Dealers Losing Face

As more manufacturers demand a ‘one size fits all’ approach to online dealerships, they are put at risk of losing the critical elements that make them unique.

Some Dealers have expressed concern towards the future of their online presence, as more manufacturers demand dealerships adopt universal websites. These websites, which are being commissioned by the OEMs and implemented by all dealerships representing the brand, are raising questions about the level of control Dealers have over their online presence now as well as in the future.

Today more than ever all businesses, including new car dealerships, have an enormous task to represent themselves effectively in the digital marketplace. Indeed, sales are being won and lost off the back of online reputation and functionality.

Unsurprisingly, recent statistics from the US indicate that 90% of car buyers research online before making a purchase. It’s no secret how big online trade is in Australia either. In fact, just recently we broke a new record with results from Roy Morgan Research indicating that the number of Australians who shop online has tipped over 50 per cent.

Undoubtedly then, the way businesses are perceived and represented online is critical for Dealers; a sentiment reinforced by AADA CEO Patrick Tessier.

‘Every Australian dealership should be in the mindset that they have two front doors; their bricks and mortar dealership and online… It’s simply not enough to purely rely on your physical address anymore’ he said.
But how much control does a Dealer have in their online presence when their identity is being controlled by the manufacturer? And does the manufacturer have the Dealers’ best interests in mind?

Opinion remains divided.

A well-known example of OEM website control is the Holden Cobalt system. In recent years Holden officially implemented a universal website design across its entire franchisee network. The one size fits all approach means that small country Holden dealerships now have an almost identical website interface to those in the major cities and suburbs. Dealers have limited freedom to customise the template, though there’s some room to alter special offers and messages in various fixed areas.

For some Dealers the website has provided a cost-effective and modern solution; one that has far surpassed their original online address. Other Dealers however, have complained of an identity crisis, lamenting their loss of individualism and the opportunity to showcase their uniqueness and history.

It is this loss of distinction which is a particular concern for the AADA.

Whilst the manufacturer’s desire for dealerships to have a professional and up-to-date website is certainly understandable, using a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to online dealerships, some of which have been involved in their local communities for decades, is risky.

For example, the AADA knows of several dealerships in operation for more than 50 years which have worked tirelessly to establish a unique personality, but now appear camouflaged online amongst their competitors.
According to Patrick Tessier, dealerships are being viewed by some manufacturers as ‘billboards’ for the brand, rather than a distinctive business.

‘The manufacturers are not carrying the large financial risks of operating the dealership business, but are increasingly taking the Dealers’ freedom to position themselves appropriately in the market’
he said.

Other considerations surrounding this issue include how the OEM-controlled websites are set up. While Dealers moving a high volume of new cars is especially important for the manufacturer, this only forms one portion of the dealership business. Manufacturers who don’t place equal importance on the used-car and service components of the business online, may put Dealers at risk.

What’s clear is that much of the success of dealerships now and in the future will rely on their online presence. While it’s understandable that manufacturers require Dealers to use a professional website, how much of that website is controlled by the manufacturer should be examined carefully to ensure a fair outcome for all.

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