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.

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.

A Car Shopper’s Buying Process – CPO Journey

We’ve said it before, car shoppers show up on the lot with a myriad of knowledge and expectations and at different stages in the car buying process.  Here, we are laying out the key needs, thoughts, and buying triggers of consumers who are considering purchasing a Certified Pre-owned vehicle.  If you’re able to identify consumers who show up on the lot as CPO shoppers, knowing some of the content in the infographic found here can better help you answer their questions, ease their hesitations, and better influence a purchase from you.  Click the link to download the PDF.

CPO Shopper Journey

 

cpojourneyimage

The Three Types of Walk-Ins: Infographic

A vehicle purchase is an important and exciting decision for car shoppers.  Not every car shopper walks onto the lot with the same mindset.  They walk in with different levels of knowledge and research they’ve gathered online or from friends and family.  Considering what drives car shoppers to the lot will better help you understand how to help them and influence them towards their ultimate goal – purchasing a vehicle from you.  Here are the three types of mindsets car shoppers are in when they walk into a dealership and the needs you can address to better serve them.

The Three Types of Walk-Ins Infographic

mindsets

Voice of the Consumer: October Insights

Every month, we reach out to visitors of Cars.com for insights into their experiences.  These insights help us at Cars.com stay connected to consumers to ensure we are always in tune with their wants and needs and can better improve results for dealers.

We consistently ask Cars.Com visitors what their top suggestions are for improving their visit as well as what the reason is for their visit.  A key suggestion over the past six months was that of requiring multiple pictures and all vehicle specifications to be filled out on VDPs so the consumer can be fully informed of vehicle offerings¹.  Ever since we began receiving this feedback, we have worked with dealers to fully fill out all merchandising on their vehicles and include interior and exterior photos.  However, in October we saw fewer suggestions asking for this, which we think is likely driven by dealers acting on this feedback, which is always to their benefit.

Another key takeaway is the stock type searched as well as consumer behavior for searching for that stock type.  The majority of visitors who are looking for cars for sale are coming to Cars.com to look for used inventory (83%) and are researching car pricing (55%) and comparing cars (54%) in which they are interested¹.

This is interesting when considering the current state of the consumers shopping journey.  Over half of consumers in their initial vehicle research or shopping phases are considering a used vehicle².  As they progress through the shopping process, they go back and forth between consideration of new and used vehicles².  This leaves opportunity for dealers to get to know consumers when they show on the lot to research, learn more, or test drive a vehicle.  Asking questions surrounding their consideration set can help dealers influence car shoppers.

In this same study, we found that a third of car shoppers ended up actually purchasing a used vehicle – down from over half².  So, while consumers initially search for used inventory, shoppers tend to buy up with new vehicle consideration increasing as shoppers move closer to purchase — half of used car shoppers consider CPO².

We also want to take a look at what consumers think about service and repair, and how they are choosing to engage with Cars.com on the subject.  In the below graph (Figure 1), we can see that consumers were mostly looking for reviews and price estimates of repairs.  Respondents looking for diagnostic repair codes increased by 10 percent over September 2016, while those looking for maintenance schedules and time estimates decreased by 10 percent month over month¹.

Figure 1. Voice of the Consumer, Cars.com, October 2016

Considering the features used most by consumers who are engaging with Service & Repair content is important as a lot of repeat business to dealerships come from the service lane — most service department customers have past experiences with the dealership where they originally purchased².

While this is positive to hear, growing the service lane is a great step in encouraging customer loyalty – an important consideration for consumers when they purchase a vehicle as they know servicing their vehicle will inevitably happen.

Encouraging this loyalty can be done by learning the barriers consumers must bust through to consider servicing their vehicle at the dealership.  This could be done by dispelling myths about the cost of repairs, the time necessary to have a repair completed, the transparency of the work done, and the quality of customer service³.  Addressing any concerns car shoppers have at the point of sale in regard to service can greatly benefit customer loyalty and reinforce their commitment to a specific dealership.

The voice of the consumer is important.  We want to provide them with the tools necessary to make an informed vehicle purchase and, in turn, provide dealers with the means to reach our audience and give car shoppers the experience they desire.  It’s understanding their wants and needs and where they are in their car shopping journey that isn’t always clear.  But, that means we will work harder to make it easier not just for car shoppers to find the right vehicle, but also for dealers to connect with car shoppers.

[1] Voice of the Consumer, Cars.com, October 2016
[2] Dealer Walk-Ins Analysis, Cars.com, March 2016
[3] Dealership Action Report, DealerSocket, October 2016

Importance of Mobile: Infographic

Check out our latest infographic on the importance of mobile – what consumers do on a dealer’s lot and some of the predictive indicators that they will show up on the lot.  Click to view in full.

mobileinfographic

mobileinfographic1

mobileinfographic2

Consumer Insights: 3 Easy Ways to Enhance Used Car Listings

 

An average of 30 million consumers visit Cars.com every month¹. While some consumers are looking to sell their car or researching the value of their car, about 9 out of 10 are looking at cars for sale.  Most of those shoppers (84%) are looking at used vehicles².

With so much consumer traffic on used car listings, dealers need to make sure their vehicles are in the best position to attract these shoppers. Leveraging our monthly consumer satisfaction, Cars.com has identified some merchandising tips to win with used car shoppers.

Consumers have consistently told us that they look at listings with as much detail as possible, including pictures. Here are a few easy ways to enhance your listings with more information:

Include multiple pictures of the exterior and interior
Vehicle photos are the first opportunity to draw attention to your inventory on an SRP – your first impression.  Knowing that photos are what draws a consumer in to a VDP, keeping them interested enough to read through the vehicle specs and information is the next step.  But, to get consumers to read through, they need to fall for the car and that means showing them every angle both inside and out to allow the consumer to picture themselves in the vehicle.  High quality pictures showing the consumer what it’s like to be inside the car, driving the car, and even what they would look like from the outside can hook them.

Include complete and accurate vehicle specs and prices
Once the consumer has enough investment to click into a VDP based on images and some specs from the SRP, they’ll want to read more.  It is important to note that consumers will often skip over listings that seem incomplete to them even if there are enough photos.  Providing all the necessary information on the vehicle specs leaving no questions unanswered in the consumer’s mind is a good rule of thumb.

If they feel satisfied that they’ve been fed enough information on the vehicle, this could drive more leads.  Of course, there is the old thought that leaving out some content could drive more leads by forcing the consumer to contact the dealer for more information, but given today’s fast paced online marketplace, if you don’t inform the consumer, they may go elsewhere.  Including all information on a vehicle is the best bet.

For used cars, have a free CarFax report attached if possible
Nowadays, there are more opportunities to learn the history of a vehicle before purchase.  Providing the likes of a CarFax on a specific vehicle’s VDP could up your chances of turning inventory.  Doing so can provide a sense of security in not only inquiring on a vehicle by sending a lead, but for purchase as well.  It can only help.

Consumers will often skip over listings that seem incomplete, appear too good to be true, or only include stock images.   When considering one’s own online shopping behavior on, say, Amazon, it’s not surprising to skip over products with one image, a lack of product information, or with few reviews or a majority of negative reviews.  This is what happens to vehicles listed online when they are merchandised poorly.

Consumers want to read about the features of the vehicle, see the vehicle they are interested in from every angle, and learn about the vehicle history when considering a used vehicle.  It’s understandable, then that these are the top areas of interest for consumers when shopping online for vehicles.

Along these same lines, our Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study found that 8 out of 10 Cars.com consumers plan to purchase or lease in the next 6 months as of September 2016³.  Knowing that industry trends are suggesting a drop in New car sales over the next couple of years⁴, these suggestions might seem simple, but including these details could make a huge difference in turning used inventory.

Dealers need to make sure their inventory isn’t ignored.  With consumers’ ability to do so much of their shopping research online and with vehicle listing details having such a strong influence on their decision, it’s important to include as much detail as possible to fully inform them across all online vehicle listingsIf a goal is to get the consumer in person on the lot or to submit an email lead, proper merchandising can be a driver to accomplish this when they online shop.

The effort put into turning a vehicle can pay off in spades when good merchandising is made a habit instead of a chore.  With the right information, vehicle listings have a better chance at attracting the eyes of the millions of consumers looking at cars for sale.

[1] Cars.com Site Data, May 2016
[2] Cars.com Consumer Satisfaction Survey, September 2016
[3] Cars.com Consumer Metrics Study, September 2016
[4] 2016 Auto Outlook: The Thinning of the Media Pack, Borrell Associates, 2016

The Case Against ALL CAPS: No-Nonsense Advice for Writing Vehicle Comments (and Other Dealership Content)

Automotive Merchandising Tips, Automotive Marketing

When writing vehicle comments, pages for your website and other dealership-related content, it’s easy to get swept up by formatting gimmicks that (in theory) draw attention to your words.

The car business is competitive, and it’s understandable to think that extra characters, added punctuation and constant capitalization might provide a leg up on local rivals. But the best approach in writing is usually the simplest. Car shoppers are searching for a dealership they can trust, and that starts with clear, straightforward communication.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you grip the keyboard to hammer out a few lines of copy to promote your store.

Ease Up On the Shift Key

You wouldn’t introduce yourself to a new client by yelling at him or her, would you? That’s exactly what if feels like when you start a sentence in ALL CAPS. If you’re using this tactic at your dealership, let the shift key go.

Aside from coming across as rude to potential customers, using solely uppercase letters in copy makes your writing more difficult to read and confuses your message.

See for yourself:

On top of its standard family-friendly features, the new Grand Caravan offers a host of optional amenities, from heated seats to a Blu-Ray entertainment package, sure to make any road trip a breeze.

ON TOP OF ITS STANDARD FAMILY-FRIENDLY FEATURES, THE NEW GRAND CARAVAN OFFERS A HOST OF OPTIONAL AMENITIES, FROM HEATED SEATS TO A BLUE-RAY ENTERTAINMENT PACKAGE, SURE TO MAKE ANY ROAD TRIP A BREEZE.

When in doubt, stick to standard sentence case and use extended capitalization sparingly.

Ditch Extra Punctuation

Exaggerated punctuation, such as exclamation points, asterisks and misplaced dollar signs, can be jarring for consumers to read. More importantly, those ancillary characters don’t do anything to communicate the actual value your dealership provides. Because car shoppers are both skeptical and judicious with their trust, stay away from ornamented phrases like this: “**COME IN FOR A TEST DRIVE NOW!!!**

Instead, find ways to highlight the benefits of your dealership using common language that will resonate with shoppers in your area.

Example: Treat yourself to a complimentary latte before test driving the all-new Chrysler 300 with one of our helpful vehicle consultants.

Focus on Structure

If you want to emphasize a specific point, use design elements rather than punctuation. This means using headlines to segment ideas, adding line breaks to draw attention to standalone sentences and bringing in subtle graphics like text boxes and lines to section off content. Doing so will drastically increase the readability of whatever you produce and give you more control over your message.

As a rule of thumb, when you create a new piece of collateral (e.g., email template, web page, mailer, etc.), have someone else on your team read it before sending it to customers. Ask what sections they’re drawn to most and adjust the visual hierarchy accordingly. Be sure your prospects are focused on what’s most important.

This same best practice applies when an outside marketing partner designs your materials.

Highlight Customer Benefits

Why should a car shopper visit your dealership instead of the dealership down the road? Hint: It’s not because you’ve got blue Chevrolets.

A laundry list of vehicle features and dealership amenities doesn’t fully speak to your “why buy” message because it only communicates information, not value. Rather than only stating the facts, strive to share how working with your dealership will improve the lives of your customers.

For example, tout how customers will have peace of mind thanks to your dealership’s superior warranty; highlight how busy families will never need to miss work or little league practice because of your store’s complimentary loaner service; showcase how every new vehicle purchase supports a local philanthropy your dealership has partnered and why that’s important.

By focusing on these guiding principles, you can tighten up your copy and begin strengthening relationships with customers.

Still looking for tips to hone your automotive writing chops? Read our related blog post, 4 Easy Steps to Writing an Effective Call to Action.