By Chloe Banholzer
As an outdoor power equipment (OPE) dealer, it’s likely that you put a lot of effort into making your dealership the ideal place for customers to find the equipment they’re looking for. But did you know that building up your online destination could have the same effect? Adding e-commerce functionality to your business is a great way to establish your brand, promote your products, and prove to customers that they should choose YOU! And although “online shopping” isn’t typically a common practice that many OPE dealers focus on, it doesn’t mean that you can’t – or shouldn’t – take advantage of certain e-commerce elements that can benefit your business. Interested in learning more about how you can make your online customers’ experience as great as their in-store experience, and capitalize on the benefits of doing so? Let’s get (kick)started!
Size doesn’t matter
Whether you have a lot of time and a lot of budget or little time and little budget – or anywhere in between – there are steps you can take to improve your e-commerce foothold and sell more stuff. Like any new venture, you’ll need to establish your goals. Your first step should be to decide what you want to promote online. Do you sell new equipment? Used equipment? Both? What about parts and attachments? Pinpoint what specific aspects of your business you want to build into your online e-commerce experience, then decide what action(s) customers should take as a result. Do you want them to purchase online through your website or a third-party e-commerce platform? Buy online/pick up in-store? While some website providers have built-in e-commerce functionality, some dealers may want to build their own shopping experience from the ground up.
Whether you do or don’t have the resources to build a full-blown e-commerce shopping experience, you can still use aspects of e-commerce on your website, social media pages, directory listings, and digital ads.
Consider SEO, but opt for paid ads
Contrary to popular belief, the term SEO (short for “search engine optimization”) doesn’t have to invoke fear among small-business owners. The reality is that many small businesses simply don’t have the resources to implement SEO best practices on a daily basis in hopes of gaining that coveted #1 spot on the Google search results page. However, it doesn’t mean that you should dismiss how people would find your site and buy from you, should your SEO efforts be perfect.
Think of how customers search online:
“Cheap lawnmowers near me”
The use of the term “cheap” shows that the customer is budget-focused and, therefore, Google will feature reviews, webpages, or inventory pages that mention discounted lawnmowers near the user’s location. Typically, customers who search a phrase followed by “near me” are research online/buy offline customers. Therefore, it’s not necessary for them to actually purchase units online. Targeting this kind of customer with paid ads is a perfectly fine substitute for a full-blown e-commerce experience.
“Steiner rough cut mower attachment”
A specific search shows the customer has done their research and is looking to buy. To ensure the searcher finds and purchases from you, use paid ads to take the customer to the specific product or part page. Here, you should have the relevant information customers want to see when they’re ready to purchase. This information includes real images of the product or part (preferable to stock photos), a product/part description, your dealership’s price, information on any sales you’re having, and any applicable manufacturer videos. If you don’t have the resources to allow the customer to buy online, ensure your business’s hours and phone number are front and center. If you do, ensure the “add to cart” button is easy to find, and the checkout process is secure (hosted on an HTTPS website) and straightforward.
“Snow blowers for sale in Duluth”
Shoppers often search for the product they want and the city in which they want to buy it when they begin their online research. One of the simplest ways to ensure that your business is the one they find is to create paid ads that match the keywords in a search like this. Sending traffic to your catalog of snow blowers, and including a paragraph or two about your selection, experience and expertise will go a long way with substituting a full e-commerce experience.
At ARI, we build manufacturer catalogs into our dealers’ websites so they don’t have to enter this information themselves. If your site doesn’t currently have this functionality, make sure to include product images (real life and stock), descriptions (make, model, year, color, features, etc.), pricing, and videos, and ensure current sales/discounting/manufacturer promotions are visible.
Think of the way customers interact with you in-store (what they ask and what you show them), then try to simulate that experience online.
Outsourcing your e-commerce experience
Third-party sales channels such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and others are great places to post and sell your inventory. The same rules apply here: provide the information customers want to see. Pictures, detailed product descriptions, pricing and contact information are all must haves. When creating inventory postings on these sites, the importance of including real images along with stock photos cannot be understated. Online shoppers are wary of items that only include stock photos – it’s often the sign of a scam and is actively discouraged by online guides and blogs about third-party e-commerce channels. Reddit user “gnitsuj” sums up the concept of stock photos on inventory posts perfectly: “I don’t automatically assume stock photo = scam, but I’m less likely to reach out about an item if I can’t see what the item being sold looks like (especially if it’s used).”
If managing your own third-party inventory posts isn’t something for which you have time, research inventory posting tools such as Auction123. Tools such as these, often called “inventory syndication tools,” pull data directly from your website and allow you to quickly and easily upload inventory photos and information, saving you or your staff the time and effort of making updates by hand.
Social media and online directories play a role
Whether or not you choose to take advantage of e-commerce or third-party sales channels, using your social media pages and online directories to post new/used products is a relatively quick and easy way to boost your inventory exposure and SEO. Add photos of your dealership to Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp, and others regularly to show what lines and products you carry. When customers search for products online, seeing these photos on your listing or on social media may be the first step toward them making a purchase.
Getting started with e-commerce is a big endeavor, and requires a lot of commitment from you as the seller. Regardless of how much time or budget you can commit to your e-commerce efforts, the most important thing to remember is what your goals are. Keep them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), and ensure your efforts are delivering for the customer and your business.
Chloe Banholzer serves as marketing coordinator at ARI Network Services. She’s helped thousands of dealers across the country with their digital marketing through her HelpForce webinars which cover a broad range of topics including search engine optimization (SEO), online advertising, e-mail marketing, and online presence optimization. She’s dedicated to the mission of helping dealers improve their operations through the implementation of ever-evolving best practices paired with ARI’s suite of award-winning data-driven software tools and marketing services that help dealers “Sell More Stuff!” online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 26,000 dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website (www.arinet.com) and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!”