Building an Auto Dealership Portal with Drupal 7

1 group site, 9 dealership sites, 7 brands, multiple data sources, 1 Drupal install.
A little over a year ago we were approached by OpenRoad Auto Group, one of Canada’s premier  auto dealer networks, to develop a system that would allow them to manage their group site and 9 individual dealer web sites.  

OpenRoad were coming from a scenario where each of their dealer sites were managed independently. They were faced with brand inconsistencies, dated design and multiple systems to administer with very little automation.  With further expansion on the horizon, this needed to change.  OpenRoad needed a more cohesive way to administer site content and provide a more effective way for their clients to interact with them and find out more specific and appropriate information on the vehicles they sell, the services they offer and the OpenRoad difference. The list of requirements was long and included features such as:

  • Multilingual support (implemented, but not yet translated)
  • Customer and Expert Vehicle review integration
  • Chrome new vehicle data integration
  • Integration of an existing Pre-owned vehicle database
  • Ability to manage all 10+ sites from a single drupal install
  • Deploy new dealership sites easily
  • Integration with CRM systems

A tall order, but with the help of Drupal 7 and Domain Access, we were off to the races.  Here are some of the highlights of the project:

Multiple site management with Domain Access 

While Drupal Multisite was considered initially for this project, the prospect of sharing content (promotions, new vehicle information, reviews, etc.) was more akin to the Drupal’s venerable Domain Access.  Some of the benefits of using Domain Access for this project included:

  • 10 Sites, One interface to manage it all
  • One database allowed us to share content when necessary (Vehicles and Vehicle Data), but was flexible enough to allow for content that was unique to each dealership (Promotions, Location, News & Events)
  • Site managers for the Dealerships can manage their site content without having other dealership’s content getting in the way.
  • Administrators from the flagship Group site can manage any site’s content. Adding content to a dealership is as easy as clicking a checkbox on the node edit page

Challenges:

  • Permissions. Domain access overrides permission grants that overrides other contrib permission modules (e.g. Content Access, View Unpublished etc). It made it a bit tricky to give site managers full flexibility without granting the catch-all ‘administer nodes’ permission.
  • Inherent complexity of the site was a bit of a hurdle at first, but Domain Access helped smooth out a lot of that by dealing with the separation of content.

Integration with Chrome new vehicle data feed

Chrome is a new and used vehicle data provider.   OpenRoad uses Chrome’s new vehicle data to feed their dealer portal and individual dealer sites with up-to-date vehicle images and specs.  The service saves OpenRoad countless hours of assembling new vehicle information and publishing to their websites.  We take the raw data feed from Chrome and integrated it seamlessly with Drupal. Some of the features of our new vehicle management system include:

  • Automatically creates new vehicle pages when Chrome has new vehicles in their system
  • We cache Chrome’s data on our server to improve page performance in case Chrome’s web service is unavailable insuring the integrity of the OpenRoad web sites.  Cache is refreshed periodically to ensure the data is up to date.
  • Ability to override any Chrome vehicle data.  This gives OpenRoad flexibility and full control of the data and allows them to provide additional information on vehicles as required.
  • Integrated Chrome’s  Image Gallery vehicle images.  The system we built automatically creates thumbnails and slideshows for each vehicle.  OpenRoad can also upload their own images or display youtube or vimeo videos in their slideshows.
  • Image cache is used for Chrome’s images to optimize and re-size the output to reduce download time.

Very cool visual vehicle filtering

English is not the first language of many OpenRoad customers.  As such, they wanted to employ a visual filtering system to help potential customers find their ideal vehicle without relying on standard text based filters.  Some of the features of the vehicle filtering include:

  • Integrated icons and sliders as filters into views. Looks a lot nicer than the standard browser widgets
  • AJAX filtering for a nice User Experience. Allows a user to quickly find the car they’re looking for
  • Vehicle comparison in an AJAX dialog also lends itself to a seamless user experience on the vehicle listing page
  • Tiled Design to save space when showing 80+ vehicles
     

New Vehicle Filtering

Pre-owned inventory system integration

Used vehicles outsell new vehicles almost 3-1.  Having an effective means of browsing used vehicle inventory was extremely important for the new site(s).  OpenRoad had an existing system to manage all of their pre-owned inventory on their websites.  We needed to make this integrate seamlessly into the new Drupal framework and for all dealerships.  Some of the features of the used vehicle system include:

  • Used vehicle search that employs our visual vehicle filtering system to assist those whose first language is not English
  • Dynamically pull in pre-owned vehicle data from OpenRoad’s pre-owned vehicle information system outside of Drupal.   
  • Embeddable pre-owned/demo vehicle pages so they can embed it on Facebook and manufacturers websites 

Customer vehicle and dealership experience reviews

Reviews are one of the most common (if not the most common) forms of internet research.  Vehicle and dealership reviews from experts and customers were seen as an excellent way of making the OpenRoad group of sites a destination for new vehicle research.  Additionally, having an effective review system has been shown to increase browse times on websites substantially.

Vehicle Reviews
Customers can easily submit their reviews while expert reviews from the Canadian Auto Press are fed automatically into the site and associated with specific vehicles.  Reviews can be seen both on both specific new vehicle pages or in the review section of the site where users can filter and browse for specific vehicle reviews and find reviews of dealerships.  Review system highlights:

  • Automated Import of expert vehicle reviews from Canadian Auto Press XML feed daily and automatically associate the vehicles mentioned in the reviews with the vehicle pages on the OpenRoad sites.
  • User submitted vehicle and dealership reviews.

Other project highlights

The Birth of the Background Images Module

One of the requirements for the site(s) was having the ability to arbitrarily and easily manage section specific and cross domain background images.  There wasn’t a dead simple way to do this for our specific use case using existing contrib modules, so we built one.  Currently the Background Images Module reports being used by 510 sites already, so obviously this was a common need and we were thrilled to contribute this work back to the community.

Design

The original dealership sites were inconsistent in their design and suffered from usability issues.  We unified the design and improved usability, keeping each of the dealership sites on brand all while creating an interface that helps OpenRoad Auto Group stand out from it’s competition.

openroad home page

The Results

Since the new group of sites launched about a year ago, group-wide visits have increased by approximately 50%, bounce rates are down dramatically and conversion rates are up.  By all accounts customers are happier with the new OpenRoad online experience.
We were thrilled to work with OpenRoad on this project.  It was filled with unique challenges and became a rewarding success for our team.