Prevailing wisdom among dealers is that online shoppers prefer real photos of new vehicles in inventory over stock photos from the manufacturer and others.
Not necessarily so, according to a new study that vendor Evox Images released in March with data analysis firm Dataium.
It's true that professionally done real photos of a car outperform stock photos in coaxing shoppers to become solid prospects by leaving their contact information with the dealership, said Skip Esch, Evox director of strategic accounts development.
But the real difference maker is color. Stock photos that match the color of the vehicle being shopped far outperform real photos that are of poor quality -- that is, taken from inconsistent angles or with bad lighting, Esch said. In fact, color-matched stock photos are five times more likely to get a lead than poorly done real photos of new vehicles, he said.
"It shoots holes in the theory that real photos are always better," Esch said.
Dataium studied more than 1,000 dealership Web sites over six months to determine what photos the sites used and how well those photos converted to leads, said Will Perry, Dataium director of business development. Evox provides vehicle photos and videos to many of the large dealer Web site providers, including Dealer.com and Dominion Dealer Solutions.
Kenneth Hobrock, director of operations for Beck Toyota-Scion in Indianapolis, stands by the principle that real photos are always better than stock. Beck has vendor Dominion Dealer Specialties come to the store twice a week to shoot 12 to 15 photos of each vehicle and make narrated videos for posting online, Hobrock said. The vendor charges about $12 per car for between 100 and 130 vehicles each month, he said.
"People want to see the real thing," Hobrock said. "It's a 'now' mentality."
The study's findings were to have been showcased last week at the Digital Dealer Conference & Exposition, a gathering of dealers and their staffs with experts in digital marketing.
Dataium's Perry said his key takeaway from the study was that stock photos can be a cost-effective alternative to the expense of shooting real photos, as long as they match the color of the vehicle in stock. Such color-matched stock images produce an Internet lead from the shopper about 13 percent of the time vs. 17 percent for well-done real images of the new vehicle, he said.
That's still about a 31 percent lower conversion rate, he said. But real photos can be costly, Perry said -- $1,000 or more a month for a vendor to shoot. Dealerships that shoot photos in-house still have to have employees designated for the task, and many have photo booths, which can cost $20,000.
"Colorized stock can be a strong alternative," said Glen Garvin, a vice president at Dominion Dealer Specialties.