Ask an Expert: What 30 Years of Inventory Merchandising Has Taught Us

Dealer Specialties entered the automotive industry in 1989 by providing window sticker services for car dealerships. Today, our company is proud to serve over 3,000 dealerships (and counting) by offering innovative products to help grow their business. Dealer Specialties continues to be the largest inventory merchandising solutions company in the industry.

We recently took time to reflect on the past to plan for the future. Here are our team’s thoughts on trends in the automotive industry and where online merchandising is headed. 

Q: How has the use of visuals like vehicle photography changed in the past 30 years?

A: Quality in photography equipment has come a long way in the last several years. Using the right equipment and shots guarantees a swift photo session and uploading process. Additionally, adding dealership-specific static images among the photos helps brand the dealership and promote service offers, unique dealership selling points, etc. Examples include: ‘Why to Buy Here,’ ‘Free Oil Change For Life,’ Showcasing your service lobby, etc.

Q: What online merchandising strategies work best today?

A: Consistency and strategic photo sequencing are the main focus for our teams. Having the photos in the same order on each VDP gives the shopper a more effortless, efficient shopping and viewing experience. Plus, it helps our team and the dealership with audits — you can easily identify what images may be missing. 

Similarly, live video and StoryBuilder do a wonderful job enhancing SEO, but with DealerSpin360 and C.A.R.Score condition reports, Dealers can give modern consumers what they are demanding — the ability to do everything but the test drive from their favorite seat in their house.

Related Reading: 11 Tips for Improving Dealership Merchandising and Driving Sales

Q: With the rise of online marketplaces, how has the consumer’s expectation of inventory presentation evolved? How does Dealer Specialties meet these expectations?

A: Online marketplaces have transformed consumer preferences and expectations. Consumers demand that more and more of the B2C experience be delivered digitally. The more content for each vehicle you have on a VDP and third-party sites, the more digital engagement you generate and, thus, more leads and sales.

Consumers are demanding that the car buying process become easier and less time-consuming. Utilizing tools such as live video, C.A.R.Score Vehicle Condition Reports, and DealerSpin360 allows shoppers to thoroughly vet a used vehicle at their convenience.

Related Reading: Maximizing Dealership Performance: 3 Tips for Attracting Buyers Based on Today's Car Shopping Habits

Q: What emerging tools will play a crucial role in the future of inventory merchandising? How is Dealer Specialties staying ahead of these advancements?

A: Recently, there’s been a big emphasis on creating an interactive online shopping experience. Think of it like online shopping for homes on Zillow — the more interactive a listing is and the more information it offers, the higher the chances we will continue interacting with that listing. Cars work the same way.

Another area would be Virtual Reality (VR). The future of inventory merchandising could easily be tied to VR as car shoppers want more details and visuals of vehicles. In the future, we’ll run entire interior and exterior scans on cars. This will allow consumers to enter a true virtual showroom outfitted with dealership staff.

Dealer Specialties stays ahead of these advancements by offering interactive products like DealerSpin360 and C.A.R.Score to make vehicle listings stand out. Combine these offerings, and consumers can do everything but the test drive on the dealer’s website.

Q: Considering the shift towards sustainability and electric vehicles, how does Dealer Specialties approach merchandising eco-friendly cars?

A: Complimentary marketing slides, static images, and customized overlays baked into our photo sets are an excellent way to share your dealership’s eco-friendly vision with eco-conscious consumers. 

Dealer Specialties can tailor specific messaging to only hybrid or electric vehicles, allowing them to talk directly to consumers interested in these units. For example, we can take photos of badges and charging ports or cables and put up a photo overlay, drawing attention to the fact that a car is electric. 

If someone is looking at a Tesla or an F-150 Lightning, they know it’s electric. However, someone looking at a Mini Cooper or a Kia Soul may not even know that a fully electric version is an option. We can call out those options with photo overlays, additional marketing slides, and static images.

Related Reading: EV Adoption and Sourcing: How Automotive Dealerships Can Succeed in the Electric Vehicle Market

Q: Beyond visuals, how does Dealer Specialties help dealerships enhance the customer experience by creating a compelling narrative around their inventory?

A: This is where Vehicle Condition Reports (C.A.R.Score) come in. This is a fantastic opportunity for dealerships to give shoppers a new, interactive, and immersive experience. Vehicle Comments, also known as Vehicle Stories or Vehicle Descriptions, are another way to enhance the experience if written properly. 

Many dealerships use a template to write these descriptions, and all inventory pieces have the same exact sentence structure and statements. With a solution like StoryBuilder, we use AI technology to write unique, interesting vehicle descriptions that customers want to read.

Related Reading: How Inventory Merchandising Drives Customer Satisfaction in the Auto Industry

Q: Can you share any surprising trends in digital merchandising that you’ve observed? How has Dealer Specialties adapted to these shifts in the market?

A: The growing demand for 360-degree spin technology on VDPs is being pushed by big retailers like Carvana and CarMax. This has created a new expectation for car shoppers and dealerships need to pay attention. Dealer Specialties has had 360-degree technology for awhile, but we’ve spent the last several months on development enhancements and consumer research to enhance our product and compete with the big retailers. Keep your eyes peeled for our new product offerings coming out soon!

The Future of Dealership Merchandising Starts With Dealer Specialties

As the automotive industry continues to evolve, Dealer Specialties remains dedicated to providing cutting-edge inventory merchandising solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and dealerships alike. 

From leveraging AI-powered tools like StoryBuilder to create compelling vehicle descriptions to embracing emerging technologies like virtual reality for an immersive digital showroom experience, we’re committed to being at the forefront of innovation in the automotive sales industry.

By partnering with Dealer Specialties, automotive businesses can position themselves as industry leaders, captivating customers with exceptional inventory presentation and a seamless, engaging shopping experience that drives sales and fosters long-lasting loyalty.


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