The majority of new-car buyers do considerable internet research as part of their shopping experience.
The J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study found that video content is now king. Google reports that 84 percent of online car shoppers plan to watch automotive videos the next time they shop for a car.
For the industry, getting potential shoppers to a website is one thing, keeping them engaged is another.
That’s where the interests of three Acton-area businesses are intersecting with the launch of a new product, the Dealer Video Showroom (DVS). It’s aimed at enhancing auto dealers’ websites by seamlessly adding interactive video to the experience.
The Dealer Video Showroom will be introduced to the industry on May 6 at the 16th Digital Dealer Conference and Exposition, an industry show in Atlantic City, N.J.
DVS is the creation of WheelsTV, a video technology company headquartered in Acton. The company has been creating video reports of virtually every new vehicle since 2005. Their work appears on internet sites, portals, video on demand, and cable TV.
However, cracking dealer websites has proven daunting, even though CEO Jim Barisano gets calls every week from dealers seeking WheelsTV’s video content.
While there are roughly 18,000 new-car dealerships in the country, their websites are created and supported by a handful of companies called CRMs (Customer Relationship Management companies). CRM’s typically don’t want the complication of adding individualized third-party content to the sites they manage.
The WheelsTV team resolved this issue by inventing DVS. “We found a seamless way to use emerging technology to quickly and easily provide our interactive video services to every dealership,” says Lehel Reeves, president of WheelsTV.
This is where Mike Hills and Justin Brun of Acton Toyota of Littleton and its marketing subsidiary, Dynamic Beacon, came into the picture. Acton Toyota has been at the forefront of internet sales for almost 20 years. They saw enough potential in the internet that they launched Dynamic Beacon to work on the marketing aspect of web pages.
“We offer marketing services to help make websites ‘sticky,’ ” says Brun. “Our goal is to keep visitors engaged, hopefully enough to print directions to the dealership, ask for a quote, or make a phone call. That’s exactly what WheelsTV’s DVS has done for us.”
When a customer clicks on “Watch a Video” on a dealer’s site, the system instantly accesses the WheelsTV microsite, which is connected to the dealer’s website,” says Reeves. “It can condense hours of research into two minutes.”
Or even less. Viewers looking for specific features can click on a menu on the right side of the screen that allows them instantly to access the key points in each video: Introduction, What’s New, Exterior, Interior, Power, Fuel Economy, Safety, Warranty, Summary, and most important to the dealership, Request a Price, View Inventory, or simply Contact Dealer. “We see it as a win for all parties,” says Barisano. “The dealers get the video they want, the CRM’s have happier clients, and car shoppers get the information they need to make a sound buying decision in an interactive and entertaining format.”
The DVS also offers a valuable exclusive to its dealerships. “When a prospective customer watches our video and then clicks on the website to get a quote or ask a question, he or she becomes an exclusive potential customer, or lead, to that dealership,” says Reeves. “That’s gold to a dealer. It’s also very different from other third-party referrals, which send their leads to multiple dealerships.”
WheelsTV conducted a year-long Beta test of the DVS with area dealerships, including Baker Cadillac (Leominster); Colonial Chevrolet (Acton); Acton Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram; Gervais Ford (Ayer); and Kia (Lowell); as well as Acton Toyota and Scion (Littleton).
In the past month, WheelsTV and its early partners advanced to what they termed A-B testing. During this phase, when a salesman received an online lead, he would respond in the dealership’s normal way but add a link to WheelsTV’s video report on that vehicle. The next inquiry would get just the normal response without the video link.
Early returns show that video has a positive effect on internet measurement phenomena such as engagement statistics, bounce rates, and click-throughs (extended searches on the dealer’s main site).
“The bounce rate (people who leave the site immediately) dropped to a very low 12 percent with DVS,” says Dynamic Beacon’s Brun. “People tended to stay on the site and watch more than one video.”
The video is a big improvement on the so-so still photos on most sites. “Having high definition, interactive video is something our competitors don’t have. And WheelsTV often has video available for new vehicles before they arrive in showrooms,” says Brun.
Stephen Poulin, manager of Action Scion and part of the dealership’s internet sales team, sees the DVS as helping customers get familiar with new vehicles, such as the recently introduced Toyota Highlander. “The buying experience is less stressful,” he explains. “The DVS enables them to take a closer look at a vehicle before visiting a dealership.”
Collin Davis, WheelsTV’s chief technology officer, sees other bonuses for dealerships. “On busy days, customers can pre-sell themselves on a laptop, iPad, or smart phone before taking an actual test drive,” says Davis, “Dealers can put a link in all their ads (online, print, TV) noting that customers can take a virtual test drive first, via our videos.”
WheelsTV will be offering a free three-month trial of the system to the first 225 dealerships that sign on at the Digital Dealer 16 Show, then pay half-price for the next nine months.
It marks an evolution for WheelsTV into a technology company that’s developing proprietary software.
“We believe interactive video is a game-changer that will finally move the online car shopping experience into the 21st century,” says Barisano.Bill Griffith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.