Dealers are rarely considered oracles, but with intelligent use of data, they'll be one step closer to reading consumers' minds.
When a shopper browses an automotive website, a dealer may get some useful information from a sales lead, such as the person's name and address. But too often, that's where it stops, said Devin Daly, CEO of SpinCar, which provides virtual walk-arounds for dealers' websites. "They don't even tell you what vehicle [shoppers] were looking at," he said.
The insights can be quite precise. Smarter use of data can show how online shoppers sorted search results pages, Daly said. Systems can recognize which photos of a vehicle were clicked on, or even that the shopper looked at an SUV with 40,000 miles and sought certain attributes such as four-wheel drive.
"We think the bigger opportunity in the auto space is for folks to start to really look at individual, granular consumer data," Daly said. Thanks to the likes of Amazon and Netflix, consumers have become accustomed to "uber-personalized environments," he added. But too often, Daly said, "they go to a dealer's website and they have a completely static, nonpersonalized experience."
For example, if a shopper searched for engine size, the dealer's site could then prominently feature various vehicles' horsepower to that shopper.
Helping shoppers find the vehicle they really want is just one of the ways dealers can benefit from smart use of big data. Retailers can better manage inventory and loaner fleets. They can even learn what rivals are doing or why tactics aren't working as expected.
Of course, data can be misconstrued. With online browsing accounting for more of consumers' total shopping time, many dealers are inclined to look at a metric such as time spent on-site. But that can be misleading, said Bill Feinstein, president of Planet Honda in Union, N.J. You might think you're doing a great job of keeping shoppers engaged when they're actually getting frustrated by a lack of progress.
"What I want to do is provide really a relevant experience and a somewhat customized experience to get the consumer what they want fairly quickly," he said.
While big data can seem mysterious and new, dealers have been using it in at least a basic way for quite a while.
Early this decade, when customers came into the service drive, Feinstein said, dealership personnel could pull their data to see, for example, that the person drove 18,000 miles in the first year of a 12,000-miles-per-year lease. "So in a lot of areas, dealers are using data and just may not realize it," he said.