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.

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!

Millennial Car Owners Keep Options Open For Service

It’s easy to brush aside the impact young consumers have on dealership service departments, especially with the misnomer that Millennials aren’t buying cars still prevalent at some stores.

But the reality is that about 29 million Millennials get their car or truck serviced each year, and that service generates billions of dollars in revenue. However, capturing that revenue isn’t as simple as opening up the doors to your dealership – it takes a completely new way of thinking about fixed ops marketing.

A Generation of Choice

Millennials like to know they have options, and they’re not afraid to go through extra work to find the best deal in terms of price, quality and overall experience. Compared to older generations, Millennials consider a greater number of service providers (e.g., repair shops, dealerships, national chains) before making a decision. They want to make sure all of their options are on the table before committing to any single one. Though they gravitate towards national chains, the good news is that they’re still very open to working with dealerships.

Millennial Service consideration

Holding Value

Quality matters to Millennials. In fact, a recent study by GfK shows that 70% of car owners within the age group are willing to pay more for vehicle repairs and maintenance if the quality of service justifies it. Indicating that Millennial decisions are based on more than price alone, dealerships have an opportunity to tout their technicians’ certification and manufacturer parts as a complement to already-competitive prices.

Getting Started

Just like on the sales side, Millennials depend heavily on online tools throughout the service process. Get the ball rolling by building up service-related content wherever your dealership is already marketing its sales department. From updating and/or adding appropriate contact information on Cars.com to sharing digital content about the service amenities your dealership provides on your store’s website, small but important changes to the way your dealership views its marketing strategy can go a long way towards retention and acquisition.

Related: 3 Easy Things to Do TODAY to Fill Your Service Bays Tomorrow

For more Millennial insights, check out the Cars.com 2015 Millennial Outlook.

Introducing the 2015 Millennial Outlook

Millennial Car shoppers

Like all emerging generations, Millennials tend to be misunderstood by their older counterparts. Auto dealers and manufacturers have their own preconceived notions about this group — assumptions that they need to toss aside if they want to successfully connect with this generation. Millennials — generally speaking, those born between 1980 and 1995 — comprise a powerful demographic.

They’re set to become the most populous generation in the U.S., eclipsing Baby Boomers, and they have tremendous spending power. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, Millennials’ income will surpass that of Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers by 2020. By 2025, Millennials will account for 46 percent of total personal income in the U.S., according to Accenture. And compared to previous generations, they’re also more connected, more diverse, more media savvy — and more aware of what they want and how to get it.

Millennial vehicle sales2

One of the main misconceptions about Millennials are that they’re either not interested in or do not have the means to purchase vehicles. But there’s plenty of data available to contradict the notion that this applies to all Millennials. In fact, Millennial consumers now account for a larger percentage of U.S. new-vehicle retail sales than their Gen X counterparts. Millennials accounted for 26% of new-vehicle retail sales. For the first time, that puts them ahead of Gen X’ers. That group bought 24% of new vehicles.

Furthermore, according to a Cars.com Nielsen Omnibus study, Millennials are significantly more likely to indicate they will purchase a car in the next 12 months, compared with U.S. adults overall. 35% of millennials indicated they will purchase a vehicle in the next 12 months compared to 25% of total U.S. adults. And their importance will only continue to grow: According to the Deloitte 2014 Global Automotive Consumer Study, almost two thirds of Millennials plan to buy or lease a car within the next three years, and more than three quarters plan to purchase or lease within the next five years.

It’s also important to note that diversity is a defining characteristic of Millennials, and they include a wide range of ages and lifestyles. While the younger end of the generation is just entering adulthood and may delay car purchases, the older members are in their mid-30s — a time when many are starting families and may be in the market for a second family car. And given the variety of lifestyles and life stages Millennials represent, it’s clear that this group is relevant to dealers of all types of vehicles, from entry-level compacts to minivans to luxury sedans.

So if the old marketing assumptions don’t apply to this generation, how should auto marketers respond?

2015 Millennial Outlook Coversmall

To find out, download our 2015 Millennial Outlook white paper today.

A Better Response To Email Leads

For a lot of dealerships, email leads are still the single most important metric in the car business. A signal of intent and an opportunity to engage, they provide a delicate line of communication between the dealership and potential customers. However, the reality is that most car shoppers don’t send traditional email leads, and those that do are influenced by a variety of sources before they ever consider hitting ‘submit.’

So what can dealerships do to make sense of the strategies and tactics that influence lead submissions? Gabriel Montano, Operations Manager at Groove Auto Group, stresses that, while leads are still a fundamental part of auto sales, dealerships are best served by looking beyond simple email metrics to understand  how their digital marketing is performing.

To learn more about how Groove Automotive uses advanced analytics to evaluate website performance and referral traffic, download our recent case study, Unpacking Big Data.

Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships Tops 5,000 Reviews Milestone

Tom Ahl Facility

Taking advantage of new consumers trends requires both experience and vision – experience to understand what’s worked in the past and vision to take the first step forward, even when others sit back.

Few have done this better than Vince Downing, General Manager of the Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships in Lima, Ohio. After attending the NADA Convention and Expo nearly two years ago, Downing and his team had a watershed moment that prompted them to shift their dealership’s entire focus toward digital marketing and online reviews.

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“Every training workshop at NADA showed us that our business was going digital, including our reputation,” says Downing. “It was everywhere we went, and that’s when we knew we needed to make a fundamental change.”

With more than 25 years of dealership experience, including roles in both sales and fixed-ops, Downing led his team as they realigned tactics, moving 70-80% of their marketing budget online and implementing new processes to promote their online reputation.

As a result, the store amassed more than 5,000 dealer reviews on Cars.com and maintains a stellar 4.9 (out of 5) star rating. But it wasn’t always easy.

Overcoming A Rocky Start

“When we first started, it was really tough,” says Downing. “Everybody had their own way of doing things. At the end of the month, we looked at the progress we’d made and it was terrible.”

Knowing he needed a tangible benchmark to hold his team accountable, Downing implemented a new element into every salesperson’s pay plan: to be eligible for monthly bonuses, sales consultants had to get a minimum of 20% of their customers to write an online review about their experience at Tom Ahl.

While some pushed back, over time the team embraced the new policy and quickly saw dividends. Shortly after, Downing increased the standard to 30% without issue.

“My top sales guys are the ones who bucked at the beginning,” Downing says. “Now they go out of their way to ask for reviews because they feel like they’ve earned it. For them, it’s like a report card, and they know advice from customers can only help them improve.”

Staffing for Success

With a core strategy in place, the dealership looked for additional ways to support reviews-focused processes.

Working in tandem with Downing, Internet Marketing Coordinator Jennifer Griffith took charge as the central point of contact for all inbound reviews.

“Every day we’ll go in and catch up on our new reviews,” says Griffith. “I’ll respond to our positive reviews and loop our General Managers in on any negative feedback so we can address it right way.”

An effective practice, the dealership responds to 100% of all the reviews it receives.

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Promoting Reviews Inside and Out

Though the dealership provides reviews-related resources to both its customers and staff, the store has been most effective promoting reviews by empowering individual sales consultants.

“We’ve got a link to our Cars.com dealer reviews page on our website,” says Downing. “But that’s only a small part of it. Each sales rep is responsible for asking their customers for reviews directly, and that’s what drives our success. Sometimes it’s during the down time when they’re wrapping up a deal, other times it’s in a follow up phone call or email.”

Internally, promoting reviews is equally important, with Downing taking time out of every sales meeting to call out individuals who’ve recently received a glowing review by name.

“It’s a real morale booster for us,” says Downing. “Since most of our reviews directly reference our sales team, it’s a great opportunity to showcase everybody’s contributions and acknowledge outstanding work.”

Seeing Results

In just a short time, the Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships started seeing customers arrive from near and far, all because of what they’d read in the store’s online reviews. This early success served as a top selling point.

“Most of the people who come in have read our reviews, especially shoppers from out of town,” says Downing. “But we know even our local customers are online. Everybody has cars, sales and prices, but not everybody has my staff, and that’s why we stand out.”

Tom Ahl v2

Taking The First Step

For dealerships that haven’t implemented online reputation management processes, Downing and Griffith suggest getting started is as simple as having a conversation with customers.

“You can’t just expect your customers to write reviews for you,” says Griffith. “You have to ask.”

By taking the first step, they believe there’s no telling how great of an impact only reviews can have.

“We’ve had customers drive more than 600 miles to see us,” shares Downing. “One woman from Atlanta told us there was no doubt in her mind we were the store to do business with solely because of our online reviews. She came up to buy a pre-owned Cadillac, a car she could have gotten at a hundred dealerships along the way, and our staff took care of her like family. Stories like that go through the showroom like water and make our whole team want to keep improving.”

For more reputation management best practices, download our ebook, Scheduled Maintenance.

How mobile “showrooming” has changed the car sales process

With more than 167 million active smartphone subscribers nationwide, there’s no question that smartphone use has reached a tipping point in the United States. Look no further than a table at a busy restaurant or a crowded city park to see people more engaged with their devices than with those who are right in front of them. In the past four years, the number of Americans accessing the internet on their mobile phone has more than doubled, rising from 25% to 60%, and it’s largely because smartphones have evolved. More than a fancy way to check email and look up sports scores, smartphones are a consumer necessity, offering shopping experiences that are as good (or better) than traditional computers.

So what does this mean for car shoppers and dealers?

smartphone and dealershipIn an independent study conducted earlier this year, Cars.com partnered with mobile research leader Placed Inc. to understand how consumers used their smartphones for research before visiting auto dealerships, as well as how smartphones affected behavior while shoppers were physically standing on dealership lots. The data showed that the vast majority (81%) of shoppers now use their smartphones as part of the car buying process. And contrary to some industry beliefs that mobile is not a unique advertising medium, one in four shoppers used only their smartphone to do research prior to visiting dealerships.

Comparing options

Even more interesting than the total reach of mobile was the number of car shoppers using their smartphones while actually at the dealership. A process commonly known in the brick-and-mortar retail industry as “showrooming” – when a consumer uses a mobile device to compare product options, and then purchases the product at a different location (typically online) – the study found that sixty-three percent of shoppers turned to their mobile device while on the lot to conduct additional research.

This behavior shows that even once a shopper steps onto the lot, there are still multiple points of influence that can sway their decision to purchase, making a strong mobile presence essential to success with modern buyers. Shoppers stay connected, shopping competitors from the comfort of your own showroom, and that action has an impact. Of shoppers surveyed who visited more than one dealership, more than half (52%) did so because of information gathered on their mobile device.

Getting a shopper to the showroom is a good indicator they are ready to buy, but closing the deal requires going a step further. Understanding what shoppers are looking for while in the showroom can help you better engage buyers and keep them moving towards a sale at your dealership.

Placed Price, payments and offers

When car shoppers step onto dealership lots, they’ve got a big decision to make – a bunch of big decisions, really. Is this the car I want to buy? Can I afford it? Are there better options available at a store across town? The list goes on. As a result, typical on-lot mobile activities include calculating price and payment information, confirming vehicle availability and comparing local competitors. Shoppers want all facts, and your dealership has an opportunity to improve the consumer buying experience by being transparent and consultative with mobile.

The role of third-party marketplace sites

Consumers depend on objective third-party content to build confidence in their decisions at the dealership. Of shoppers who used a smartphone to do research at a dealership in the study, 56% visited a major third-party marketplace site, far surpassing the use of manufacturer and dealership sites while on the lot.

A trend that’s only expected to grow, dealers can use this new mobile behavior to build trust with potential customers by encouraging open access to information throughout the sales process and, in turn, reinforcing the dealership’s value to would-be customers.

Navigating Mobile Marketing
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For more insights and best practices on how to create a mobile-friendly dealership experience, download our Navigating Mobile Marketing ebook.

 

 

[ebook] Scheduled Maintenance: Leveraging Online Reviews in the Service Lane

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Online reviews are the new word of mouth for service customers. Ranking behind only technician certification level and warranty in importance to potential service customers, reviews can make the difference between a customer visiting your dealership for repairs versus a competitor or national chain down the road.

Your store has a unique ability to differentiate its brand and demonstrate to customers what they want to know most — that they’ll pay a fair price and have a great experience by having their car serviced at your dealership – by embracing online reviews. In our latest ebook, Scheduled Maintenance, we’ll show you how to best manage your service department’s online reputation and provide actionable tips that ensure consumers view your dealership as the one to do business with. Click the image below to get started. 

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Click to download ebook

 

New ebook provides roadmap to win mobile shoppers

The automotive sales process is complex, and the influx of mobile shoppers isn’t making it any easier for dealers. To navigate this rapid shift in consumer behavior and market to shoppers at the most critical points, your dealership must go mobile too.

But where do you start? In our latest eBook, Navigating Mobile Marketing, we’ll show you how smartphones have changed the game and give you a path to increase your reach and influence with car buyers.

Navigating Mobile Marketing
Click to download

Taking Your Marketing Mobile: If you’re not putting mobile first in your marketing, you risk being out of sync with today’s shoppers. It’s projected that consumers will spend more time on their mobile devices in 2014 than they do on their PCs, a trend that should guide your advertising investments. The guide offers a road map to take your marketing mobile on platforms that reach shoppers across screens.

Influencing Decisions: Having a strong presence on the sites shoppers turn to most increases your reach, but you’ve also got to take steps to engage that audience and influence their decisions. Online reviews, special offers and your dealership profile all provide opportunities to stand-out. Get advice on how to best use these features on Cars.com to win mobile shoppers.

Winning Shoppers on the Lot: Getting shoppers to your store is just half the battle. With mobile devices in-hand, many are actively shopping your competitors from the comfort of your showroom. We outline simple tips to make your showroom mobile friendly and offer advice to help you overcome the threat of showrooming.

Download the guide now to learn more about mobile’s impact, and what you can do to make sure you’re reaching mobile car shoppers at the most critical moments of their car buying journey.

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