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.

Vehicle Pricing Tools: From Transparency to Trust

Understanding what motivates car shoppers and their needs is critical to win in today’s competitive marketplace. As consumers move through their car buying journey they are looking for information to make informed decisions on what to buy, where to buy and who to buy from. Increasingly, one of the top concerns for any car shopper or vehicle owner is price – or how much to pay.

In December of 2016, we saw 55 percent of car shoppers researching price on Cars.com and 54 percent actively comparing vehicles¹. Knowing that we could meet the needs of consumers and our dealer customers alike, we set out to further enhance the shopping process through vehicle pricing tools. The goal? Keep consumers engaged on the site and facilitate a quicker path to purchase with dealers – all while building trust between them from the start.

Today, Price Comparison Graphs are available on Vehicle Detail Pages (VDPs) to provide more context around the price of a used car or new vehicle. Factors such as trim, mileage, and certification are also taken into consideration on the price of a vehicle in a particular market. Local vehicle price comparisons are determined through sampling of all cars within 100 miles of the location of the vehicle and for used vehicles, comparison mileage and CPO status are also displayed.

Figure 1.  Price Comparison Graph of Used 2015 Ford F350

The need for pricing transparency when making a sizeable purchase is not limited to the automotive industry.  When buying a home consumers turn to Zillow or Trulia to understand the market value of a home and what they can expect to pay based on the home’s location, features, and history.

This level of transparency has become a consumer expectation when it comes to making major purchase decisions – including cars — and one that we will continue to innovate against in the coming year to drive quality engagement to influence car shoppers. Deeper Feature Comparison functionality is currently in development, which will incorporate additional qualifiers such as drivetrain, engine cylinders and transmission into the Price Comparison Graphs.

By providing consumers transparency through Vehicle Pricing Tools, as well as DealerRater reviews, we aren’t just creating connections between consumers and dealers — we are building lifetime value and trust from the start.

 

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

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

 

 

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.

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!

December Consumer Insights

We received some great insights from our monthly consumer survey for December 2016.  We like to speak to our visitors to help us stay better connected with their wants and needs so we can continue to improve results for our dealer customers as well.  We know December can be a slower sales month, so we wanted to know when consumers plan to purchase or lease a vehicle, what the age range is for folks in various stages of the shopping journey, and where they consider themselves in their current shopping journey.

What We Found

Nearly 8 out of 10 Cars.com consumers plan to purchase or lease a vehicle within the next 6 months.  That’s great!  Cars.com consumers are also 3 times more likely to be in-market compared to general consumers.  What stock type do they plan to buy, though?  Well, we found that 65% of visitors to Cars.com in December plan to purchase used inventory, 32% plan to purchase CPO inventory, and 19% plan to purchase new inventory.  If your dealership has a high volume of used inventory, consumers are looking for you [Figure1].

We dove deeper to better understand what else visitors may be considering with 38% saying they will consider more than one of these make options during their research.

Additionally, of those visitors that plan to purchase a vehicle, 53% indicated they plan to sell a vehicle beforehand – 12% indicated they’d already sold a vehicle.  In other words, potentially 1 in 3 consumers plan to buy a car without a trade-in.

Figure 1.  Cars.com In-Market Metrics Total Audience, December 2016

A Demographic Look

All of this is great information to understand where consumers are in their car shopping journey.  But, let’s break it down by a generational look.  Cars.com GenX shoppers are most likely to be in-market to buy or sell a vehicle, especially those between 35 and 44 years old.  We also found 18-24 year olds are slightly more likely to be in market to buy (84%), but 25-34 year olds bring Millenials down slightly with 78% saying they are in-market to purchase [Figure 2].

What’s Shopper Demographic Share?
  • Millennials make up 28% of this survey’s respondents and, of those, 80% are in-market to purchase.
  • GenXers make up 40% of respondents and, of those, 82% are in-market to purchase.
  • Baby Boomers make up 33% of respondents and, of those, 76% are in-market to purchase.

Figure 2.  Cars.com In-Market Metrics by Age, December 2016.

We also asked at what state in the car buying process respondents currently considered themselves to be in.  We found 71% of consumers are at the early stages of the car buying process and undecided on a make and model.  Of those who have decided on a make and model – 22% — but had not decided on a dealer yet and an additional 7% have decided on all three; make, model, and dealer.

The opportunity exists for dealers to speak to these consumers in ways that match what they’re looking for and at the right time in their car buying journey.

When we asked general consumers if they were in the early stages of the car buying process, 88% indicated they were and beginning their research [Figure 3].

Figure 3.  Current Stage of Car Buying Process, December 2016.

Based on the above graph, consumers who are seriously looking to purchase a vehicle make up the majority of visitors using Cars.com – a ready to buy, in-market shopper.  We also see that a good portion of respondents using Cars.com who are ready to buy have decided on a make and model, but are still looking for a dealer to buy from, which gives huge opportunity for dealers to differentiate themselves on Cars.com to influence shoppers.

We will continue to listen to our consumers to make sure we are delivering a car shopping experience that provides everything they’re looking for in a vehicle and dealership.  The more we can improve the consumer experience means the more we can deliver for our dealer customers.

Special thanks to our internal Insights Team for continuing to speak to Cars.com visitors and turning their input into actionable insights.

Source:  Cars.com Consumer Metrics, December 2016. 

Cars.com Best of Awards 2017

In case you missed it, we announced nominees for our 2017 Best Of awards, the annual awards show we host in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show. This year’s categories included Best of 2017, Best Pickup Truck of 2017, Eco-Friendly Car of the Year, Family Car of the Year, Luxury Car of the Year and Play Car of the Year. Each car represented on the list excels in three key criteria; quality, innovation and value. Pickup trucks are judged on power, capability and value. All vehicles are 2017 models, and Best of 2017 nominees must be all-new or fully redesigned.

 

“Each year Cars.com experts test hundreds of new cars with the goal of empowering car shoppers with the information they need to make better decisions,” said Patrick Olsen, Cars.com editor-in-chief. “At the end of the year we narrow those choices down to recognize the best of the best. Our awards are designed to help consumers across a wide array of car segments and budgets. In addition to naming the best new car and truck of the year, we award cars for different types of shoppers including families, fuel-conscious drivers, luxury shoppers and more.”

 

Scroll down to see this year’s Best Of winners in all categories and photos from the award show and after party.  For more information on the below winners, click here.  Mark McGrath, lead singer of the band Sugar Ray, hosted the event with performances by St. Lucia and Kelly Clarkson, winner of Season One of American Idol.  To see a full list of cars and trucks nominated for the best of awards, click here.

And the winners are…

Google Tax: Should You Turn Off Branded Paid Search Keywords?

The following is a guest blog by Steve White — Founder & CEO of Clarivoy. 

If you utilize paid search, you’re probably paying “Google Tax” without even realizing it.

So what is “Google Tax?”

Four years ago a writer penned a piece on “Google Tax” that explained how businesses are essentially forced to run paid search campaigns on their brand names which, of course, lines Google’s pockets. Since then, with all the changes to the format and display real estate that Google has made, the value of organic listings has declined. This creates a dilemma.

The basic mechanics of paid search revolve around finding and paying for ads that either convert at the lowest cost, or provide the highest return on your investment. There are a lot of tricks and tips involved to optimize any paid search campaign. However, pretty much every dealership’s campaign includes a similarity – their own brand name.

In general, any consumer search for a dealership’s name should return a result with the dealership’s website high in organic rankings – most likely the first result on page one. At that point you have two decisions: run paid search ads on your brand name to block competitors from doing conquest ads, or choose not to run brand name keyword campaigns and hope and pray that your competitor is not bidding on your name and fishing for your customers. You become an easy target and most dealers do bid on their competitors.

In the automotive industry, dealers are surrounded by many entities competing to drive online traffic away from their dealership including their OEM, a competing OEM, competing dealerships, third party lead providers, used car listing sites… the list goes on.  In choosing not to bid on your dealership’s name, you open the door to these competitors running paid search ads that effectively conquest your business. In fact, I know of a dealer who spent a large amount on TV ads but their competition reaped all the benefit as the dealer chose to cease running paid search ads for his brand name. His competitor bid on that dealership’s keywords and had a record sales month. After all the money and energy invested into your dealership it makes no sense to go cheap and not pay for branded keywords.

A long time ago (in a galaxy pretty close by), this was a legitimate choice because paid ads took up significantly less space on the search results page, and more real estate was given to organic results. However, Google has made dramatic changes, little by little, that have effectively reduced the number of organic search results above the fold, while increasing paid search ads – some of which are in prominent places, such as map listings.

“Google Tax” pretty much boils down to the cost of doing business. You never want to open the door for a competitor to hijack valuable search keywords such as your dealership’s name.

So, your choice is to pay the tax or put your head in the sand and not pay for branded keywords and let your competitors merrily steal away your customers. You may save some money on the surface by reducing your paid search ad budget  — but will that reduction in budget be overshadowed by the sales you may lose to competitors?

If you’re going to play in the paid search sandbox, be ready to pay “Google Tax”. As organic listings continue to get pushed below the fold, and as mobile search results continue to evolve, expect the tax to just keep going up.

Steve White
Founder & CEO, Clarivoy
Offering more than vanity metrics, Clarivoy is a marketing technology company delivering unified, unbiased intelligence. Clarivoy leverages your data so that you can know your consumers better, do more with your marketing and generate more sales.  Find the article here.