For years, dealers have been wrestling with the idea of what to do online when it comes to their businesses. Common questions include, “Do I put my prices online?” “Should I advertise my services?” “What company should I buy my platform from, who’s template is the best?” For years, we have been trying to play this hand differently than how we handle our “regular” walk-in, appointment over the phone, or emergency customer. I’m here to tell you to stop.

The internet of commerce is no different fundamentally than a customer walking through the front door (ding a ling a ling) or a customer calling for a quote over the phone (ring ring ring). What is retailing anyway? By various definitions it ultimately is the selling of goods and services to the public for consumption, not for resale. How that transaction takes place is not mentioned in the definition and to me, that is significant.

It makes no mention of where the customer is during the transaction. You should no longer think of your front door as the swinging piece of metal and glass attached to the front of your building. Your front door is the way a customer enters your business. It matters not if they enter your business from the parking lot, from the phone (call or smartphone interaction), or from their living room.

What do all types of consumers want in a tire or service transaction?

Your front door is any way a customer enters your store.

Your front door is any way a customer enters your store.

First, this is a complicated purchase. It’s not buying groceries or a gaming console, or a six-pack where you have your favorite already established. This is a product shrouded in a lot of mystery (when was the last time an explanation of speed rating went over like cotton candy and rainbows) attached to the second most expensive product a consumer will likely ever purchase. So, at the forefront of the transaction is suspicion.You must provide transparency and predictability. Online is no different. Make the web page look and act like a store. Make it intuitive to the buying experience. A customer walks into your store, hopefully there are cues like a counter or pod that help the customer navigate to a sales associate. What cues are online to do the same? It will be a long while before tire purchases will be done start to finish without human interaction, so it must be online as well. Does your web page have the little pop up for live assistance?

Time. The new world currency. How long for an oil change? How long does it take to make a transaction online? How hard is it to find the things I need? Pricing not available? Back to Google search page. People don’t tolerate wasted time anymore. Buying tires online needs to be as easy as it is (should be) in person. The internet isn’t different, it’s a new way of doing an old thing: selling.

Are there some differences? Yes, but they are superficial. The customer is a little more in charge because it’s easier to do comparison shopping. It’s at least faster to do so. But they always have had the ability, which means we just must get better at retailing. Selling value: Why is my price better? Because of all the things attached to it that nobody else delivers: speed, convenience, warranty, my brand promises... people are willing to pay for these things if they are explained in a way that makes sense to them.

Your brand online should not be represented differently than in store. Your brand just is. And customers today expect that interaction to be the same over any medium. As an industry, we are at a very curious time. We are behind many other retailers in our tactics, but I also don’t think any retailers have perfected how to do it. But the gap is getting wider, so making the jump is getting harder.

I beg you to get on board. If you make mistakes online with your business you can easily correct them, the internet is forgiving. But if you don’t get online, there will come a point where you are too far behind to catch up. It’s time to take the leap.    ■

Dennis McCarron is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., a company that manages multiple tire dealer 20 Groups in the U.S. (www.dsp-20group.com). To contact McCarron, email him at dennis@dsp-20group.com.

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