LAS VEGAS – A click-button saying, “I’ll take it” is next to each vehicle listing on Walser Automotive Group’s website. That call-to-action feature takes first prize in a best-idea contest at the DrivingSales Executive Summit here.  

“In the first 30 days, we closed 100 sales,” says Alan Krutsch, marketing director at the Minneapolis-based dealership group with 12 stores and a one-price policy that precludes price negotiations.

Customers who click the button are asked to place a $500 deposit through PayPal. If that’s done, the click-button disappears from the listed car so no one else can claim it. “The customer ends up with a down payment, and we end up with a lead and a commitment to buy,” Krutsch says.

It has proven popular with younger shoppers, used-car buyers and people who don’t like dawdling at dealerships.

“What is surprising is the number of buyers who haven’t been to the dealership beforehand to see the car in the flesh,” he says. “A lot of people don’t like waiting to buy a car. Our delivery time is under an hour when we’re ready for them.”

About 5% of shoppers who give a deposit ultimately want (and get) their money back, but the rest stay committed, Krutsch says. “This isn’t ‘I want to look at a car.’ This is ‘I want to buy a car.’”  

The contest idea wins a $3,000 scholarship to the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s NADA University. Scholarships of $1,000 to $2,000 go to runners-up.

They include Matthew Smith, marketing manager at Darling’s, a 12-brand dealership operation based in Augusta, ME. His submitted idea draws on the power of pictures.

“We stopped thinking like a business and started thinking like a friend,” he says. “That is the key to social networking. People want to do business with friends.”

So the dealership group has built two portable photo booths that it sets up at local fairs and other public events. Many attendees line up to be photographed. The pictures are emailed to them and uploaded to Darling’s Facebook page.

“People love it,” Smith says. “Store managers were skeptical at first. Now they say they’ve noticed people coming in friendlier and less guarded.

“The analytics aren’t perfect, but sales are up by $2 million and I’m sure it is because of the photos to some extent.”

Wendy Lowen, Internet manager at Park Chrysler Jeep in Burnsville, MN, wins a consolation prize for a program in which the dealership brings vehicles to customers interested in test drives. The store also will deliver purchased products.

“We’ve gone to Wisconsin and North and South Dakota,” she says. “It’s mostly within a 100-mile (160-km) range.”

The service stems from a dealership staffer making house-call trade-in appraisals. “He goes to them,” Lowen says. “We thought, ‘Why not do something similar selling cars online?’”

Daniel Boismier, Internet director for the Suburban Collection dealership group based in Troy, MI, is a contest entrant for a second year in a row. This time, it is for offering computer game-playing to shoppers browsing Suburban’s online stock.

The idea is to attract younger customers. “Generation Y loves to play games,” he says. “We thought, ‘What would happen if you combined inventory, social media and gaming?”

Suburban’s car listings pop up at certain points during the game FavRiot. Players compete for points and prizes. About 20% of dealership website visitors participate. “It’s increased our website-visit time,” Boismier says.

Best-idea contestant Bryan Wilson, e-commerce director for the Ehrlich auto group, helped make it easier and likelier for customers to post dealership reviews online.

The 7-store operation headquartered in Greeley, CO, built a website with content that includes Ehrlich’s mission statement, a tutorial on review writing and directions to social-media websites with posted dealership ratings.

“The idea is to keep it simple,” Wilson says, adding it also lets Ehrlich learn of any lingering customer dissatisfaction that hasn’t been addressed.  

“We tell people that if they don’t want to give us a five-out-of-five stars, tell us why,” he says. “It gives us a chance to resolve issues, which usually turn out to be minor, like someone not getting an extra key fob that had been promised.”

An Ehrlich store went from getting 1-star reviews to 5-star ratings after the program started, Wilson says. “If you want a great review, you’ve got to work at it and earn it.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com