Auto-complete is one of the hottest things to happen in search results over the past five years. Auto-complete is common place on the largest retail sites. However, one of the most advanced applications may be on hundreds of dealers’ sites.
When a shopper types something into a search tool and the site tries to facilitate the search by offering a list of probable complete search terms as the shopper types, that’s auto-complete. Google’s auto-complete feature rolled out broadly about 5 years ago as Google Suggest. The feature is wildly popular and continues to improve. The results can impact shopper behavior in terms of which sites get visited.
Amazon provides auto-complete on its search tool, but the results are simply text links to various search results pages. Both Walmart.com and Walmart.ca function in a similar way, as do many major retail sites. Recently, Amazon received a patent for auto shipping. This seems rather futuristic, but the idea is to ship a product while you are still shopping for it, in anticipation you will buy it.
Closer to home and offering immediate practicality, hundreds of dealer sites across North America have a very advanced site search tool provided by Dealer eProcess. It produces a consideration set of links, like Google or Amazon, when shopping for something like “brake service” the search results can be a combination of related page links, videos, and coupons.
The same feature offers a consideration set of actual vehicle listings, with photos, when searching for something like “Hyundai Sonata Limited.” As the shopper types, the results become increasingly refined and relevant, for both new and used vehicles. Testimonials relevant to the vehicle being searched may also be included. Clicking on any of these listings takes the shopper directly to that Vehicle Details Page (VDP).
Essentially, the auto-complete results are a Search Results Page (SRP), much like a shopper would get by going through a make/model search in inventory. However, the results can be much more specific to the shopper’s needs than an initial make/model search. A search for “BMW 7 Series cold weather package” produces results with those 7 Series vehicles containing the cold weather package at the top of the list.
Sears.com offers a similar feature, but it is much less useful. The auto-complete results contain up to five products with images, far fewer than the dozens of relevant vehicle listings showing up on dealer’s sites. If the vehicle is not the right one, the shopper can enjoy the same search experience from the VDP or any other page on the site. That is not the case on Sears.com; the shopper would need to first return to the home page in order to repeat or modify the search experience with auto-complete.
Of course, this type of search isn’t for every shopper. But for those who prefer this shopping experience, the dealers providing it have a fantastic advantage. The probability the customer will find the right consideration set of vehicles is greatly increased. Whether the dealership is chosen may depend on having the one right vehicle or being the store with a selection of acceptable offerings. Either way, helping the shopper find what they are looking for on your website is the essential first step.
For those shoppers preferring to do a make/model search, the time honored SRP is improved at Dealer eProcess as well. The old method was to refresh the site after every selection the shopper made to refine the search. These tools only allowed the shopper to look at one model at a time and only one price range at a time. Today, advanced sites by Dealer eProcess provide a wide range of query options and allow the shopper to select any combination of vehicles for their consideration set. The shopper may want to look at both Camry and Corollas in black or Silver under $30,000. They can select both models, both colors, and all price ranges up to $30,000.
How revolutionary are these two search solutions? Imagine your website as a search engine in and of itself. All content is indexed each night and the results of the site search are changed daily based on the inventory, coupons, testimonials, videos, content pages, and other information available on your site. That is already the reality on the best dealer sites. Shoppers use search tools the same way they do on Google and major shopping sites, and the results are beyond shoppers’ expectations.
I’ve been asked for years whether sites can have too much content. The answer is no. More content is better, provided you have the navigational tools that help shoppers quickly get to the exact right content for them. Some shoppers want to get to their consideration set of vehicles by typing in text and others by clicking on menus. The best dealer sites provide the optimal shopping experience to both these shopping segments.
Much has been written about the importance of VDPs in our industry, but the path to the right VDP may never be found with an antiquated website. Today, leading dealers provide two outstanding search solutions and deliver a shopping experience and conversion opportunities surpassing those of sites bringing in billions of dollars each year.
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