Let’s face it, individual auto dealership websites suck. Ok, there are a few outliers, but in general they are all terrible. What consumers may not know is that it isn’t totally the dealer’s fault. Dealers are largely at the mercy of the Original Equipment Manufacturer or OEM. OEM’s like Chrysler and GM (who have pretty great websites) strike big deals with companies like Dealer.com and Cobalt.com which force the individual dealer’s hands into cookie-cutter, lackluster, dated, and often broken websites. But the OEMs don’t care; they line their pockets with “preferred vendor’s” money and just keep making cars. It’s the individual dealership’s responsibility to figure out what to do with the monstrosities churned out by companies like Dealer and Cobalt.
Typical Dealer Website
Here’s a quick example of a standard Dealer website. I’ve blacked out personally identifiable information to spare the dealership. If you own a Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership, you are required to have one of these sites.
Here are just a few of the usability issues with this site:
- Two h tags at the top. The H1 is actually below the H2 and the H2 is spam.
- Way too many navigation options.
- 3 separate annoying chat windows (this is an add-on service).
- You have to “x” out of one chat window to even see the ePrice Phone number
- There is a massive amount of unused whitespace that could be used to show off the car.
- Not responsive, the mobile site is on a subdomain and is equally bad.
- Dated design and fonts used.
- Can’t add a blog without paying an extra monthly fee to Dealer. No area for original content.
Yes, it’s very bad. To compound the issue, every single Dealer.com website (so every single Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram website) is based on this same theme. Dealers can change their background picture, or choose from a few templates, but that’s all they get. Dealerships are stuck. With so much distracting visitors from the inventory, it’s as though these companies forgot the inventory and price are exactly what consumers want to see.
However, there is one company, a startup in Atlanta, GA, who has taken the time to get their website right.
The second you land on the Carvana website you are greeted with inventory, above the fold (without scrolling) and filters to find what you want. There are no annoying popups, no flashing, scrolling banners, No multi-tiered navigation, No fonts from 2001. A visit to Carvana.com and you instantly get the play on nirvana; this is a near blissful car buying experience.
Just look at how simple this site is to navigate. If you scroll, the inventory just keeps coming. So if you just want to browse vehicles, look no further than the home page. Looking for something specific? The filters are clearly defined in the right menus and super easy to use. If you want live chat, it’s right there in the top corner of the screen. It’s not flashing, it’s not moving, and there aren’t any pretty, 20-something live chat faces in pop-up boxes talking to you…but it’s there if you need it.
Carvana Desktop Inventory Experience
That’s great, but the real beauty of this site comes alive when you click on a car or truck from the inventory. Carvana takes professional photos and panoramic tours of every single vehicle. They are done in a staging facility so they are uniform, clean, and put all of the focus on the vehicle.
You will probably notice that the main navigation is persistent but now the car just jumps off the page. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can grab the car with your mouse and spin it around to see every inch of it. From the navigation on the left you can open the doors/trunk/hood, look inside the car or view it from above. All the while information about the vehicle is highlighted. Also take note that the vehicle, miles and price are clear and easy to find. You can even click “Market Price Comparison” which uses myCarMatch to determine how the price compares to market values of the same cars in the area. All without ever leaving this beautifully designed inventory page.
Carvana Mobile Inventory Experience
I first learned about Carvana over a beer with a developer friend of mine. I was complaining about dealership websites and how difficult they are to provide SEO and PPC for, mainly because of the horrible code and poor user experience. That’s when he pulled up Carvana on his iPhone. I was stunned.
The mobile experience is just as glorious as the desktop experience. The car is front and center along with price and mileage. I can scroll down to get the details. But what’s really cool is, I can spin the car around with a swipe of my finger! All of the same functionality and awesomeness of the desktop version is baked into the mobile version as well! But small phone screens don’t necessarily make for the best viewing experience. Carvana addresses this as well. If you rotate your phone to landscape or horizontal viewing, the vehicle takes up the entire screen and all of the rotation functions come alive.
In fact, I couldn’t find any elements from the desktop site (minus live chat) that aren’t fully replicated in the mobile version. The mobile version does take a bit longer to load and I can foresee some loading limitations depending on wifi connection. This, quite simply, is the model for building a better online car shopping experience.
Takeaways for Dealerships Everywhere
Here are 5 things dealerships could learn from Carvana:
- Ensure sites are built for mobile
- Put inventory front and center
- Use professional photography to showcase inventory
- Don’t overwhelm visitors with 10 calls to action
- Minimize distractions and focus on conversions
If a startup in Atlanta can build a website like this, the OEMs have no excuse. While they have innovated at the OEM website level, the individual dealerships have suffered. Dealer websites are largely stuck in the early 2000’s while more and more shoppers are accessing websites via mobile devices and tablets.
Savvy shoppers are increasingly turning to the internet to research before they purchase. Carvana is proving that consumers will go so far as to buy a car online. If the Carvana reviews are an indication, they are very happy to be doing it. If dealers don’t look for new solutions outside of the cookie-cutter, stale, and dated websites and marketing solutions fed to them by OEMs and “preferred vendors”, they can expect to race to the bottom as every dealership becomes exactly the same.