Industry Trends

The Dealer’s Guide to Vehicle Merchandising

What is Vehicle Merchandising?

When we say “ vehicle merchandising”, what do we mean? Shopify has a nice description:

Merchandising is everything you do to promote and sell your products once the potential customer is in your store. Since the sales process often starts with the eyes, merchandising typically involves presenting products in a visually favorable light, to try and encourage purchases

For the automotive industry, this translates to making your inventory stand out on the lot and online.

However, if you review the DrivingSales category on inventory merchandising solutions, it’s mostly a collection of solutions that ARE NOT merchandising: appraisal tools, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, inventory feeds to 3rd party sites, email and social media marketing. There is a sprinkling of true merchandising solutions.

To clear the air, let’s focus “merchandising” as solely on increasing the appeal of the vehicle in this article.

Types of Vehicle Merchandising

The Fundamentals of In-Person Merchandising

The first few types of merchandising represent the foundations of good vehicle merchandising, defining its past since the modern car dealer first emerged in the early 1900’s

These tactics are very well known and understood, and designed to grab your attention. The basics include:

Things eventually started to get more creative…

  • The spinning car
  • The Land Rover stuck motionless but appearing to crawl over fake boulders
  • Carvana’s fresh approach with their novel car vending machines. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s brilliant merchandising.

We’ve put together a sample list of these types of vendors down below.

The Fundamentals of Online Inventory Merchandising

Even today, online vehicle merchandising solutions mostly attempt to replicate the in-person experience. They’re still focused on price and the visual experience.

CarGurus TradePending Price Vehicle MerchandisingHigh quality photos remain the foundation of online merchandising, no matter the product. Videos are now easier than ever to share with customers, which means it should become a standard practice at your dealership, if it’s not already. There’s no shortage of providers available in the photo/video space, and you can view a few of them in our list below.

For the solutions that focus on price – thumbs up, thumbs down, great deal, good deal – there remains a tragic flaw with this approach. The only way to improve your merchandising is to lower your price, negotiating with yourself before the customer ever reaches out!

The Next Steps in Online Vehicle Merchandising

As the internet matured, it delivered many new merchandising advantages, benefitting both the consumer and the dealer. The present and future is not just about the vehicle’s appearance and price, but that vehicle’s context in the local market. This next level of data creates better conversations, decisions, and outcomes.

Here are a few examples of more advanced strategies that the next generation of internet marketing enables:

  • A consumer can easily grab the CarFax report, seeing the vehicle’s repair and accident history.
  • Data providers link together the VIN with optional build data, like premium or cold weather packages, automatically injecting them into the vehicle display page (VDP). 
  • Consumers can scan a QR code to instantly pull up more vehicle details on their phone.  

These solutions present more information to dealers and consumers than ever before. They’ve been slowly altering the retail automotive industry for decades. Many experienced accelerated adoption during the pandemic, since delivering a steller online experience became even more critical.

Advanced Online Vehicle Merchandising Strategies

All of the solutions above miss something important. They lack any relationship to what’s happening in the consumer’s local market. Those solutions can’t answer:

  • How quickly does this vehicle sell?
  • How popular is the trim, color, engine in my market?
  • How much local supply is available?
  • How does the price compare to similar mileage vehicles in my local market?

When a merchandising solution answers these questions, consumers can now see the same local market data that dealers know. This is what our Badges product delivers to over 700 dealerships today.

In the example below, Badges empowers both dealers and consumers to see that there is only one of these vehicles available within a 50 mile radius. When your sales and BDC team say “This one will sell quickly because there is only one available in our market”, they’re backed by local-market data, giving them credibility and building trust with the customer.

TradePending Superlatives Badge Verified One of a Kind

The ROI of Vehicle Merchandising

Marketers struggle to measure merchandising’s impact. To be fair, measurable return-on-investment has never been the goal of merchandising. You can’t measure the ROI of putting balloons everywhere, washing cars, or serving coffee and bottled water in the service area, after all.

At a bare minimum, the output of merchandising is a simple talk track for the sales person.

  • “That Jeep sure is sparkling! We just detailed it inside and out. Wanna take a look?”
  • “Isn’t it cool how we parked that Land Rover on that big rock pile? Wanna hop in?”

When a dealer or software provider does vehicle merchandising to its fullest extent, it should create powerful talk tracks. 

  • “Take a look at this data from TradePending. It shows there’s only one available here in this area, and that it’s priced lower mileage than similar vehicles.”
  • “You can see here that CarFax shows a great repair history and a single owner.”

Online merchandising solutions should be measurable, and in fact you should demand it. Just request that the provider sends their “event” data into Google Analytics, and voila, you can create segments to show how users engage differently when interacting with merchandising products. Here’s a great case study on Badges that shows data from three different dealers. Their website visitors are 3x more engaged when they interact with Badges.

Also key to merchandising? Persuasion. One of the key points of persuasion with merchandising is price, a double-edged sword, as we’ve seen above. 

You’ll always talk price. The price IS merchandising. But don’t negotiate with yourself, and don’t drop the price to get a better badge from a 3rd party, or just because someone asked.  Discuss price in the context of supply, demand, value, and urgency. To do that, you’re going to need better data (take a look at Badges, if you haven’t yet!).

Vehicle Merchandising Companies

Looking for a few examples of vehicle merchandising providers and companies? 

Market Data

TradePending – Badges highlights what makes your used vehicles unique and your new inventory different from your competitors’. Conversations begin with value, rather than a race to the bottom on price. If you have inventory, you need Badges.

CarStory Market Report (now called Promote) – mostly focuses on vehicle features and price, and whether or not the consumer is getting a great/good/fair/above market deal. 

How is CarStory different from Badges? 

CarStory is primarily a solution for consumers, and a 3rd party lead provider. Their dealer-facing product is a good solution, but provides consumers and dealer no context of supply and demand in their local market. There’s no data around vehicle popularity, nor popularity of specific attributes of the vehicle (engine / trim / color). These data points truly help build value and create urgency in the mind of the consumer.

Photo & Video

DEP-i – photos, videos, and more

Sold Online Dealer Assistant – photos, videos, inventory management

Cartender – “top shelf video technology”

SpinCar – Auto dealerships use their car capture & merchandising technology to engage website visitors and sell more cars. 360 walk-arounds and more.

Glo3D – 360 degree car photography

Tru Images – photos and photo management software

Snaplot by HomeNetAutomotive – Use any smartphone or tablet to take photos on your lot and upload them wirelessly, improving time to market and shopper engagement.

Video Online by HomeNetAutomotive – Automatically transform your existing photos and data into videos, or create custom live videos for the ultimate media experience.

eVN AutoGraph – automatically delivering “photo real” imagery of your entire inventory: VIN specific, absolutely product correct, emotive images.

SmartLot Solutions – photography, 360 spins, live video, backgrounds, etc

CarDataCarData, Inc. offers Full Service Inventory Merchandising to automotive retailers. Quality Photos, Engaging Videos & Reliable on-the-lot service is what you will get when partnering with us. Our highly trained staff ensures your inventory is always up to date with no headaches! Full 360 vehicle tours, Walkaround videos, Quality photography, Window Labels & buyers guides

Vehicle Descriptions & Data AutoCorrected – AutoCorrected™ fills in the gaps on key data points for shoppers searching on and creates a richer VDP experience for all your inventory. 

PowerWriter Next by HomeNet Automotive- Generate new and used car descriptions in seconds with PowerWriter Next. This solution helps you connect with shoppers through automatic, customizable messaging with flexible settings and multiple templates that better describe your dealership.

Window Stickers

Kelley Blue Book window stickers – Kelley Blue Book window stickers help drive trust and confidence with your shoppers while they visit your lot. (But why are you advertising for KBB? Read this article to understand why that’s not a great idea)

AutoRevolution – mostly focused on dealer websites and data services, but provides custom Monroney stickers also

DealerUPlink – QR code stickers. Scan with your phone, get more info.


NuVinAir – When customers buy a new car, they don’t want the previous owner’s odor haunting them. NuVinAir® takes cars from stinky to Stinkin’ Nu!