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.

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.

Cars.com and Clarivoy Partner to Upgrade Google Analytics and Support Dealer Growth

Attribution is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers today and that is no different for our advertisers — particularly dealers. From one store independents to large, multi-store dealer groups, the challenge of understanding which touchpoints are influencing consumers throughout their car shopping journey is universal.

The attribution conversation is one that we continuously have with our customers — and today, that conversation is about to change.

Today at NADA, Cars.com and Clarivoy announced a partnership that will move the conversation beyond first and last click attribution to answer the question dealers have been asking about their marketing investments: are they working?

Through Clarivoy’s native Google Analytics integration, Cars.com customers will now be able to see a multi-touch view of the influence their marketing efforts have in today’s multi-touch world.  Cars.com will be making our data available and transparent via Clarivoy, providing our customers the ability to see the influence Cars.com has on consumers throughout the car buying journey.

To date, Clarivoy’s dealer customers have described their native Google Analytics solution as “game changing” and “stunning.” In fact, Clarivoy took home Driving Sales’ 2016 Innovation Cup for “Most Innovative Solution.”

We are proud to partner with Clarivoy, as well as other attribution providers, to drive the industry forward, through an attribution solution that will help dealers understand how their marketing investments are impacting sales…for every turn.

As Steve White, founder and CEO of Clarivoy said, “When you think about multi-touch attribution, you have to give credit where credit is due.”

We are confident in the role Cars.com has across the car buying journey and are sponsoring a two-month trial for select customers – contact Clarivoy to upgrade your Google Analytics today.

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!

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.

5 Questions Dealers Should Ask in 2017

A new year means new opportunity to grow your business.  That means you can’t keep operating under the same mindset when it comes to setting goals, planning advertising, and evaluating metrics if you want to be successful in growing your dealership and continuing to move metal and servicing vehicles. It’s vital to your business to be open to change, to be ready to react to consumers, and to execute advertising to reach customers throughout their car buying and car servicing life cycles.  With that in mind, I’ve come up with 5 questions to ask yourself regarding your advertising strategy to grow your business in 2017.

Am I focusing on the right metrics to judge success?

We’ve already discussed the role that traditional metrics like email and phone call leads play in measuring the success of your advertising strategy on our blog, you can read that here.  But in today’s mobile-first world, traditional metrics don’t carry the same weight as they used to when evaluating your advertising strategy.  Indeed, they are helpful, but when you advertise online versus traditional media like TV and radio, the same metrics to measure success do not translate like they used to.  Sure, you can measure how many eyeballs saw your TV commercial, but when consumers choose to engage with you online, that is more powerful as it shows their interest in you.

Your task, look at your 2016 performance to determine where you were most successful and where you think you can improve.  How were consumers choosing to interacting with your brand online?  With Cars.com for instance, were more customers engaging with you while on the lot versus sending emails and did this result in more sales?  If so, what are you going to do about it?  How does that compare to the success of your TV campaigns or radio buys?  Ask yourself, do your engagement metrics online translate to the success of your other traditional media buys?  Your advertising plans need to cross all platforms to be sure, and when you sit down to measure the success of your plan, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when looking at metrics.

Am I placing my ad dollars in the right media so I can quickly react to my customers?

You probably have a process in place already to review your ad spend weekly, monthly, or quarterly.  That’s great.  But, have you thought about that how, now, your dealership and virtual lot are always online and available to customers to find.  When you sit down to review data and metrics, are your customers sending you signals via this data?  For instance, are customers always calling asking for more photos on your listings or are your engagement metrics showing movement on specific makes and models over others when on the lot?  If so, how are you highlighting this inventory?

Your task, when reviewing your ad plan, ad spend, and performance, can you make the necessary changes quickly based on the signals your customers are sending you to optimize your ad spend?  If customers are asking for more photos, can you quickly send them those photos or send them a video of the car in question encouraging them to visit your lot?  There’s no limit to what you can do and how you react to show your customers you’re listening – just do it quickly.

Does my advertising strategy speak to customers throughout their car shopping journey?

Every consumer that comes across your dealership and brand is in a different stage of the car shopping process.  Have you optimized your online presence to speak to customers in every stage of that journey?  We’ve discussed this in similar terms for consumers who walk on the lot, and the same is true for those customers who are online researching.  By creating content on vehicles and making it available via your own website, the likes of Cars.com, or on social media, you’re influencing consumers to engage with you more throughout their journey because you’re helpful throughout their process.  This is true for the consumer who’s just starting their research into makes and models all the way to the consumer showing up on the lot comparing specs on vehicles who’s ready to purchase.

Your task, create a holistic plan that provides information for every stage in the car shopper’s journey.  If you create content or ads that speak to these different stages and make it available at the right moment at the right time, you can influence customers from a short term mindset to a long term customer.  Show consumers the breadth of what you offer them throughout the car ownership lifecycle.

Am I allowing customers the opportunity to engage with me when and how they want?

If you haven’t faced it yet, consumers want to engage with you on their terms.  Given the integration of media across platforms thanks to the Internet, your online presence needs to be seamless to properly speak to your customers.  Your photo and video capability – vehicle photos and information to your commercials – need to be consistently available and up to date regardless of the platform or screen size a consumer chooses to use to engage with you.

Your task, when creating video or photo content, be sure to allow for everything you create to be consumed across platforms and devices.  So, make your TV commercials available on your website in a mobile friendly form.  Create a process to respond to email leads with more engaging photo or video content to influence consumers when you reply.  There’s no end to what you can do or the access consumers have to engage with you, or your competitors if you haven’t thought through all the ways consumers can engage.

Am I optimizing my dealership for the mobile world?

We’ve already said that you need to be mobile to engage with consumers and allow them to choose when and how to engage with you.  But, if your dealership’s content isn’t optimized for mobile screens – phones and tablets – you’re missing out on key opportunities to influence consumers to choose your dealership.  There’s more to this than just optimizing your advertising content.  When you think about how you engage with online advertising content, you don’t always appreciate the popups or lengths of ads you have to sit through when your ultimate destination is to shop or research a product.  Be sure to know your audience and give them customized options – maybe the option of choosing an ad to watch or asking them to follow your social media after completing an ad – giving consumers options can encourage them to explore your dealership and vehicles more fully.

Your task, review your current advertising content and ensure that it is optimized for the mobile world not just in viewability, but in allowing consumers to choose how they consume your content.  Be sure to train your sales teams on mobile and its usefulness for a unified voice in dealing with customers via mobile.

Understanding that a one-size-fits all approach to your advertising spend doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes to allocating dollars to traditional media, social media, and third party partners like Cars.com is vital to being successful in 2017.  Now is the perfect time to align and integrate your internal processes at the dealership to maximize your mobile presence, recognize that consumers expect to engage with your dealership and brand on their terms, and to create content that is informative and engaging that can be viewed across platforms.  You have plenty of partners in the automotive space that help you speak to consumers and help you influence them to purchase regardless of where they are in the car shopping journey.

Are You Growing Your Service Lane? Voice of the Consumer Update

We are in the throes of winter, and the unexpected can happen when it comes to your vehicle – a flat tire, broken heat, a noise that sounds like… you know, a spring (boing boing!) – and you need to get it fixed.  But where do you go and how do you do it?  Consumers are going online to answer those questions.  And, knowing that vehicle sales slow in the winter months, it’s prime time to highlight the service lane at your dealership.  How do you do that?

Well, we asked visitors to Cars.com how they went about just that.  The key elements we found about consumers in their search for service and repair information involved pricing estimates, maintenance schedules and time estimates of repairs, and service and repair reviews (Figure 1)¹.

Figure 1. Consumer Satisfaction Survey, November 2016

So, we know that consumers are online searching for this information and, specifically, are on Cars.com for it.  What are you doing to help them find this information online? Now’s the time to ask yourself this question and act on it.

Furthermore, we know that service drives sales consideration and retention².  The service department builds and reinforces consideration for the dealership for the next time that customer is ready to purchase another vehicle.  A customer’s current vehicle is the number one indicator of what they will buy next and where they get service is the number one indicator of where they will buy next².

Figure 2.  Dealer Walk-Ins Analysis, Placed Inc. March 2016.

Let’s expound on that a bit.  We know that service department customers typically have a history with the dealership in some fashion.  We also know that customers bringing in newer vehicles are more likely to be in warranty, which explains why there’s a higher percent of newer vehicles that were purchased at the dealership where they are also being serviced².   Take a look at the graph below to understand customers with history at the dealership.

Figure 3.  Dealer Walk-Ins Analysis, Placed Inc. March 2016.

We see that 49 percent of vehicles being serviced are 2009 or older².  That makes sense, the older the vehicle, the more likely service or repairs are needed.  It is also interesting, here, to see vehicle models that are 2010 or newer as the highest percent of service experiences that were purchased at the dealer in the past and that were serviced as well.

The takeaway?  Optimizing your service lane is a great way to influence consumers for a future vehicle purchase from you.  Taking some of the data above into consideration, past experiences consumers had, vehicle model years, and warranties into consideration against what consumers are online looking for in the realm of service and repair can benefit you in the long run – especially in the slower winter sales months.

[1] Consumer Satisfaction Survey, Cars.com, November 2016

[2] Dealer Walk-Ins Analysis, Placed Inc. March 2016.