January Voice of the Consumer

Cars.com continues to be the place to go for car shoppers looking at cars for sale.  In January of 2017, 88 percent of Cars.com visitors were specifically doing just that.  We continue to gather feedback from Cars.com visitors to further influence our site’s growth and offerings.  We also ask visitors what they specifically find helpful in using Cars.com.  Among some of the most helpful features of Cars.com are search filters, vehicle merchandising, and reviews.

 

We are happy to hear all of the above, especially that reviews are helpful to our visitors.  As of February, we have 3.6 million reviews live on Cars.com with 50 percent of those coming from DealerRater.com, a Cars.com company.  It’s important to note that our acquisition of DealerRater.com allows us the ability to syndicate dealer reviews to various other platforms.  This includes other vendors like AutoTrader and Kelly Blue Book who also feature DealerRater.com reviews on their own websites.

We continue to listen to our visitors to improve our website functionality and offerings to help them find the vehicle that’s right for them using all the information they can at their fingertips.  When we help visitors win, we help our dealers win by better connecting car shoppers to the right dealer.

Cars.com Internal Data, January 2017.

Reviews Influence Car Shopping Decisions: Infographic

Understanding when and how online reviews are used can help to make sense of a complicated topic: do reviews influence car shopping decisions?  The answer is yes!  But, what are car shoppers doing with reviews?  What review types are they looking up?  We gathered this information and published it in our latest white paper “Car Shoppers are Judging You,” which can be found here in full.  However, we wanted to put it  in a more quickly digestable form, so take a look below and download the PDF infographic to learn what consumers are doing with car related reviews.

Car Shopper Use of Car Related Reviews

 

 

Winning with Used Car Shoppers

Cars.com has a unique, in-market ready to buy car shopping audience – with 29.7 million monthly visits in 2016 alone¹.  From our research, we also know that seven out of ten shoppers to Cars.com are undecided on what and where to buy² giving dealers a huge opportunity to influence car shoppers.

Now, how do you speak to car shoppers who may be interested in used inventory, specifically?  We worked with a third party research firm to learn more about just that to help you win with used car shoppers.

The used car shopper mindset is a practical one.  Car shoppers looking at used inventory are more interested in getting the best car they can for their money in a style that matches their ideal car³.

Vehicle Attributes

We asked used car shoppers what vehicle attributes were most important to them when shopping – reliability came back as the most important.  This was followed closely by vehicle value and “best fit” for their lifestyle³ (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Dealer Walk-Ins Analysis, Placed Inc. 2016.

 

It seems that used car shoppers are more willing to compromise on features for a good deal and value in a used vehicle.  This is all great information, but when is the best time to speak to these shoppers to help them make a purchase decision?

Vehicle Consideration

We found that the window of influence is ripe at least one month before their intended point of purchase³ (Figure 2).  Note that the percent of people considering a used vehicle is much higher than the percent of purchasers. In part, this is because our location research only includes people that visit a dealership; used buyers from private parties, like Craigslist, did not show up in this study³.

Figure 2.  Dealer Walk-ins Analysis.  Placed Inc.  2016.

 

The key takeaway here is that while used inventory consideration increases towards the point of purchase, car shoppers don’t always buy from a dealership when they make their decision to buy.  This is why you need to learn when used car shoppers plan to buy to better influence their decision to purchase from you – at least one month out.

Cross Shopping

Let’s take a quick look at cross-shopping by used car shoppers.  Used car shoppers highly consider CPO vehicles in their consideration sets³ (Figure 3).  Used shoppers are also more likely to trade up to CPO more so than new car shoppers³.

Figure 3.  Dealer Walk-ins Analysis.  Placed Inc. 2016.

 

Knowing that the window of influence for a used car shopper is about a month out from their intended point of purchase and that they consider CPO vehicles in their shopping journey is pivotal information in speaking to the used car shopper.  It’s up to dealers to best figure out how to target, speak, and influence used car shoppers.  Cars.com is here to help.

Our Marketing, Product, and Tech teams continue to make progress driving more meaningful, in-market traffic to our dealers – with the highest quality audience in the business. We will continue to optimize traditional lead delivery for our advertisers while redefining the future of value delivery with on the lot visits, multi-touch attribution, and other quality metrics.  We will continue to help you win not only with used car shoppers, but all car shoppers.

[1] Cars.com  Internal Data, December 2016.

[2] Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study, December 2016.

[3] Dealer Walk-Ins analysis.  Placed Inc.  2016.

Looking At Dealer Review Behavior

Last week we discussed the value in your online reviews – how consumers use reviews and the role of positive and negative reviews.  It’s important to the dealership’s success to have a strategy in place to monitor and respond to all reviews.  Now, let’s dive into consumer behavior by looking at the number of reviews consumers want to see, how recent reviews need to be, and the devices used to read them.

What’s the minimum amount of reviews needed to influence a purchase decision?

Across categories, consumers want to read at least 4 to 5 reviews before making a purchase decision. We also found that one-third of consumers are wanting ten or more reviews to help them make a purchase decision. Think about it — what goes through your mind when you see a product or service with one review? Thoughts may range from, “It must not be good if there’s so few reviews” or “they must be new if there’s only one. I’ll keep looking.” The amount of reviews a dealer has available to consumers online matters — the more the better.

Customers think the same thing. Work hard to grow the amount of reviews for consumers to read, and keep them coming!

Those consumers who are frequent users of reviews expect more reviews than those who aren’t using reviews as often. Car reviews specifically are the second most useful type of review that we found, and car reviews have the largest amount of minimum reviews needed to satisfy consumers—with a mean minimum of 11 reviews being ideal to influence their purchase decision. Car dealership reviews are expected to have the same amount of reviews to be considered useful by consumers when choosing a dealership. If dealers have an effective online review strategy that prioritizes growing reviews, then this number shouldn’t be hard to achieve and it keeps fresh review content alive for an online audience.

How recent to do online reviews need to be to be deemed relevant to consumers?

When discussing recency, car reviews should be within the past six months to be considered useful. Across categories, however, consumers mostly accept reviews within 6 months to one year. Reviews within the past three months are ideal and are seen as having the most value.

Now, not everyone looks at the age of reviews, but for those that do, the more recent the better. Consumers want to make their decisions based on — practically — real-time information. Younger audiences, especially the Millennial generation, live in a world of instant gratification. If they can’t find what they’re looking for or don’t like what they find at a dealership, they’re likely to keep looking until they do. Dealers who don’t have enough recent reviews are going to lose in the marketplace when it comes to digital word of mouth.

Depending upon where a consumer is in their shopping journey, a review could be the catalyst to make a decision sooner. Dealers want to have their best and most representative foot forward to help consumers make that purchase decision — to buy from them.

What devices are consumers using to interact with reviews?

It’s interesting to see what devices consumers use to engage with reviews. You could assume that those who choose to write reviews on mobile devices are ‘in the moment’ and happy with their experience and want to write a review while it’s still fresh in their minds. On the reverse, they could have had an awful experience and want to vent. Either way, mobile is a means to review experiences and do it quickly. We found that 42% of consumers leave online car reviews via their smartphones.

In looking at dealership reviews, 34% of consumers leave them, but 47% of these reviews are done via smartphones — more than individual car reviews.

On the other hand, some consumers may choose a desktop to leave reviews. We found that because of the ease of use for some consumers or a lack of urgency to leave a review, a desktop may be more ideal for some consumers after purchase. For dealership reviews, we found that 78% of reviews are done on a desktop. We also found that 82% of car reviews written are done on a desktop as well.

For the largest purchases in a consumer’s life— vehicles and homes— they tend to use online reviews earlier in their research process compared to other purchases.

In any scenario, dealers need to create and execute a strategy to follow up with consumers after their purchase, asking for reviews of their experience to continue growing that digital word of mouth. Perhaps a consumer didn’t have a mobile device to leave a review when they were on the lot. Maybe the consumer meant to leave a review but forgot. Sending follow up emails, making phone calls, or sending texts can be a great way to continue growing dealers’ brands by asking the customer how happy they were with their experience and then asking for a review.

Mobile Consumers Turn to Cars.com During Super Bowl

Last night’s Super Bowl where the New England Patriots triumphed over the Atlanta Falcons was historic. Not only because of the game itself, but because of the advertisements.

The Super Bowl has been the holy grail of advertising since Apple launched the MacIntosh in 1984. Today, just as many people tune in to see the ads as they do to watch the game. It’s a “tent pole” moment for any brand — including auto manufacturers – as advertisers spent upwards of five million dollars for a 30-second commercial during this year’s game. But, what’s more important is how a brand’s big Super Bowl moment translates into next moments of engagement online.

During the big game, we monitored traffic and search lift in real-time and compared the results to averages of the four prior Sundays.  The results are in and they show the influence the Big Game has on consumers as well as the significant role that Cars.com plays as a leading destination in the mobile consumer auto shopping journey:

During the game, nearly 60 percent of visits to Cars.com came from mobile devices on game day.

  • The nine auto brands with commercials during the game averaged a seven percent lift to their brand pages on Cars.com and a 238 percent lift to pages of specific models that were advertised during the game.
  • In the eight minutes following their commercial, visits to Alfa Romeo pages on Cars.com saw a staggering 1,179 percent increase in comparison to the same time period prior to the airing of their spot — a sign that their Big Game investment was highly impactful.

Brand model pages also experienced significant search lift, particularly from mobile devices which increased by 1,074 percent for the brand models that were advertised during the big game. When compared to Cars.com traffic over the four prior Sundays, automotive brands who advertised during the Super Bowl saw the following lifts to their advertised model pages:

  •  Alfa Romeo Giulia – 7,320%
  • Audi S5 – 1,391%
  • Buick Cascada – 424%
  • Buick Encore – 59%
  • Honda CR-V – 35%
  • Kia Niro – 497%
  • Lexus LC 500 – 861%
  • Lexus LS 460 – 888%
  • Mercedes-Benz AMG GT – 910%

It’s a significant investment on the part of auto manufacturers to advertise during the Super Bowl, and the resulting boost in traffic by make and model validates their choice to do just that. In 2017, we will continue to build a platform to create these influential audience connections — and in turn drives sales for our dealers — for every turn.

Interested in seeing the full press release?  Click here.

The Value in Your Online Presence & Reviews

Dealer Reviews are more important than ever in today’s “go-online-first” world. The vast majority of consumers begin their research and shopping journeys online. In fact, consumers use online reviews for half or more of new purchases. Reviews are influential.

Today, online resources carry more weight in consumers’ minds as compared to more traditional information sources because of the speed at which information is updated and made available for consumption. If you’re an advertiser, spending more of your time and energy in digital will pay off more in reaching and gaining share with consumers because of the speed at which the online marketplace moves.

Specifically, reviews play a pivotal role in consumers’ minds by helping them decide how they will proceed in their shopping journey after looking up a product or service and analyzing how other consumers felt about their experience. Over 90 percent of consumers who shop online, regardless of product or service, say they use online reviews¹. That’s significant! Online reviews aren’t going away, and how you react to online reviews will greatly impact your standing in consumers’ minds.  Let’s take a look at some data.

How do Consumers Use Online Reviews?

Consumers use online reviews for half or more of new purchases. Reviews are influential. But, to what degree? Well, a large majority feel that online reviews are helpful and almost half would avoid a purchase without them, in general.

Dealers need to understand the extent to which online reviews influence purchase decisions. It makes sense that in our digital culture today, younger consumers use reviews more compared to consumers 55 years and older, but older consumers shouldn’t be ignored in an online review strategy. If a dealer doesn’t have online reviews, they are effectively ignoring the younger, Millennial generation with significant buying power.

“Eighty percent of Millennials said that they plan to purchase a vehicle in the next five years. At 80 million strong, and with more than $200 billion in annual buying power, there are plenty of sales to be generated from Millennials².”

What Review Sources do Consumers Trust the Most?

Consumers trust reviews from experts and from others who have purchased the same product they are interested in as the most influential.

From our study, three quarters of consumers trust expert reviews, and nearly as many trust reviews from other customers. The level of trust in experts and other customer reviews is on par with family and friends as sources.

Advertisements, whether online or through other media, are not as trusted. It is interesting here, though, to note that men, parents, and frequent review users are more likely to trust advertisements for making a major purchase — those sources by TV, radio, newspaper and other traditional media — with 25% indicating as such compared to 73% trusting expert reviews.

We recommend dealers have a process in place that highlights expert reviews on the makes and models they carry that will reinforce their own brand and get consumers talking. Dealers should also highlight reviews provided by customers who have previously purchased from their dealership. Doing so can help reassure potential consumers they are making the right decision in choosing the dealer they are researching.

How do Consumers Feel about Negative Reviews?

Negative reviews not only provide a look into how perceived poor experiences are handled at a dealership, but they can also highlight a pain point that may need addressed in the dealership’s own sales, service, or operations processes — an issue that may not have been apparent before. But, responding to negative reviews and showing other consumers that you’re willing to do what’s needed to make consumers happy after purchase can greatly improve your digital word of mouth and credibility in the minds of future consumers—setting you apart in the marketplace.

We aren’t done talking about dealer reviews.  Stay tuned to our blog for more on the role reviews play in the car shopping journey in the coming weeks.  All content, unless otherwise cited, comes from our own research in partnership and with execution and analysis by an independent third party, Versta Research.  We performed a quantitative survey of 503 recent and prospective car buyers from November 3 – 15, 2016. Our sample was carefully sourced and screened from a large national research panel.

[1] Review Usefulness and Recency, Cars.com, November, 2016.
[2] Millennial Car Shoppers, CDK Global, 2015.

NADA 100 Recap

Cars.com had a great time at NADA 100 this year.  The industry has seen tremendous change over the last 100 years and Cars.com has enjoyed being a partner in growth for the local retailers for amost twenty years.

As a partner in growth, Cars.com is always keeping an eye on the changing modern consumer behavior and how we can support dealers win in their local marketplace.  At NADA, we shared new insights on mobile shopping behavior to help dealers capitalize on the new opportunities to connect with the modern consumer.  Cars.com also announced a new Attribution solution with Clarivoy to help dealers make data-driven advertising decisions with the full picture of their advertising performance via their Google Analytics dashboard.

Cars.com CEO Alex Vetter said it best, “2017 is the year of efficiency.”  We are moving forward with our partners to grow efficiency in working together and in connecting car shoppers with the right vehicle, dealership, and sales person.  We saw this on the NADA expo floor, which was jam-packed with long-standing digital advertising partners as well as a high number of new companies.

What stuck out to us was the common message that dealers need to partner with companies who understand today’s modern consumer and with those who will do their best to grow dealers’ ROI in new, innovative ways.

Take a look at some of the good times below to see how Cars.com and DealerRater partnered with those dealers in attendance to discuss what’s new with us, everything we have available to dealers, and how to better our partnerships in 2017.

Cars.com event staff take some time for photos with the band Fitz and the Tantrums who performed at the Cars.com event party at NADA 2017 in New Orleans.

Cars.com sales team members review our Lot Insights reporting and answer other questions from those dealers in attendance at NADA.

Dealers who came to NADA had the chance to speak with trained Cars.com sales team members to learn more about Cars.com solutions and our unique, in-market car shopping audience.

Cars.com Trade Marketing staff work the booth to help visitors learn more about us and provide insights into Cars.com events and speakers.

Jamie Oldershaw – Senior Vice President of Product for DealerRater, Alex Vetter – CEO of Cars.com, and Gary Tucker – CEO of DealerRater, take the time to pose for pictures at the DealerRater booth at NADA.

Car Shoppers Are Judging You: A White Paper

We at Cars.com love reviews and DealerRater.  We also love helping connect car shoppers to the right car and the right person at the right dealership.  So, we worked to find out how car shoppers use reviews today and how reviews influence their car shopping and car servicing decisions.

We know online resources carry more weight in the consumer’s mind as compared to more traditional information sources because of the speed at which information is updated and made available for consumption. If you’re an advertiser, spending more of your time and energy in digital will pay off more in reaching and gaining share with consumers because of the speed at which the online marketplace moves.

With this white paper, we provide insight into the role digital word of mouth plays — especially online reviews — in driving action for consumers throughout the car purchasing and car ownership life cycle. Furthermore, we want to provide key takeaways that help dealers better understand how consumers use and interact with reviews at different stages and provide ideas to help dealers update processes and strategies related to digital word of mouth, and discuss the role negative reviews can play in digital word of mouth.

Interested in learning more?  Click to download our “Car Shoppers are Judging You” white paper to take advantage of your reviews and grow your digital word of mouth today!

Mobile Influence on Car Shopping: A White Paper

Car shoppers are interacting with dealerships on mobile. It doesn’t matter if it’s via an app or a mobile browser on their smartphones or even a tablet, consumers are finding dealers where and when they want to find them. This is significant for many reasons. As a dealer, it means there is a need to have a constant online presence that properly merchandises inventory, a need to have numerous methods of contact, and have their brand properly optimized for mobile. That’s a difficult task when the sheer volume of vehicles is considered along with the numerous touch points the Internet provides and the day-to-day operations of the dealership. But, many dealers do well with these efforts and those that do understand mobile are the most successful today.

Now more than ever, Dealers can take advantage of the shopping journey becoming more and more mobile. The influence of mobile on car shopping is manageable for dealers. As the prevalence of smartphones and technology grows, the ways by which consumers can communicate and engage with online dealers can only grow, too. This leaves huge opportunity for dealers to optimize their mobile presence and strategy to grow with car shoppers in terms of engaging with dealers’ brands and communicating back and forth.

With this white paper, we provide insight into the role that mobile plays in today’s car shopper journey. We also want to provide key takeaways for dealers to help them optimize their mobile presence to take advantage of how car shoppers utilize mobile in today’s digital world.

Click for our Mobile Influence on Car Shopping white paper for the full version and start taking advantage of mobile today!

What Your Merchandising Tells Car Shoppers

Car shoppers want to see more photos and read more detailed sellers notes.  Period.  That’s the key insight we learned from our latest Voice of the Consumer survey.  If you needed another kick to update your vehicle merchandising strategy, let this be it.

In December 2016, we found that 87 percent of car shoppers surveyed said they are looking for cars for sale¹.  We also found that of that 87 percent, 55 percent of those surveyed are researching car pricing and 54 percent are comparing vehicles¹.  Knowing this, what role do you think your merchandising plays in influencing car shoppers to spend time on your VDPs?  Does your vehicle merchandising even entice consumers to send a traditional lead or encourage them to show up to the lot?  Take a step back and evaluate the photos you take of your inventory and the way you write your sellers notes for an effective, cohesive merchandising strategy.

Auto shoppers want real-time information.  We know from our own research that 63 percent of auto shoppers were still researching dealerships after showing up onto a dealer’s lot, and more than half of those visited additional dealerships based on what they found via their mobile devices².  Your merchandising can be a key influencer in helping car shoppers decide where and with whom to do business – and it may not be you.

What Do Car Shoppers Want, and What Can you Do?

Let’s talk specifics about what you can do to better merchandise for the in-market car shopper.  Cars.com continually takes consumer feedback into consideration for updates to the user experience.  A good deal of what we receive deals with available vehicle content.  Car shoppers are asking for more details about vehicles saying, “improve filter options by making dealers correctly load all details about the car.”  Additionally, we’ve heard that we should prioritize search results based on VDPs having full photos, sellers notes, and contact information.  Of course, we will never prioritize one dealer over another in a search.  But, these are responses to our question of how we should improve Cars.com, and it’s in dealers’ own power to do it while helping themselves.

If consumers are clamoring for more information on vehicles via photos, sellers notes, and contact information, it’s those dealers who take the time to merchandise thoroughly and creatively who are gaining in market share, growing their sales, and influencing people to show up on the lot.  It’s also those dealers who completely fill out all vehicle details and features sections on a VDP that can garner more attention from consumers online.

What can you do?  Dedicate resources to take quality photos of available inventory.  While we offer stock photos of new inventory, up to date pictures of vehicles can go a long way in satisfying car shoppers needs.  A well detailed, creative paragraph of sellers notes can also satisfy car shoppers and encourage them to contact the dealership with a phone call or email or even to show up on the lot.  Indeed, it’s those dealers that completely fill out all vehicle details and features sections that will benefit from consumers visiting Cars.com.  Those fields feed into the filters that car shoppers use to narrow down their search.  If you don’t have specifics on your vehicle filled out – you miss out!

If the manpower doesn’t exist at your dealership to cover the volume of inventory, working with your DMS provider can lessen the burden.  Have the conversation with your DMS for more detailed photos taken more often and provide examples and guidelines for your sellers notes.

Consumers are asking for more detailed information on vehicles when they are researching.  If it comes down to a customer comparing one of your vehicles against a competitor who has more information on their VDPs, you may have lost them.

[1] Cars.com Insights, December, 2016.

[2] Behavioral Analytics on Mobile, Cars.com, Q3 2016.