Think Like A Designer

Do you remember the days when vehicle photography consisted of one black and white image that was printed in the weekly newspaper’s classified section? That was it…one photo! I don’t actually remember that, but from what I’m told, those were the days. Customers got an idea of what was available and then it was up to the salesperson to do the rest when they showed up at the dealership.

I remember reviewing car listings in various magazines for my dad, but even many of those didn’t have photos. He would tell me what his criteria were and I would go through circling things that matched. Before I was too old, we were looking at vehicle listings on the internet! Although, you couldn’t rely on much photography…the speeds were too slow! Do you remember waiting for minutes for an image to download? I do. Trust me, an eight year old kid will only wait around so long. I remember judging cars by pieces of imagery that had partially loaded.

Fast forward to high school and AutoTrader.com had changed the game. I remember clearly studying every photo of a Pontiac Fiero. There were probably only three or four, but the combination of bright red and a center mounted engine was too much. Unfortunately, so was the cost. Dad taught us from a young age that it’s better to spend today’s dollars, not tomorrow’s and he wasn’t going to budge just because I found the ‘perfect’ car.

Today, the question isn’t what can you do in vehicle imagery, it’s what can’t you do! The current presentation on a standard VDP of rows of images, videos, vehicle and pricing data plus the myriad of website plugins like live chat, test-drive incentives, and OEM ads has taken the process the other direction. Car shoppers are inundated with incentives, offers, images, and data that are often irrelevant and frustrating as they move along the journey to purchase.

In fact, because all of the data, images and videos are so disconnected, it forces the user to conduct a manual, sequential search in order to find the key data points they are looking for. This is terribly inefficient for the user and, making matters worse, dealers celebrate a metric called Time On VDP as if confusing visitors is a victory!

The process isn’t any better for dealers. The ‘requirement’ to have so many images, overlays and data relationships is difficult and expensive to maintain. Hiring photographers, lot service providers or in-house imaging staff is standard practice.

Dealers can find improvement by looking at the process like a designer. Designers must understand the function of a thing in order to perfect or improve upon it. Why is vehicle merchandising necessary? Who is using the output? How do those end users prefer to engage with online product? What is their criteria?

Let’s look at the process objectively. People are browsing online vehicle products on mobile devices. This is old news. But if it is old news, then why are the browsing experiences so poor? Why are image thumbnails so small? Why is the ‘next’ button so small? Why do we have to go back every time we want to get to the data on the VDP? Why is everything a pop-up?

The automotive industry has been harping on mobile, mobile, mobile for years, but by surveying a handful of dealership or advertising sites, you wouldn’t think anyone noticed.

People are browsing more than one car at a time. They need to be able to move through cars quickly. They want to see highlights such as damage, past ownership, options, etc. in a fast manner so they can get through five or more cars while they wait in the carpool line. The way VDP and SRP pages are set up industry wide, you need five to ten minutes per car! By the time you make it back to the SRP, you give up and close the browser window.

And what is with mobile search? How many toggles, drop-downs and menus can we add into a mobile experience?

This is only looking at the shopper experience. Let’s look at the dealership imaging perspective.

Disregarding the multiple options for who is taking photos, the person imaging a vehicle currently finds the car, brings it to a space for imagery, loads their SD card into a DSLR camera, follows a PDF photo guide, takes all of the vehicle photos, puts the car back, takes out the SD card, transfers the images to a computer, sorts the images, edits image name to match vehicle VIN, uploads the images to repository, syndicates these images to the various display locations. That is for one vehicle!

It’s time for the vehicle merchandising and imaging process to be redesigned. What does this look like? If you could capture your vehicle imagery through any process, what would that be? How do you wish your customers could engage with your products online?

At Car360, we are busy, every day, trying to solve these problems. If these are issues you relate with, reach out and let us know! We would love to hear your thoughts on the industry and where you want to see it go.

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