sloppy practices. When loading cars on their own systems, they often leave this process to ‘non sales’ people who would not necessarily be up to speed with the specification of any given used car. Let’s face it every used car is unique by virtue of the fact that they are all driven by different people and have different specs and conditions, therefore a car can be incorrectly advertised to the extent that the mileage may be completely wrong. For instance if a dealer loads a demonstrator on to their system and indicates that it has 5k on the clock but is in fact still being used by the dealer for its purpose, and the mileage is not regularly updated a customer could travel miles to the dealership because he has seen the car advertised with low mileage only to get there and find that the car has gained another 2k. This may very well mean he may not want to proceed as it is not the car he saw advertised and there will be doubts as to the trustworthiness of the dealer. This is quite a mild example but there are many cases where cars have been advertised as manual when they are in fact auto and with extra spec which hasn’t actually been on the car or vice versa, all because the process was sloppy and the dealer clearly has not cottoned onto the fact that accurate descriptions are vital for customer confidence but also for a dealer to be able to sell the car for the optimum price.
It is hard enough at present for dealers to obtain stock and to be told that they cannot now advertise that stock in this way will cause considerable problems. Hopefully the good dealers can learn from this and by changing their data gathering processes may be able to stay ahead of the game.
The dealer we mentioned in the midlands has told us that he intends to make getting a customer’s e-mail address a top priority so that every customer who enquires at that showroom will be able to receive all special offers and promotions at the click of a mouse as sending a mailer via email is clearly a fraction of the cost of traditional printed.
It’s a no-brainer really as, when the information is accurate and the sales manger takes it very seriously, it will ultimately increase sales.