Monday, February 15

Selling Cars: Transparency Helps, Except Toyota


"Stores that fully merchandise their inventory stand out from their competitors, connect with shoppers, and position themselves to win more than their fair share of the deals." — Michael Page, vice president of advertising products, Cars.com

The assessment by Page comes out of an in-depth analysis of Internet merchandising on online shopping behavior presented by Cars.com at the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention & Expo. The study found that cars advertised with multiple photos, descriptive sales copy, and a competitive price capture more consumer interest. How much more?

• Competitive prices received 191 percent more page views and 263 percent more contacts.
• Pages with 11 or more photos received 175 percent more page views and 127 percent more contacts.
• Certified manufacturer logos received 18 percent more views and 34 percent more contacts.

Despite findings that tracked more than 230,000 listings over two years, 7 percent of dealerships list without a price, 13 percent without a photo, and 13 percent with no sales copy. Beyond cars, the study validates that consumers respond better to transparency — they require a more detailed account of the vehicle than if they were shopping for the vehicle in person.

The Cost Of Crisis For Toyota

Of course, none of this counts for Toyota. One survey shows that as many as 27 percent of would-be Toyota car purchasers will longer consider the manufacturer. This is six points lower than the initial recall.

As mentioned last week, Toyota acted too fast in making promises for improvement. Specifically, it hadn't identified more problems across scores of vehicles. Most recently, Toyota recalled 8,000 Tacoma pickups due to possible cracks in a common drive shaft component.

Its recall page now lists 12 models, dating back to as far as 2004. Yet, Toyota continues to run its Super Bowl advertisement that assures consumers that the recall is related to a slip in safety standards in recent days. If recent days is a relevant term, then Toyota's problems may have begun almost 2,000 days ago.

Toyota is also running an aggressive Google campaign, with copy that undermines its own crisis efforts. The Google ad reads "Toyota takes care of its customers Read the FAQs at Toyota.com" despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

There is increasing consumer and expert sentiment that suggests the crisis is becoming unrecoverable despite the recent pledge from Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

On a positive note, the company has adopted one of our suggestions: a top-to-bottom review of every process related to quality in design, production, sales and service. This should have been the direction that Toyota took on day one of the recall. Why the advertising message hasn't aligned itself with the pledge is anybody's guess.

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