November brings with it the much anticipated all-new Motor Trader Top 200 – the best performing franchised retailers in the UK. Headline stats for this year reflect the growth achieved within the industry; combined turnover is up 12% to £52bn, return on sale is up from 0.9% to 1.3% and pre-tax profit per employee is up by £1,682 over last year.
This year there was the usual round of changes within the list – 13 groups were new entries, achieving the required £29.2 million turnover required to enter the 2014 Top 200. Entering the top 100 now requires a turnover of £112.7 million and to get into the top 10, for the first time, a dealer group needs to turn over a whopping £1bn.
We also monitor the Top 200 in terms of the digital tools they are utilising to help them sell vehicles and aftersales products. With the changes in the list as well as adoption of new technology, there are always movements and trends to be observed.
These are the fundamentals of promoting and aiding sales of new and used cars via the web.
- Live Chat: Compared to January 2014 when the previous Top 200 was still in place, there has been an 8.5% increase in groups using live chat, now standing at 37% in total. In terms of 24/7 live chat, an additional two groups have adopted it (+1% over last year).
- Online deposits: Online deposits are a great way of converting an online visitor to a showroom visitor by allowing them to reserve a vehicle. Despite this, there has been no movement in the number of retailers offering this function, remaining at 5%.
- CAP Valuations: Vehicle valuation tools have seen rapid adoption over the past year – largely thanks to the ability to deliver highly qualified leads at a low cost. In January just 3.5% were running it. By May this had risen to 11% and now, with the new Top 200 this has increased further to 18%.
- Online reviews: We only started tracking adoption of online reviews among the Top 200 in May 2014, however the results show that already 12% have integrated some form of service.
- Mobile: We’re heading towards the point where 50% of web visits will be made via mobile devices; not having a mobile-optimised site or platform isn’t really an option. Across all areas that we monitor, mobile-optimised websites have shown the biggest increase in adoption – up 20.5% to a total of 84%.
Social media is a core part of the modern car buying and brand-building process and the industry has, over the past few years, been flocking to it to capitalise on the opportunities it creates.
- Social presence: A significant 97% of the Top 200 now uses at least one form of social media, up 7% on January 2014.
- Facebook: Whilst Facebook already had the highest penetration with the previous Top 200, that didn’t stop it climbing a whole 14% from 82.5% to 96.5% of the current Top 200. Saturation point has almost been reached.
- Twitter: Following hot on the heels of the world’s largest social media channel is Twitter, its climb just 1% behind that of Facebook. In terms of overall penetration, it lingers 20 dealer groups behind Facebook, but this does leave room to grow.
- YouTube: For the first time, over half the Top 200 now utilises YouTube (56.5%). It’s encouraging that the industry is responding to the increasing use of video as a major element of consumer media consumption.
- Blog: Whilst not explicitly a form of social media, blogs play the same role by helping dealer brands engage with their audience. Almost a quarter of the top 200 (49 – 24.5%) now has a blog.
- LinkedIn: Professional networking it may be, but LinkedIn is still a form of social media through which customers can connect with businesses. Adoption has grown from 35% to 40.5% for the new Top 200.
It’s probably fair to say that with the glut of new car sales, the aftermarket hasn’t exactly been front of mind. Despite this, it is a hugely important profit centre, and an obvious business area to digitise.
- Service Booking: With the rise of fixed price bookings as well as traditional menu pricing, putting service booking facilities online is an easy way of opening up service bays to a wider audience, 24/7. 79 Top 200 retailers (39.5%) are now offering this facility, up 5% on last year.
- Tyres: Tyres is a weak spot for franchised dealers. Despite how easy it is to market and offer them for sale online through tools like NetDirector Tyres with Stapletons integration, just 8.5% of the Top 200 is competing with the numerous fast-fits that stake a great deal on online booking – a meagre 2% rise.
- Service Plans: A recent news story suggested that consumer awareness of service plans was reaching a “critical mass” among those who would much rather spread the cost of scheduled maintenance. The comment is absolutely true, but nothing new either; most dealers offer them in one form or another. However, the number of businesses actually offering consumers the opportunity to generate a quote for their own plan online has now grown to 8% of the Top 200 – up 3% on January.
- eCommerce: eCommerce remained stable with this year’s Top 200, remaining at 35.5%. With some retail groups having driven over £1m of revenue from their online parts and accessory stores, the opportunity remains a potentially lucrative one.
Overall the movement continues towards adoption of digital tools, even with 13 retailers being new to the Top 200. It’s probably fair to say that effective use of the web will have helped these groups make the leap into the 2014 list. However, with some digital tools the adoption rate has been slow or simply non-moving. Of course, there are still opportunities to gain a competitive advantage – especially in aftersales – but the overall picture is positive.
We will continue to monitor what the Top 200 are doing with their web presences over the coming months – especially as suppliers continue to develop new and innovative ways of marketing and selling cars and services.
[Our analysis of the Motor Trader Top 200 is undertaken in house. All figures are as accurate as possible the time of writing.]