E-commerce Best Practices Series (Part I): Managing your Web site like a storefront


Keys to keeping it fresh, compelling and selling

By Richard Harris

To most of today’s consumers, your Web site is your storefront.

It’s the first way they’ll experience your dealership. And if they aren’t enticed by what they see, they’ll move right along to another store.

This is a particularly important point given the amount of research consumers are doing on the Internet today before ever setting foot in a bricks-and-mortar store. It’s critical that you do everything you can to make your Web site as powerful, functional and compelling as it can be.

Those with strong e-commerce Web sites report increasing their sales via the Web by 15 to 20 percent year over year. And yet, dealers in the outdoor power equipment (OPE) industry haven’t adopted e-commerce as quickly and fully as their counterparts have in some other markets.

In this article, the first in a series on e-commerce best practices for dealers, we’ll answer some common questions about the keys to managing your Web site like a storefront and keeping customers coming back for more.

Why manage my Web site like a storefront?

For one thing, your Web site homepage, like your storefront, should remain dynamic to keep customers interested in spending time there. If your site or store stays static for months at a time, what incentive does a customer have to come back?

Merchandise displays should be changed regularly. In the OPE market, some seasonality to these changes is appropriate: lawn care as spring blooms, leaf blowers in the fall, snow throwers as winter approaches. In some areas of the country, promoting a special on garden equipment in January suggests a dealership that isn’t capable of keeping up with the changing times — or the changing needs of customers.

We recommend that you make significant changes in theme and content monthly, at a minimum. And these adjustments shouldn’t be limited to the products you’re promoting. You should also use your site’s homepage to promote services, such as seasonal tuneups for lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

How much money should my dealership make online?

While some larger dealerships report doing more than $20,000 per month in online business, the typical OPE dealer we see is generating about $1,000 to $2,000 per month in direct sales over the Internet. Of course, this does not include the revenue from customers who discovered your products and services on your Web site and then came into the store or called you — so the total impact on revenue is even greater.

Looking specifically at the transactions on a Web site’s shopping cart, our dealers average $45-$50 per sale, indicating that the majority of items sold online are small items like parts, tools, etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it means that more lower-margin items are being sold through the labor-efficient means of a Web site, allowing sales staff on the floor of your physical store to focus their time and energy on big-ticket sales.

Many dealerships also use their Web site to promote and manage services. For example, one dealership we worked with recently ran an online preseason tuneup special. Customers could pay online for a 24-hour turnaround that included pickup and delivery lawn mower sharpening and service.

By running the special during the offseason, staff had the time to fulfill the orders. By promoting it online, they reached many more customers than they would have during a slow period in the store.

How should my Web site be organized and designed?

First and foremost, your Web site should be easy to navigate and help people move quickly to the information they’re seeking.

Offer broad categories on your homepage such as New Equipment, Used Equipment, and Services. Every page should include clear contact information so that visitors can easily take that next step toward a potential purchase.

Also, personalize your site to your business. For example, if your target customer is mostly rural families, then use imagery and colors that resonate with this audience. In a suburb, perhaps you’d try a different look and feel.

To make your site as attractive and compelling as possible, you may want to embed some Flash animation or video on your site, but remember to use it sparingly. These elements can slow down load time and distract customers from your main objective: their selection of your dealership as a vendor. 

Besides products, what else should I put on my Web site?

One big difference between your Web site and your physical dealership is that, online, people are often looking for education as much as they are looking for something to buy.

You can gain an edge by addressing this desire for information on your Web site. Add some value for customers when they visit. Examples might include:

Do-it-yourself tips
Answers to frequently asked questions
How-to videos and product demonstrations

Perhaps you could offer a tutorial on how to mow a lawn in a special pattern, like a checkerboard. The goal is to demonstrate your expertise and present yourself as a knowledgeable resource that customers can count on.

Meanwhile, this additional content makes it easier for people to find your site through search engines, but that’s a topic we’ll take up later in this series.

What about Web analytics?

Perhaps the greatest advantage to a good e-commerce Web site is the variety of statistics that can be tracked and analyzed, and allow you to adapt your Web site based upon “the facts.” You can learn a lot about your customers and prospects through the numbers, including:

How they find your site
Which pages they visit
How long they stay
Which products they buy

The more targeted the research, the more powerful it can be. For example, you can look at your analytics for a specific promotion. Does a lower price or a percentage off of a product yield more clicks and buys than free shipping?

Try both and see which one gives you better results. Then, with just a few clicks of a mouse, you can change your online storefront to reflect the more powerful offer.

We’ll look more closely at Web analytics later in this series.

How can my dealership do all this work?

Every dealership with a Web site should have one person who is primarily responsible for the site — keeping it updated, answering questions, checking the links, etc.

This employee needs basic computer skills but doesn’t have to know computer programming. And contrary to some dealers’ perceptions, site maintenance need not be a big time drain.

That’s because a good Website provider will supply simple administrative tools that allow content changes, information on specials or inventory and other tasks to be performed with only a few clicks of a mouse.

Although it can be quite easy to keep your Web site lively and fresh, you still have to take the time to do it. You should allocate perhaps 3-5 hours a week for this purpose. By making it a regularly scheduled activity, you’ll ensure it remains a priority so it doesn’t get forgotten.

Again, it’s about managing your Web site like a storefront. You wouldn’t go a week without doing a walk-through up and down the aisles of your store, so you shouldn’t go a week without making sure your site is working as expected.

With the help of today’s Website services for dealers, you can — and should — keep your site fresh, compelling and selling every day.

 Richard Harris is product manager for dealer website products with ARI, which provides technology-enabled services to dealers, distributors and manufacturers. From electronic parts catalogs to dealer e-commerce solutions to search-engine and direct marketing and more, ARI helps increase sales and productivity for companies in several industries, including outdoor power equipment, powersports, motorcycles, marine, recreation vehicles, appliances, agricultural equipment, floor maintenance, and construction. ARI currently serves more than 20,000 dealers, 100 manufacturers and 150 distributors in more than 100 countries worldwide. For more information on ARI, visit www.YourEveryAdvantage.com.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also