Building a Bespoke Car Dealer Website vs Using Software

It is often said that to create the best website is to build it 'bespoke'. In the automotive sector, there is so much information online about providers of bespoke car dealer websites. Still, not too much explains what it means. We wanted to write this article to explain how dealerships can approach their website builds so that an informed decision can be made.

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In the automotive sector, there are four ways of building a website that are most commonly advertised. These are broken down here:

Motor Dealer Website Templates

These are pre-built templates for car dealer websites. They usually have the capability to change the colour scheme and fonts, but other than that, they are ready to go once you add your vehicles and website content.

Automotive Themes for CMS

A CMS (Content Management System) is software used to manage digital content (like the content on website pages), and popular CMSs are used to build websites in all sorts of industries. You have probably heard of some CMSs, such as Shopify and WordPress, but there are many, many to choose from. Too many to mention here.

A theme can be a bit like a template or more like a toolkit for building website pages. It usually has a set of page templates and elements that can be used on the pages, and you can edit certain things like colour schemes. Some themes are extremely flexible, and some are extremely rigid. Popular CMSs tend to have marketplaces for themes, ranging from free to very expensive.

Some of these themes are designed for car dealer websites. They can be downloaded into your CMS installation, and you can start building.

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Automotive Website Providers

These are companies like Autoweb Design, which specialises in the Automotive sector. There are some well-known names in this category because the automotive sector is a small place, and we all meet up at industry events and generally network with each other. As such, there can be preconceived ideas about what these companies do.

Put simply, automotive website providers provide a way of building a website that integrates with the usual software required by a dealership - DMS, Stock feed systems, Finance calculators, E-Commerce, and much more. This definition, though, says nothing about the type of website solution that they offer. It could be any of the ones discussed in this article.

Bespoke Website Builds by Non-Automotive Agencies

In our sector, at least in the UK, it's often said that a website is a 'bespoke build' if its design was done by an agency that doesn't sit within the 'automotive website provider' bucket. This seems to have arisen because some automotive website providers offer quite rigid solutions in the way that they are customisable. Others offer highly customisable systems, but a site built by them is recognisable by certain layouts. Some don't do either of these things.

In addition to this, website builds created by non-automotive design agencies are almost never bespoke builds. Of course, this is to be expected because we operate in a highly developed web design sector where writing custom code from scratch for one client and then maintaining that code to a high standard doesn't make sense.

What is important to recognise is that there is a spectrum of approaches in both the automotive specialist and the non-automotive sector. It can't be said that a website is more or less bespoke because the agency that designed it sits in one category or the other. It is the design and build approach that dictates this. We explain the different approaches in the upcoming sections, but as a concrete example, imagine that a generalist agency might build a car dealer website using a theme in WordPress or another popular CMS, surely this shouldn't be considered any more bespoke than a templated automotive website, but it often is simply because of who created it.

How an Automotive Website is Built

For now, we are going to park the question of who designed or built a website, as this is not relevant when it comes to considering bespoke builds or any other method. This could have a bearing on whether or not the design is bespoke (covered later) but not the build.

Option 1. Using Web Components Built for Websites Generally

Web components range from simple text boxes to complex, interactive media galleries or search forms. There are many libraries of pre-built, reusable components that can be used by web designers to build websites. These reusable components could be brought in from a theme, or they may come as standard as part of a CMS. Web Design Agencies that deal with larger, more complex projects will tend to have their own set of custom-built components, which they created from zero code or adapted from a basic library by adding to it.

Option 2. Using Web Components Built for the Automotive Sector

The same description applies as in option 1. These can be custom-built or from a theme, but they are not used by only a single client (same as option 1). The difference is that these are specific components for the automotive sector. Examples could be a finance calculator or a part-exchange entry box.

Option 3. A Bespoke Build

This means that no component sets are used to create the site, but everything from buttons to text box containers are built from scratch, there may be some use of very foundational libraries, but essentially everything is rebuilt whether or not it exists elsewhere. That code is then used only by the client for whom it was built.

Which Approach is Right for Me?

Assuming that you operate in the automotive retail sector, then choosing options 1 or 3 will mean that you will have a partly bespoke build because automotive components will need to be built for your website, and these are only available as reusable components under option 2.

Let's take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of reusable web components:

  • Customisation: A Bespoke Build has no constraints, and so can be customised more than a reusable component. Therefore, if no reusable component exists that does what you want, then a bespoke build is preferable.
  • Time to Implement: A reusable component is ready to be used right away to build your customised component. A custom build means starting from scratch, which takes a long time, so if time is a consideration, then reusable web components are preferable.
  • Maintenance: Code needs maintaining, this is for many reasons, including changes to the systems that use them, like web browsers. With reusable components, this is taken care of within the library you are using. With a bespoke build, you need to keep on top of changes and have release schedules to fix any issues in time. This requires at least one person who is responsible for doing this.
  • Reliability: Provided that bespoke code is maintained as well as reusable web components, they should be as reliable, but this is difficult to achieve.
  • Flexibility: A reusable web component can be changed very quickly through configuration. A bespoke-built web component must go through the specify-code-test-deploy cycle at least once, so the designers will need to wait a fair amount of time before they can use the component in a changed form.
  • Cost: Because bespoke code needs time to build, test and deploy and then requires maintenance, there is a much larger cost associated with deploying bespoke-built web components vs customised reusable web components.

With this in mind, it is difficult to see why a dealership would choose to use bespoke code written from scratch for any element of their website unless reusable components won't do what they want. If a dealership comes to this conclusion, then it is possible that they have not explored all web component libraries. If they have come up with something truly beyond the realms of what has been done on the web functionally, then it may be that bespoke code is the only option. If it is, then it is still possible to use reusable components for the rest of the website and contain the costs, flexibility, maintenance and reliability issues to a single component within the website by running it in the correct way.

At this point, we have concluded that Option 2 is preferable to Options 1 or 3 unless it is absolutely necessary to build code from scratch. So, if that's the case - Why is this a difficult decision? The answer lies in the types of choices dealerships are faced with.

These are typically the following:

Build something in-house

This means employing people to do this and offers options of bespoke build or use of a templated system. So, it's expensive and, based on the above, may not produce the right result.

Use a non-automotive website agency

This has exactly the same drawbacks as building something in-house but is probably more expensive if the website is medium to large. An additional drawback is that they are unlikely to have experience in the vehicle feed side of automotive.

Use an automotive website agency

This opens up the possibility of using reusable components without having to stick to a template. The drawback can be that some of these companies may offer limited scope to implement the design that you want within their framework. This certainly isn't the case for all of them, though, and dealers shouldn't assume that automotive agencies are either template-based or bespoke build.

Some companies will offer only template-based solutions. This is just to do with their operating model. They do this to tightly control the way in which website components are used so that they always look good and work well. Additionally, there is sufficient demand for the use of these templates so that the company's time can be spent servicing these clients quickly.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have automotive specialists who seemingly do anything. The trouble here is that they usually achieve this by simply asking what the client wants, then building it in a bespoke way creating a single code base. Therefore, if something goes wrong in that codebase, it may go unnoticed by anyone other than the client using it. For the client fixing it is a top priority. For the website company, it is one of many priorities and complex to fix as it was built bespoke - Not within a framework.

There are agencies that exist, and we will say that Autoweb Design is one that operate their own proprietary software like the strict companies to ensure reliability and speed of changes. However, their software is built in a fashion that makes it more flexible (an open approach using microservices typically) so that there is far more scope for customisation - similar to what you would expect from commonly used CMS systems like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. but with automotive components and integrations built in. Within such a system, you should be able to build any kind of design that has been achievable by any other company using reusable components.

Which is the best choice?

In conclusion, we feel that option 2, which involves using an automotive website provider, is the right option, but you need to find one who uses software that is developed in an open way and accept that the dialogue will be to understand the requirements both ways, just because something isn't there doesn't mean it can't easily be added. At the same time, such a company might question why you want to do something a certain way if components don't exist on the internet that do it. If it is truly innovative and useful, it will probably be a component that will be built. If not, or if there are differing opinions, you can just build that component out separately and put it on your website using technologies like i frames.

If you are hitting a brick wall when trying to describe your design vision to the agency, why not bring in a freelance web designer to help? They will be very well-versed in the use of web components and will be able to translate your vision into a design for your chosen automotive agency - provided, of course, that they can operate in this way (e.g. Autoweb Design.. Sorry we had to say it).

Next, Onto the Design...

By now, you've hopefully decided whether to use a pre-built template approach or go through a design process. If you've decided on the latter, then we hope that after reading this article, you've made a decision about the type of platform you're going to utilise to run your website - Which is going to allow you to have flexibility over how your website is designed.

What's next? Well, now you need to decide on the design approach you are going to use.

We cover the different approaches here.