About 40 of the on average 600 vehicles sold each month at northern Michigan auto dealer Bill Marsh Auto are now sold online, thanks in part to web cams visitors to Billmarsh.com can use to view and zoom in on cars actually on the lot. For visitors who don’t want to buy online, the feature is serving to preview cars and bring customers in the door. “About 65% of the people who buy a vehicle from us have been to our web site first,” creative director Dean Rose tells Internet Retailer. Virtually all of that number have engaged the web cam feature on the site, he believes.
Rose says he discovered the web cam technology from vendor SilkRoad Technology Inc. five years ago while attending a University of Michigan hockey game. Told that the cameras fixed on the rink were providing live views of the game that online viewers could control and zoom, he investigated the product, TrueLook, when he got home. TrueLook is an enterprise-class software system for deploying and managing telerobotic cameras remotely. In addition to zooming for detail on cars selected for viewing in the Bill Marsh lot, the feature can save and e-mail stills of those views, along with a text message, to friends or the dealer.
The two cameras first installed on the dealer’s lot grew to five after web sales began to take off, Rose says. Auto manufacturer GM’s dealer co-op advertising budget covers a percentage of the cost of the program, as it would for a traditional marketing effort, Rose says. The average cost of the hosted service is about $300 per month and the average cost of the installed cameras about $2,000 per camera, according to SilkRoad.
The marketing support of GM is one reason more cameras aren’t installed all over the dealership, as GM isn’t the only brand of vehicle the dealer sells. For now, cameras are fixed on areas of the lot devoted to GM vehicles. “But that doesn’t stop a salesman from driving a Chrysler over there,” Rose says. Some reps even take cell phones out to the lot, showing additional detail by opening doors for an inside view, for example, at the request of online customers controlling the web cam from home or work.
Car dealerships don’t grow on every corner in the northern Michigan region -- some customers have to drive as much as 70 miles from remote areas to get to the Bill Marsh dealership. The web cams help geographically far-flung customers see what’s available before investing time in the drive, Rose says.
Another factor in the success of web-based sales is the dealership’s one-price model. Online web cam users can actually see the price of a car by zooming in on the price posted on the windshield.
“When we went to one-price and sales started heating up on the Internet, people started coming in with print-outs of what they wanted – the exact vehicle, the color, everything – and giving it to the salesman. It makes things a lot easier,” Rose says.
The same online web cam and pricing strategy has worked to extend the dealership’s sales beyond northern Michigan to include online sales to customers from as far away as Florida and New Mexico, he adds. “I even notice traffic from military people from here who are overseas, who just want to see what the weather is like,” he says. “It creates a lot of traffic for our site.”