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Here’s some wake-up news. Only 22 percent of dealers regularly update their websites to provide current models and pricing as an important research aid for buyers. More than 75 percent of dealers do not actively and consistently invest in their sites as a core part of the sales function.

These statistics are not just about boat dealers. But to better understand how dealers, including marine, utilize their websites, Dealer Spike — an Oregon-based website provider that focuses on driving online leads and in-store sales for dealerships in eight industries — conducted a national survey this past year and uncovered those surprising statistics.

It’s well known that today’s prospective boat buyers will likely do a lot of homework online before entering a showroom or attending a boat show. Indeed, it’s often said the prospect may know more specifics about a boat model than the salesperson.

Virtually every boat dealer today has a website. But is the site considered an active sales channel? Recently, writing in PowerSports Business, Dealer Spike offered some excellent advice that in addition to providing helpful information about your boats and dealership, it’s important to recognize your website serves multiple functions.

First, your site might be the initial interaction a prospect has with your dealership, so it has to make a sharp impression. Everything from layout and color scheme to imagery and messaging should represent your dealership’s brand. Make sure your inventory, pricing, images and business hours are up-to-date. And the contact information must be easy to find and clear.

Next, your website is your online showroom. However, shoppers are less likely to browse listings that include grainy, blurry or stock photos. Treat your potential customers to a genuine shopping experience by uploading a variety of high-quality images that show every angle and important detail of a boat. Consider upgrading your online showroom with walkarounds of boats using a 360-degree photography tool.

Today’s customers expect a good business to have easy online communication channels and rapid response times to any inquiries. Nearly a third of lookers expect a live chat option to be available, and that expectation doubles when they’re using mobile devices. According to Dealer Spike, placing a live-chat button on your website enables the sales team to engage more online leads in real-time conversations, where they can answer questions, address concerns and walk prospects through a potential sales process.

Perhaps because of the long Covid experience or the growth of digital commerce, there’s an ongoing discussion in industries that sell durable hard goods about the future of the buying process. Will more and more consumers complete the full buying process online without ever visiting the dealership?

For now, at least, the answer is a firm no. Online activity is a highly effective way to engage and attract shoppers to your dealership. It must be seriously attended to. But boat buyers still seek that tactile experience of seeing, touching, sitting in and getting confirmations that the chosen boat will meet their expectations. So the game is still getting the prospect to the boat.

Your website can offer much more to your dealership and your customers than just a nice brochure or a mediocre research tool. It should be considered a sales center. Updating and improving should be a significant line item in your marketing budget, and when some professional design or maintenance help is needed, reach out for it.

The more time customers spend interacting with your website, the higher priority your site will be awarded in search results, and that not only will boost your online presence, but seriously help convert prospects to customers.

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