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Managing the 24-hour online showroom like brick-and-mortar stores

I think we all need to agree that our Web site shouldn’t be looked at as just an advertising tool, but instead should be treated in the same way as a real storefront dealer.
The exception is that the online location has no property taxes, no electric bill to pay and no building to clean. It is still, however, a storefront. If we all agree to this premise then we need to consider how and why we operate it differently than our brick-and-mortar stores. For example, what happens if a prospect walks into the showroom on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May, looking at that 18-foot runabout? The car outside is a bright, shiny new SUV with a really bright unscratched tow hitch on the back. What if no one approaches the buyer to even get his/her name? Off he/she goes, down the street to the next dealership. The owners I know would come unglued at the thought. 

Same scenario, but this person is walking in and inquiring about a red boat. The red one is not on the floor. It is shrink-wrapped out back, but no one lets the prospective buyer know. There he/she goes, again, down the block. These same mistakes are made day in and day out in the online virtual “24-hour showroom.” Avoiding common mistakes can turn a tough economy into a growth year with little change in the way we have done business for years. As part of a training series for print advertising, sales teams began a discussion about the complexities of the Internet and how to convey these complexities. As the discussion went on, it became more apparent that the trouble is not understanding the difference, but instead understanding the similarities.

This same fact holds true in managing the virtual storefront. The store is open to the public, it has inventory to be viewed, as well as areas to ask questions. The visitors come in, one by one, drawn by our marketing efforts and our sales messages posted on the door (our dealership marketing). As the prospects enter they occasionally give us information about themselves. These prospects are more likely to buy than the hull thumpers. We talk to them, via e-mail, in our virtual showroom and a purchase decision is made. Now they leave with their new boat in tow. 

This is the process we have followed in the stores for years, but the seeming complexity of the Internet has derailed the process that we count on to grow our businesses each year. Let’s revisit the shrink-wrapped boat. After years of online experience it continues to amaze me that in the virtual showroom we continue to see dealerships who fail to display their entire inventory. In their brick-and-mortar stores this would be an abomination; however, it is tolerated in the “24-hour showroom.” 

I am certain that many reading this posting are looking at their Web sites to see where they stand. When the forecasters are calling for a downturn we need to be certain we are doing everything possible to be open when the economy turns back up. What are you doing to be sure that you are managing your “24-hour showroom” like brick-and-mortar?

David Bingham
General Manager
BoatTrader.com

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