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James Fabin, Sr. Product Marketing Manager
by James Fabin, Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Over the last two years we've been hearing more and more about the importance of watching VIN activity. The proof is out there – the more activity a vehicle receives, the faster it moves off your lot and into the driveway of a new owner. Increase VIN activity and the world is wonderful! But what exactly is VIN activity, and is some activity more important than other activity?

First, what is VIN activity?

VIN activity is any action that a shopper takes that drives engagement with a VIN. As you can imagine, there are a lot of activities that fall into this category, including (but not limited to):

  • Looking at vehicle photos
  • Watching a walkaround video
  • Looking at a special for a specific vehicle
  • Checking a vehicles CARFAX report
  • Including a vehicle in a comparison
  • Visiting a vehicle details page (VDP)
  • Submitting a lead for a vehicle

A typical car shopper will generate a lot of VIN activity for several vehicles as they research their next set of wheels and tracking this activity is important.

By understanding what drives more vehicle engagement, you can fine-tune those actions to capture more shoppers. But, and you knew there was going to be one, not all VIN activity is created equal. A person submitting a lead for a vehicle is far more likely to purchase than someone who only looks at a photo.

You may already be starting to jump ahead in your mind and thinking that the secret to selling more cars is to add more VIN activity calls to action (CTAs) to your website and drive the customer through a path that is a minefield of VIN activities. Slow down – that is the tactic so many dealers use today that actually annoys shoppers and drives them away.

Have you taken a look at your competitors vehicle search results (VSR) pages recently?

You’re likely to find pages loaded with VIN activity links. But as we found in Cobalt’s 2014 Inventory Shopping Experience Study, this drives shoppers away. VIN activity is important, but more important is the consumer experience with your dealership when they visit your website. Shoppers are looking for a more streamlined experience with dealers – an experience that connects them to the right vehicle faster. An effective streamlined experience will mean a lower level of VIN activity.

So we have a conundrum – more VIN activity sells cars faster, but shoppers want an experience that reduces the total VIN activity.

As mentioned earlier, not all VIN activity is created equal. Certain activities are far more valuable and indicative of a purchase. There are two key VIN activity metrics that dealers need to focus on— Vehicle Search Results (VSR) page views and Vehicle Details Page (VDP) views.

The goal of streamlining the consumer’s shopping experience is to get them to the VDP faster and easier.

So a well-optimized site should see a dip in overall VIN activity, but a rise in VSR and VDP views.

We’ve rolled out a new set of optimized VDP & VSR pages based on what we learned during our car shopper study.

These new optimized pages remove a lot of the distracting clutter and help drive the shopper into your inventory quicker and easier. MINI dealers were the first to get these new optimized pages and as a recent article in Automotive News shows, the results have been telling.

For example, Habberstad Auto Group’s MINI dealership in New York City saw VDP’s rise by 26% and VSR’s by 22% after their updated VDP’s and VSR’s went live.

These numbers are made more amazing by the fact that they are comparing the shorter February 2014 (we all remember the ongoing winter weather storms along the east coast during this short month) against October 2013, which was before the redesign launched.

How can you drive more of the VIN activity that matters most?

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About the Author

James Fabin is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Cobalt, with a focus on the website platform and website best practices.

For over 19 years, James has worked in the automotive industry with a passion for consumer behavior and marketing. James has hosted workshops at Automotive Boot Camp and AutoCon and enjoys working directly with DPs, GMs and ISMs to share his knowledge and gain first-hand feedback.

James can be reached at

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Tags: VIN, activity, advertising, automotive, car, dealership, digital, marketing, shopper, websites


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Comment by Tarry Shebesta on August 22, 2014 at 8:22am

Great article James! I've been talking with dealers for years about staying focused on getting a qualified (the credit to actually buy) shopper on the right vehicle as quickly as possible.

Shop-By-Payment (not Search-by-Payment) is really working well with our dealers. It starts with what the shopper credit qualifies to buy, their desired monthly payment and vehicle criteria. This shows them all vehicles that meet their buying criteria and knowing they are qualified to buy it.

We need to get out of the old habits of how shoppers search inventory. We know from surveys that many end up buying a different make/model than what they started looking at. This also goes for New and Used.

This is the reason we do not initially filter for NEW/USED. We want them to see EVERYTHING they can buy. It really surprises a lot of shoppers of what they can buy vs what they thought they could. Pretty neat.

It also sets the right expectation. For example, someone looking at a Corvette should be looking at a Camaro.

As a financing/leasing company we experienced this all the time.


Comment by Ralph Paglia on August 22, 2014 at 3:44am

James Fabin is a true digital marketing pioneer and veteran in the car business... His insights are well worth reading, adopting and acting upon.  Thank you James for a very insightful analysis of the data you presented.

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