How to Increase Customer Engagement by Improving Your Website

Shopping online has become common practice for consumers. With 79 percent of smartphone users making a purchase online within the last 6 months, it’s important for dealers selling high-consideration products such as boats, to start considering how they can improve their websites to increase engagement. In the boating industry, it’s not about offering a “buy now” solution since most customers still want in-person engagement with the product before a big purchase. Your dealership’s website optimization strategy should be hyper-focused on elevating the inventory shopping experience and capturing as much pre-sales information as possible, so the deal can hit the ground running once customers enter the showroom floor.
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Due to high demand, customers are expecting more from retailers as they look to purchase their boats. Also, inventory is beginning to normalize which could also be an indicator of leads/opportunities starting to soften. In a study conducted in April 2022, Rollick analyzed website data for 17 boat and RV brands and found that year-over-year website traffic is down 18 percent. While not a massive decline, the trend line suggests that boat brands and dealers need to start developing a strategy to make the online shopping process easier, so your next sales opportunity doesn’t go to a competitor due to lack of engagement. The online boat shopping experience must be exceptional, which means thinking beyond traditional lead forms. Today’s modern consumer wants to know all their options up front, and they want them readily available at their fingertips.

If you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you can see their frustrations. They are accustomed to living in a world with Alexa, who can answer any question at the drop of a hat, and of course Amazon, where purchases are delivered within 24 hours. These expectations are hard to live up to, especially when selling high-consideration products, which require a significant amount of upfront information from the customer.

Before visiting a dealership, customers want to understand their financing options, trade-in value, dealer fees, and qualifying incentives, so they feel comfortable reserving the unit and placing a deposit for the purchase. Historically, these transactional activities required customers to come in the dealership and sit through the sales process. The good news is that modern digital retailing solutions can save boat dealers time by allowing their customers to build and excel the deal online, creating a better (and faster) sales experience when customers enter the showroom floor.

How to Enhance the Online Shopping Experience
Step one for any boat dealer is to build trust with their customers. Every part of the sales process is geared towards ensuring the customer feels comfortable and confident in the dealer’s ability to provide the best product and price available, even if it’s a digital transaction on their website. This can be tricky when a customer has to make assumptions about your dealership and your products based on your online presence and reviews.

For this reason, you want your online presence to be professional, transparent, and building trust in the sales process. One way to do this is to collect as much information as possible about your customers while letting them drive the transaction from the comfort of their homes. This means thinking differently about your lead acquisition strategy by leveraging a digital retailing solution and capturing information such as pre-qualification status, monthly payment and financing options, trade-in value, and the unit of interest. Collecting this data in the initial stages of the digital shopping process can tell the salesperson a lot about the customer, so it’s essential to provide potential buyers with the right digital shopping tools to help qualify and guide the sales conversation. The idea is to simulate the same experience shoppers are used to on popular e-commerce sites like Amazon or Chewy. Moving the needle for the recreation industry is a reality for boat dealers with digital retailing solutions.

Tips for Getting Started with Digital Retailing
Adopting new technology and implementing enhanced sales processes can be challenging, but we have you covered with these five tips:

Tip 1: Let Go of Some Control
First, you have to let go of some control in the upfront pre-sales process. The goal is to help your customers feel in control of the entire buying experience, so let them engage with your inventory and develop the deal on their terms. Increased customer interaction on your website vs. in-store will likely result in a better purchase experience.

Tip 2. Think Beyond Traditional Lead Forms
Traditional lead forms are dead. Now, the focus has shifted towards a better way to acquire information, so customers feel in control and dealers have the data they need to close the deal without having to “sell.” Driving traffic to static landing pages with a call to action of “give me your name, email address, and phone number” will only get you 10 percent of the way in the sales process. Using a single-point digital retailing tool will allow your sales team to close deals faster because all pre-sales information is captured upfront, and the unit can also be reserved with a deposit in the same transaction. Rollick data shows that dealers who fully embrace a digital retailing experience on their websites are seeing a 50 percent* increase in close rates and leads that pass pre-qualification close at 2.4x* compared to traditional website leads.

Tip 3: Rethink Your Follow-Up Strategy
For most dealers and sales teams, digital retailing may feel a bit uncomfortable at first since traditional lead forms have been the primary source of customer data for boat dealers for the last 20+ years. The key is to be patient, give the customer some time to build their deal, then follow up with specific questions or next steps related to their boat purchase. For example, your first outreach to customers shouldn’t be focused on product discovery or financial questions, as you will already have all the pre-sale information at your fingertips when leveraging digital retailing.

Tip 4: Use The Data to Your Sales Advantage
With digital retailing solutions, you can expect to see up to an 87 percent* increase in lead submissions. You may be thinking to yourself “I don’t need more leads – I need more transaction-ready customers.” This is where the power of digital retailing comes in to play. Providing potential customers with more digital shopping tools will increase interest and engagement in the shopping process, resulting in more leads. For dealers, you will have a wholistic view of customers, their interest, and the various activities they took on your website in one lead vs. multiple leads from different forms. The data collected in digital retailing opportunities will help your sales team prioritize follow-ups and aid in the process of developing customized nurture content (via email, text, and phone) to close the deal.

Tip 5: Communicate with Customers in their Medium of Choice
To make the buying process as seamless as possible, ask your customers upfront how they want the flow of communication to go. For example, they may not want to come into the dealership right away, so don’t force them into your showroom for a face-to-face meeting. Offer up alternatives methods of communication, such as text or video chat to make the prospect feel as comfortable as possible.

To Sum It Up

Gathering information about financing, trade-ins, and realistic pricing in a digital transaction benefit both the customer and the dealer. This helps customers feel in control and confident about their purchase while also creating a seamless sales experience. Armed with this data upfront, the odds of your digital shoppers converting are significantly higher, and a sales rep can reach out with all the information they need to complete the sale. As a boat dealer, your online presence and capacity to deliver a seamless digital retailing experience online are your two most powerful tools to edge ahead of the competition.

Jason Riley is the Director of Marketing for Rollick, which is an MRAA Education Champion. The company’s mission is to provide a seamless customer experience from pre-purchase through re-purchase by helping dealers, manufacturers and F&I companies connect with their customers through an ecosystem of marketing and technology solutions. They want to change Rollick is changing the way the boating market thinks about retailing in a digital age by making the shopping experience fun, easy and lucrative for our customers. Learn more at