Online on Target - Tire Review Magazine

Online on Target

Leveraging Web to Expand Market Can Be Easier Than You Think

Before you dismiss the idea of a 24/7 tire dealership as impractical, too labor intensive or judge it DOA without a chance for a positive ROI, take a look at what could be in it for you.

The Internet is not just a venue for chat rooms, finding sports scores, getting news or just plain surfing. The Internet can be your 24/7/365 customer channel. If your dealership has not leveraged the Internet, you are missing a valuable, growing promotional asset.

Pew Internet Research says that over 60% of Americans have Internet access. Its popularity and dependability has raised our expectations about the information and services the Internet is able to provide us. Pew’s research also reports that the remaining 40% who do not have Internet access still expect the Web to have information and services that are essential to their needs.

Jupiter Research reports that while shopping online, 63% of all Americans expect businesses to have a Web site that will provide them with product information before making a purchase. Jupiter also forecasts that online retail spending in the U.S. will grow 28% in 2003 to $52 billion dollars. More significantly, by 2007, the Internet will influence 34% of all U.S. retail spending.

Many tire dealers focus their promotional efforts on traditional forms of advertising: Yellow Pages, newspaper, TV and radio or direct mail. In 2003, the Web provides an additional venue, allowing you to target a different type of customer for your dealership.

How do Web sites compare? No other advertising or information medium has a customer channel increasing at the pace of the Internet. It has measurable traffic, and reaches a lucrative consumer base, known to be more concerned with convenience than price. With a Web site, you have a 24-hour storefront that targets these customers. At the very least, you can provide information about your dealership and products.

Using the Internet to its fullest, your Web site can become an e-commerce venue where customers can ask questions, buy products, schedule appointments and more. Your online storefront allows you to build a showroom for infinitely less than a physical location.

Tying in with your primary tire suppliers (most have dealer locator features), your Web site can attract new customers – a 24-hour salesperson.

Careful Balance

Dealers must balance their marketing communication strategies. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Your market and customer base dictates which media you should utilize and the required weight in each to be successful. Along with the well-established value of print ads, commercials and direct mail, the Internet should be a strong consideration in your media mix.

Let’s compare the strengths and weaknesses of more traditional media.

Newspaper is primarily a price medium for tires and service. The sports section is the position of choice and consumers know to go there for an instant price and size comparison.

Broadcast – TV and radio ®“ is dynamic but expensive. It is a good medium for dealer/product awareness, but you may pay for many consumers outside your immediate trade area. Cable is a more efficient medium for a local dealer as it can be targeted to a trade area effectively and it is reasonably inexpensive to achieve positive results.

Direct mail reaches consumers in a targeted geographic area who are preconditioned to look for bargains and values in their mailboxes. But research has proven direct mail drives service customers rather than tire customers. The cost is very affordable per thousand, but its return is generally less than 1.5%. Direct mail shoppers are looking for the best deal but aren’t location loyal.

While less expensive, saturation direct mail shares your message with dozens of others, some of them direct competitors. Solo direct mail is more effective, but the cost can be prohibitive.

The Internet can assist your marketing efforts in numerous ways, from a Web site that acts as a traditional advertisement to an e-commerce tool that actually sells product.

Need Site First

Let’s start with the basics. A Web site is the fundamental first step in promoting your business on the Internet. But before you build a site, do some research.

Don’t be intimidated by a lack of Internet experience. It’s like many other changes in your business; you adapt or find someone with the knowledge to assist. Use Google (www.google.com) to see what your competitors are doing by entering their name on Google’s search line in quotations (ie. "Joe’s Tire Shop") and visiting their sites. Or search your suppliers’ Web sites, and use their dealer locator option. This will lead you to examples of how other dealers are capitalizing on the Internet.

While on your suppliers’ sites, check to see if your location is listed on their locator systems. If not, contact them to find out the requirements for participation. Look at your competitors’ listings on the suppliers’ dealer locator. Many dealers have leveraged those locator features by linking their own Web site to them. Consumers are more likely to click on those retailers to get more information, which provides a comfort zone in their purchasing decision.

Establishing a Web site for your dealership is much simpler than you might think. Most suppliers have an authorized site provider to assist in your development. Their Web site development companies can do all the work for you from soups to nuts.

In the box, you’ll find a list of tiremakers and their authorized Web site providers. These approved vendors are familiar with your supplier’s co-op requirements and policies, and they have access to the logos, graphics, and product information needed to professionally construct your Web site.

Remember that most suppliers will only allow the authorized Web site provider to build and link a dealer’s site to the manufacturer’s locator. And by using an approved vendor, your Web site will be eligible for co-op credit up to 100% of the cost.

If your tire supplier does not have an authorized site provider, you will be required to obtain prior approval of any dealer Web site before it is linked to their dealer locator.

Expand Your Options

Now that you’re advertising via the Internet, let’s optimize the traffic to your Web site. Although motivated consumers are systematically provided by supplier sites, many potential customers are available via search engines. Most tire dealers are multi-branded and naturally, the supplier sites limit your offerings to their products.

Web developers can expand your site to include all of your products and services, making your Web site more versatile. When customers arrive at your Web site via a supplier locator they will likely see only that supplier’s products and promotions. However, when customers arrive at your site via a general search engine – like Google or Yahoo ®“ they will see all of your products and services.

The Web is here to stay. Take it seriously, and take advantage of the additional business this medium can provide. Your competitors certainly are.

Paul Suloff writes about Internet marketing issues for 50 Below, among other companies. See more about e-commerce options in an upcoming issue of Tire Review.

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