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.

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.

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.

A Full Campaign Strategy and its Importance in Reaching Today’s Customer

Every dealership wants to leverage their advertising strategy to reach the most customers and influence them for the best price.  Many dealers rely on agencies to help them achieve their sales goals and hire individuals within the dealership to oversee and monitor their advertising success.  But, do you have a full campaign strategy in place to reach those customers?  We previously discussed the 5 questions you should ask yourself when planning your advertising strategy for 2017, but what’s the value in creating a robust full campaign strategy?  You’ll reach more consumers more times and in more places.

What do we mean when we say ‘full campaign strategy?’  Essentially, we mean that you need to utilize a large mix of media – the likes of TV, radio, print, social, online display, online video, email, mobile, and even connected TV.

Consumers want to engage with you on their own terms.  In our connected world, that often times means that the bulk of your strategy should be in digital media to place your dealership and your brand where consumers can find it when they want – to engage with you 24/7.  Doing so reaches across demographics, not just the Millennial generation today.  When you’re utilizing digital properly, you gain a higher quality, more engaging audience because you can better analyze data on what consumers do online and with your brand.

Indeed, digital is also more affordable and provides you the reach you need to speak to your consumers.  When you advertise in traditional media, it’s often too expensive to reach the full audience you want as many times as you want.  This audience is also not guaranteed to be in-market and ready to buy car shoppers.  Digital does offer you the quality audience you seek and ability to target that audience with specific messages to consumers throughout the car buying and car servicing lifecycles.  In this case, buying digital banner ads on websites your audience frequents in your area or on third party sites like Cars.com that provide vehicle information, editorial content, and search capabilities yields better results for your buck.

But, when you advertise at the local level you can create a campaign that focuses less dollars on TV and radio and move them to digital that directs consumers to your digital properties supplemented by advertising on websites your target audience is known to visit.  Additionally, digital partners like Cars.com support that message and provide an extension of your brand from one medium to the other with the added integrity and trust of their brand.

That doesn’t mean that traditional media doesn’t have value when strategically used.  Indeed, broadcast or cable TV shows, sporting events, and games are great ways to keep your brand front and center.  Having a call to action to go online to engage with your brand is key – every medium can support the others.  To give you an example, starting out 2017, Cars.com is placing messaging in front of sports fans via NFL games where we will appear on in-game highlights, live streaming, and their online news being featured on the NFL mobile app.  Growing that messaging, Cars.com will appear on FOX Sports GO, Foxsports.com and FOX Sports Chatter.  Throughout this messaging, we’ll drive consumers to Cars.com to engage with our dealers and help consumers research vehicles, dealers, and vehicle service options.  This is a campaign blend of digital with traditional media to reach a large swath of consumers.

One key piece of a full campaign strategy is Social Media.  This allows you to be in a bit more control of your brand message and allows you to directly speak to your consumers.  A social media strategy can be as simple as sharing photos of customers who purchased their new car from you or announcing photo contests to sharing your latest sales at the dealership.  Social is also great for sharing experiences and reviews – both positive and negative – where you can show what your dealership stands for and the customer service you strive to provide.  You can supplement your social strategy with engaging consumers be creating an email campaign.

Cars.com is also taking advantage of one of the most newsworthy events of January, the NFL playoffs.  Cars.com will present five post-game/press conference videos and will be on both @NFLonFOX twitter and Facebook accounts furthering our brand presence – a strategy that any dealer or OEM can achieve either locally or nationally.

You’re most likely familiar with all of this, but what is connected TV?  You probably know what it is but don’t realize you do.  Connected TV includes devices like Apple TV, Roku, SmartTV, Xbox and Playstation.  These are phenomenal ways to reach younger, in-market Millennial car shoppers.  This brings us back to an engaged consumer.  Traditional commercials within a TV show can now be skipped, but for those tech savvy consumers who use a connected TV device, you still have the ability to reach them, engage with them, and drive them to your brand online.

This is a short intro into the need of a full campaign strategy to reach consumers, engage with your brand, and drive them to your lot.  Ask questions of your agencies to ensure your campaign is driving results for you the way you want because, again, you want to reach the most customers as many times as you can and where they will be. Be on the lookout for Cars.com when you’re catching upcoming NFL games in January.

Dealer Inventory High and Dry After Hurricane Matthew

Ever wonder what impact natural disasters have on car sales?  It’s a fairly specific thought, but it’s one that we can answer.  Below, we have a guest article from David Greene — Manager of Data Insights at Cars.com.  Here, David has analyzed Cars.com data from areas affected by Hurricane Matthew to better understand what impact natural disasters can have on the auto industry, dealerships, and consumer purchasing.  It’s food for thought when anticipating another hurricane for those in regions prone to these natural disasters and can help with future planning for their aftermath.

Impact of Hurricane Matthew on Dealer Inventory

Inventory challenges and a sales lull continue challenging dealers in designated market areas (DMAs) along the southeastern coast two months after Hurricane Matthew ravaged a thousand miles of coastline from the southern tip of Florida to Virginia on October 5th -9th, 2016.

 

 

An analysis of dealer inventory on Cars.com from this timeframe shows the flood of inventory dealers are faced with after Matthew for the five hardest-hit states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

As new cars have steadily piled up in the wake of a severe drop in consumer demand, dealers are flooded with new inventory two months after the storm. Dealers in affected areas collectively had 8 percent more new vehicles on Dec. 1 than Oct. 1., but many would-be shoppers opted or needed to delay a purchase.

Sourcing quality used inventory has left dealers dry after the storm. Used inventory declined 4 percent from the first of Oct. to Dec. in coastal DMAs, as storm damage and falling sales brought in fewer trades of clean used vehicles.

Black Friday Reins In Supply

Black Friday is notoriously effective for enticing shoppers and releasing pent-up demand. And car buyers did come out for the annual shopping event, which helped to finally break the rise in new inventory. OEMs further helped shoppers get into new vehicles with record-high OEM incentives of $3,741 per vehicle sold in November, nationally, according to Motor Intelligence/Autodata Corp.

Sales Dampened After the Storm

Sales of new and used vehicles fell 9.8 percent in coastal DMAs for the first 20 days of October vs September, or about twice the 4.8 percent sales slowdown for inland areas of those same five states. New vehicle sales decreased much more than used sales, both due to seasonal fluctuations in demand, as well as higher pricing of new cars.

New vehicle inventory has leveled off since Black Friday, while used inventory has increased modestly. Industry watchers and pundits are anticipating strong December sales nationally, bolstered by continued OEM incentives, and a good sales month can’t come soon enough for dealers along the coast that need to clear out inventory before the seasonal slowdown of January and February.

On the Lot: A Year Later — Go Cubs!

It’s hard to believe that our market leading On the Lot reporting has been around since August 2015 informing dealers of customers physically on their lot!  We at Cars.com want to congratulate the Chicago Cubs on their World Series win.  Take a look at our very first On the Lot report where we show Cars.com employees at Wrigley field.  Go Cubs!

wrigley

The Three A’s: Awareness-Assessment-Ask

The below guest blog was written by Brian Pasch – Founder of PCG Companies, Author, Keynote Speaker – and originally published on LinkedIn.

Your dealership should have a process in place that ensures that online reviews are posted consistently by your customers each month. The three A’s for success are: Awareness, Assessment, and Ask.

Awareness – If your dealership is having difficulty increasing the number of reviews on Google or third-party websites, you should first confirm that your team understands the influence and visibility of online reviews.  You should require that all employees read the 2016 PCG Auto Shopper Influence Study, which is available for download at: http://bit.ly/GetShopperStudy. It is critical that sales and service associates understand that online reviews will benefit them as well as the dealership.

Assessment – You need to measure your team’s enthusiasm about the dealership’s customer service experience. I know that this sounds like an odd question, but are your employees really proud of your showroom and service drive experience? Are there unresolved management issues that have created tension between managers and customer facing employees?

I have seen cases where dealership employees get bogged down in the few customer service hiccups that happen each month at the dealership. They develop tunnel vision which prevents them from seeing the bigger picture; the majority of your customers are happy. Make sure that you talk through any issues that would create psychological barriers for your staff to proudly ask a customer to write review.

Ask – If your team is proud of your dealership customer service experience, I would start focusing on training your team to ask for reviews in the service drive. The average dealership in the U.S. has seven times more consumer transactions per month in service than in sales.

Update Your Active Delivery Script

Your service advisers most likely already remind customers your manufacturer will be surveying their experience, which is often included in an active delivery process. Update your active delivery script with a few simple lines, that can go something like this for a customer named Jim:

Jim, in addition to the survey our manufacturer will send you, online reviews are very important to me. Local consumers, just like you, see online reviews when they search for our dealership.

Jim, since you told me that you had a great experience today, would you take one minute before you leave to post a review on Google or ___________ using your mobile phone for me?

If yes: Do you need me to show you how?

The blank represents any review website that you want to promote that month. You will always want to get more Google reviews because they are seen the most number of times each month.

Simple Changes Will Make A Big Difference

This simple addition to your active delivery script will help you jumpstart your online reviews. You must show your service advisors how to direct consumers on their mobile phone to write a review. The process is simple, but your employees have to be fast in helping the consumer get to the posting page.

When your customers post reviews, make sure that they are on their cellular network and not on the dealership’s Wi-Fi network.  You can also ask permission to text the customer a link to your review page(s). This will make it very easy for them to complete the review process.

Make sure that all sales and service associates are using this updated script. If they make this little change, you could become the highest rated dealership in your market. This will allow you to have a strong reputation marketing campaign to differentiate your dealership in a very competitive market.

Your Goal

Your dealership should have 300+ reviews on all major review platforms associated with the auto industry. Start with the websites that have the greatest visibility. Here are the top five places to start:

  • Google
  • DealerRater
  • Facebook
  • Cars.com
  • CarGurus.com

Yelp has always been a source of frustration with auto dealers. The company seems to hide authentic reviews from customers of auto dealerships. Your goal for Yelp should be to have a steady stream of reviews but they must come from active Yelpers. You can modify your active delivery script to inquire if a customer is active on Yelp. If they say yes, then they should review your dealership on Yelp before any other website.

Napkin Math: Understanding your SEO and AdWords Spend

Millions of dollars are spent annually on automotive online marketing, and Google AdWords represents almost 50 percent of that budget for franchise dealers.  But, how do you know if you’re making the most of your spend with Google AdWords or with SEO?  How do you know if putting more towards SEO and AdWords will bring more ready-to-buy auto shoppers to your website?  It’s a big decision, dealers most likely have to move money around, stop running radio ads or shift media investments if last click methods are the goal.  It’s hard to answer that question without the right education into SEO and the right reporting.  There is a simple way to figure it out, though, and dealers must take a hard look at the value of each component of their marketing campaign before moving money around.

There are a few things dealers can ask themselves to calculate the best ROI and to know where they should be spending their money and where they should NOT be spending their money.  First, dealers need to survey the landscape of their current marketing spend across all channels and review their marketing budget.  This includes everything they spend on marketing for their dealership; AdWords, retargeting, pre-roll, newspaper, radio, cable, social media, billboards, direct mail, team sponsorships, online radio, Facebook along with third party vendors like Cars.com and others.  This may seem a bit daunting at first looking at all media.  But, fully understanding the value of any one channel means a holistic view of the whole marketing spend is necessary to know where to make improvements.

Now, after looking at the whole marketing spend across all channels, ask ‘do the marketing goals align with the current marketing strategy and where messages are placed for the right target audience?’  Most dealers would agree that everything in a marketing campaign (radio, tv, Google AdWords, etc.) are designed to bring more in market auto shoppers to the dealership in some fashion.  This can be either physically on the lot or to the dealer’s website or to submit a lead.  The specific goals depend upon the dealers, but reviewing current marketing spend and where money is spent can shed light on any blind spots in the marketing strategy that need to be updated and or changed.  Goals must be aligned with the right media especially when determining if money needs shifted to optimize one or more goals that are falling short.

This is where taking a step back and analyzing the value of every medium against the total marketing spend can come in handy as compared to individual goals.  For instance, take a look at cost per VDP from third party vendors, like Cars.com, against last click-focused vendors like Google AdWords where the goal is to drive clicks to the dealer’s website.

Take this example of Napkin Math, for argument’s sake, let’s say a dealer has a monthly budget of $70,000 for all media for their marketing.  From this, calculate the monthly amount of spend for their third party vendors.  In this example, let’s say that number is $15,000.

Subtract the third party investment total ($15,000) from the total budget ($70,000).  The net budget allocated to drive traffic to the dealer’s website is $55,000.

napkin1

Next, take the budget to drive consumers to the dealer’s website ($55,000) and divide it by the total VDP views that the dealer received on their website for the previous full month.  This can often be obtained inside their website reporting dashboard.  This will give you the total advertising effectiveness to compare to third party sites, again like Cars.com. For this example, let’s say that the dealer received 15,000 VDP views for the previous month to their website.

Let’s assume that none of the dealer’s third party partners brought traffic to their website.  All 15,000 VDPs were driven by first party marketing strategies.  Let’s continue to assume all 15,000 VDPs did exactly what the dealer wanted them to do and viewed their inventory.

In this example, that means the dealer is paying $3.66 for their first party campaigns to connect their inventory with in market auto shoppers.  Meanwhile, dealers can make another calculation looking at specific third party partners like Cars.com.

In another example, if the dealer is paying $4,100 dollars per month with Cars.com and looking at the previous full month’s VDPs of 6,500, in this example, that’s roughly .63 cents per VDP.  Comparing these two cost per VDPs numbers, the dealer is spending a little less than 6 times more per VDP with first party marketing channels compared to the likes of Cars.com.

napkin2

Furthermore, with Cars.com’s audience influencing 36 percent of all vehicle sales in 2015² and seeing an average of 30 million visits³ each month of ready-to-buy in market auto shoppers, it’s a compelling case to continue investing with Cars.com versus moving money and putting that towards SEO or Google AdWords.

If dealers are actively considering moving money from third party ad spend with the likes of Cars.com or others, this is a great exercise to look at where their ROI is being placed to make sure the right audience is reached.  Why wouldn’t dealers want to be where quality in market auto shoppers go to connect with dealer inventory³ for .63 cents per VDP?  Add to that an average of 16 million⁴ of Cars.com’s monthly visits are from quality shoppers on mobile phones with 68 percent returning to Cars.com within 10 days to continue researching, it’s a convincing argument⁵.

Before firing lowest cost third party partners that connect vehicle inventory with this audience, perhaps they should identify the cost per VDP of all marketing channels and eliminate some of the highest costing media that have a less quality in market audience.

[1] Dealer Deployment of Google AdWords, PCG Research, August 2016
[2] Oracle Data Cloud, March 2016
[3] Cars.com Site Data, May 2016
[4] Cars.com internal data, May 2016
[5] Cars.com Behavioral Analytics on Mobile Study, April 2016