Auto Retailing: Dealers Can Look to Digital to Shorten Close Time

February 27, 2015

Gone are the days when automotive dealers couldn’t buy a national print advertisement in Car and Driver. Today, they can get a banner ad placed into a local website, where they’re targeting their consumers. Dave Winslow, vice president of digital strategy for Dealertrack Technologies, and Chris Smith, vice president of advertising sales for, spoke with eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about dealers implementing digital strategy and going beyond the traditional tactics, such as running an ad in a local newspaper or TV.


eMarketer: What role does Dealertrack and play with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers?

Dave Winslow: There’s a very strong symbiotic relationship between the dealers and manufacturers, but digital marketing is what’s bound the two together further. We offer the in-store component. While the manufacturers are doing a good job of powering digital programs for their dealers and getting them into the store, they’ve also got to better digitize the in-store operations, too. Through us, they can digitize finance forms, payment information and leads programs from within the dealership.

Chris Smith: We connect the vehicle shopper directly to the vehicle inventory in their local market by providing a solution for the manufacturer. The dealers can then coordinate their Tier 1 to Tier 3 advertising through us, on either a monthly or a quarterly basis.

We’ve launched and run complex advertising solutions for 2,000 dealers around a specific initiative. The success is when the manufacturers are able to sell down a model or launch a new one. Meanwhile, the dealers see benefits through increased traffic or car shoppers on their sites.

eMarketer: When it comes to consumers’ time spent accessing content and research about cars, people spend the largest share of their time on PCs, while mobile wins in most other industries. Is this changing?

Winslow: About four years ago across our entire platform of about 5,000 or 6,000 dealer websites, less than 5% of total traffic was coming from a mobile or tablet device. Today, it’s grown to a little over 40%.

The drastic change we’ve seen in the past year is the engagement on mobile. Previously, most of the consumer interactions on mobile were limited to quick driving directions, a phone number or something very tactical. And the metrics supported that. It was two page views per visitor on average less than a year ago, and 2 minutes time on-site. That has catapulted in the past year where now mobile engagement is almost consistent with desktop and tablet, closer to six or seven pages per visit and 6 to 7 minutes time on-site.

eMarketer: Where can digital tools provide a benefit to the purchase path without adding clutter to dealer sites?

Smith: For dealers to transform auto retailing, they should be looking to reduce the close time for a dealership. If a consumer is spending so much time on a dealer website with embedded tools, where they can get financing, trade-in and lease quotes, then a consumer should be walking into the dealership with their deal pretty much down.

We think that a typical 3- to 4-hour close time can be reduced to 1 hour. Then, that time can be better spent on consulting on the vehicle, setting up Bluetooth and other connected-car technologies.

We are not simply looking at it from the advertising and generating traffic perspective, but in how we can improve the in-store experience and connect that to online, as well as better the consumer experience across the board. And it takes dealers and manufacturers who stay true to that commitment every step of the way.

eMarketer: Where do emerging tactics like programmatic and search fit in?

Winslow: got into the programmatic side of display over two years ago. Display was an area we saw emerging quickly, part of that due to the print side moving into digital. Dealers still wanted a presence in their local newspapers and publications. This is something that the industry is moving towards. It’s made dealers much more relevant because of the scale of these campaigns, too.

Smith: We’ve built a platform that employs both programmatic buying and machine learning across all of our local dealer campaigns. We use these tools to locate car shoppers in their local market to put the right ad in front of the right consumer at the right time on the right website. It’s a strategy that has been the foundation of our growth in the display programmatic side throughout 2014. It has been the most effective tool that we’ve delivered to the dealers to help them optimize campaigns at a local level.

eMarketer: What’s some advice that you can offer marketers at the dealer level?

Smith: We advise dealers to have a multipronged digital advertising strategy that encompasses retargeting, paid search, still includes SEO [search engine optimization], but also now has programmatic, both on the ad networks and the premium publishers.

Then that, of course, comes back to the websites, which are similar conversations. Clean up the websites, and focus them on a consumer experience. Engage consumers in what they’re looking for. And that’s shopping for vehicles—not interacting with a lot of different widgets.