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Website can help push online, in-store sales

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Your website is a direct extension of your brick-and-mortar store—it's the first impression many consumers will have of your dealership.

For many tire dealers, their website consistently attracts more visitors than their brick-and-mortar locations. Making that website deliver peak performance starts with simple, yet highly effective best prac-tices centered on branding, content, accessibility and pricing.

When you're branding your efforts, you need to make a great first impression—because usually you only get one chance.

In addition to local independent competition, you are competing with big-name online retailers and big-box stores that often spend more on marketing in one week than you will in a whole year. If your website doesn't make a great first impression, consumers will move on to one that will.

To accomplish that, your website needs to be:

c Professional and trustworthy—Customers expect a certain design and layout from business websites. If it doesn't feel like other credible websites, if the information is out-of-date, or if it looks like it hasn't been touched in weeks, customers won't think the website, or your business, is professional or trustworthy.

c Offer clear navigation—People search for products online in different ways. Some search by fitment, others by typing in the product they want. Your website needs to accommodate all the different ways people browse and shop online. If it's not easy for visitors to find what they are looking for quickly, they will find it elsewhere.

Three-and-a-half seconds is the average time you have to catch a visitor's attention. This means that you have to get to the point quickly and deliver relevant content that can be quickly scanned. Your website needs to be laid out so that visitors can find everything quickly—from product specifications and dealership full contact information, to services, inventory, specials and more.

That being said, your site needs to provide more than "just the basics."

You have to make it easy for consumers to find the tires or wheels they are looking for. Do you have comprehensive specifications and images for late and new models? Is that content tied into your website's search function? Can visitors search product by fitment—including make, model, year and style—to quickly find the tires or wheels that fit their vehicle?

If your website doesn't make it easy for consumers to find what they are looking for, rest assured that they will move on to another dealer's website that does.

Remember, all devices lead to your website...or at least they should.

According to Bridgestone Americas research, 79 percent of consumers now shop with smartphones. Technology has changed, and so have consumers when it comes to using mobile devices. Giving buyers the ability to search for and quickly find relevant and timely information on mobile devices is a requirement for dealerships in today's mobile world.

The exciting thing is that you don't have to invest in a completely different website to reach those customers. If your dealership has a website, you are well on your way. Today's website technology gives you choices, and you can decide how to make your existing website mobile-friendly. You can simply begin to take steps today to leverage what you already have and start changing your business to attract more smartphone users.

Mobile-friendly websites include a mobile Web interface which is designed to detect the device a consumer is using and automatically display your site in either full website or mobile view. This type of website is widely used because it's less labor-intensive, more widely supported by website providers and considered as the recommended experience you want your customers to have when trying to visit your site.

Working with your website provider, you can quickly make adjustments to your current website to meet the minimum requirements of mobile users.

I'll let you in on a little secret: The success of your website is not measured solely by how many actual tire or wheel sales get run through your shopping cart online. Sure that happens—and for some businesses, that is where the focus lies. But for most successful dealers, it's about generating leads and quotes and bringing new customers into your store.

Millions of Americans now browse tire, wheel and service pricing before actually walking into your dealership. And they do expect you to provide online pricing and availability.

Studies have shown that customers who see online prices and availability are more likely to raise their hand, submit a quote, buy online or walk into your store. If you want to get more sales out of your website, include pricing.

Many dealers today are taking advantage of technology to integrate their websites with distributors. This integration provides real-time pricing and availability, making it possible for you to deliver an exceptional shopping experience.

Websites and consumer shopping behavior are constantly changing. Think of leveraging technology to maximize your website and optimize your visitors' online shopping experience. All things considered, you will enjoy a greater return on your Web marketing investment and see a noticeable increase in online and in-store sales.

Jon Lintvet is chief marketing officer and vice president of product for ARI Network Services Inc., a Milwaukee-based software company that creates solutions that help equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers service and sell more whole goods, parts, garments and accessories, both online and in-store. The firm recently acquired Web solutions provider 50 Below Sales & Marketing Inc. Mr. Lintvet can be reached at 414-973-4300 or via email at Jon.Lintvet@arinet.com. ARI's website is www.arinet.com.

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