Online reviews continue to grow in importance within the automotive industry, with seven of 10 car shoppers stating that reviews of dealerships are a ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important part of the research process. To better understand this trend, Cars.com conducted a text analysis using the nearly one million consumer-submitted reviews on its site and uncovered several unique shopper behaviors, as well as opportunities for retailers and manufacturers.

Cumulative dealer reviews on Cars

“Online reviews are more than social proof; they’re equity for dealerships,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager, advertiser insights at Cars.com. “Now that reading and writing online reviews is normal behavior for consumers, we’re able to aggregate and analyze real-life experiences to make tangible improvements to the shopping process – not to mention find out some fun stuff along the way.”

Consumers Share Reviews During Office Hours

More than half (52%) of all dealer reviews on Cars.com are left between 10 am and 4 pm ET, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being the days shoppers most frequently write reviews. Only 7% of all reviews are left on Sunday, and virtually no reviews are left between 3am and 5am ET.

Time of day

“Since consumers are most likely to leave a review during mid-day, it makes sense for manufacturers and dealerships to capitalize on that behavior,” shared Tiffen. “If you’re asking customers to submit a review, time your communication for when they’re most open to sharing, which often means during typical working hours.”

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Bad Experiences Lead to Longer, More Immediate Reviews

The analysis shows that the average length of a dealer review on Cars.com is 62 words; however, reviews that do not recommend a dealership are 142 percent longer than those that do, on average.

Though they account for just a small fraction (4%) of all reviews, negative reviews are 19 percent more likely to be written on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, presumably after a poor weekend experience at the dealership.

“When a consumer has a bad experience, they want their voice heard,” added Tiffen. “Businesses mess up sometimes – that’s a given. But now retailers have an opportunity to resolve individual issues as well as identify larger problems connected to dealership process through direct customer feedback.”

Review lengthGiven the added strain on dealership staff during peak shopping periods, Tiffen also suggests retailers take notice of the consequences of providing a poor customer experience.

“Retailers need to pay extra attention during high-traffic hours to make sure their customer service doesn’t slip,” added Tiffen. “This includes monitoring online review and social media channels, where consumers are likely to vent after a negative experience.”

Dealerships Ignore Opportunity to Respond

Though simple tools are provided to dealerships to reply to both positive and negative reviews, less than one-third of all dealer reviews on Cars.com are answered. A missed opportunity, the analysis shows that dealer review response rate positively correlates to a higher average star rating.

At a state level, this same trend holds true. Delaware, the highest rated state (4.7/5), has an average response rate of greater than 60 percent. Conversely, the state with the lowest average dealership rating, South Dakota (3.9/5), is home to dealerships with an average response rate of less than 10 percent.

Additional findings from the analysis include

  • On average Cars.com reviewers give dealerships a rating of 4.6 out of 5
  • Franchise dealerships account for 84% of all reviews
  • Of dealerships that have reviews on Cars.com, 80% have more than 20

Breakdown of dealer reviews by type

  • Used-car sales – 38%
  • New-car sales – 37%
  • Service – 24%

Methodology

The analysis was conducted using a random sample of 10,000 Cars.com dealer reviews submitted between 1/1/2014 and 9/30/2014.