In the coming months, car dealers will be gaining even more exposure for their consumer reviews. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and AutoTrader.com are both in the process of creating separate platforms that will pull dealer reviews from popular automotive review sites.
Kelley Blue Book intends to nationally launch a “Dealer Ratings” tab in the fourth quarter of this year. The company is testing a hyperlink on dealer pages that will direct visitors to each store’s DealerRater.com review page. In the national deployment, the links will extend to the review site of the dealer’s choice.
“We want dealers to be able to put their best foot forward and not have to manage another platform that we develop, and we know it’s incredibly important to consumers as they think about making a purchase decision,” says Jared Rowe, president of Kelley Blue Book.
Wheels in Motion
Rowe says the company’s research over the past 18 months shows customers “wanted to better understand how other consumers thought about the dealers that they were interested in forming a relationship with.” DealerRater was chosen as the temporary landing spot for KBB’s links because of the sheer volume of dealers connected to the site, KBB officials say.
DealerRater COO Jamie Oldershaw says KBB’s decision to offer an outlet that prominently features a place to view testimonials will ultimately work to the benefit of consumers. “Car dealer reviews are an increasingly critical influencer of consumer vehicle purchasing behavior and a core competency of DealerRater,” he says. “We look forward to continuing to work with KBB as a preferred partner to further support the national rollout.”
Also in the works is a new version of dealer reviews from AutoTrader.com; however, officials aren’t divulging details. “We currently have a solution where dealers can link to the dealer review site of their choice,” says a company spokesperson. “We do have plans for an enhanced dealer rating solution, but at this point don’t have any additional information to share as we are still working through the plans.
“We believe that dealer ratings are a valuable part of the consumer shopping process and a great tool for dealers to manage their reputation.”
Sandy Schwartz, AutoTrader Group president, told Automotive News the ratings system will likely combine popular ratings from various sources to generate an average star rating. Further details on the new feature won’t be revealed until 2014, the company spokesperson says.
Barbara Mousigian, Cars.com’s vice president of product, approves of the sites’ strategies to provide consumers with reviews. She says the company has learned the important role they play since the site launched its Dealer Reviews feature in early 2011.
“Car shoppers spend a considerable amount of time and consult many sources leading up to a purchase, and for good reason — 92 percent of visitors to our site haven’t decided on a make or model, and 94 percent haven’t chosen a dealership,” she says. “Any feature that helps build the confidence shoppers need to make those decisions is a good thing for consumers, and for dealers.”
Seth Berkowitz, president and COO of Edmunds, also recognizes that AutoTrader has come to the point where consumers are demanding feedback, calling the move “smart thinking.”
“Their approach to meld the ratings from different places makes sense, assuming they could come up with some meaningful way to really be descriptive and offer that data,” he says. “I’ve noticed a lot of fatigue out there from dealers at this point; it’s yet another problem or cost for them to manage. So I think if AutoTrader had a process where people had to fill out reviews that would just be adding potentially more work for the dealerships than they’re doing today.”
Dealers have shown an increasing willingness to invest in the management of reviews. The market is demanding a presence on social media sites, and many dealers rely on positive reviews to maintain a competitive edge.
The growth in consumer reliance on reviews was reinforced by recent litigation brought by Edmunds and Yelp. The sites sued two separate third-party online reputation management companies for allegedly creating reviews paid for by businesses. Edmunds claimed that the Texas-based online reputation company Humankind Design Ltd., parent company of GlowingReviews.co, had created more than 2,000 fake accounts and posted at least 76 fraudulent reviews on behalf of 25 dealerships across the country.
The parties have since settled the suit outside of court. In the settlement, the marketing firm agreed to a permanent injunction and to divulge details of its business operations to Edmunds. “We asked for some other information so we could understand better how their business works, because this may not be the only company we need to go after,” says Ken Levin, general counsel for Edmunds.
Meanwhile, Yelp officials say they are still awaiting a response to their lawsuit against BuyYelpReview.com and AdBlaze.net. The suit charges the companies and their owner, Timothy Catron, with directly harming Yelp’s credibility. In September, Yelp filed a second suit against the San Diego-based McMillan Law Group for reportedly asking employees to pose as clients and write reviews for the firm’s Yelp page.
“There’s been a steadfast emphasis [at Yelp] on protecting consumers and making sure that, at the end of the day, the stuff you read on Yelp is a pretty darn good predictor of what your offline experience is going to be,” says Luther Lowe, Yelp’s director of public policy. “If you don’t have that core piece of it, then people are not going to come back to your site and use it as a resource.”
More With Edmunds President and COO Seth Berkowitz
ADM: Edmunds launched “PricePromise” earlier this year. What has the response been like so far?
Berkowitz: [As of] last month, well over 1,000 dealers are now on the program, and we are very much on track to hit our goal of 2,000 dealers by the time the year’s done. Dealer results are coming in, and we’ve actually seen an increase in closing ratios north of 15 percent within a 15-mile radius, so we’re excited about the fact that we’re attracting a new type of consumer that’s looking for a guaranteed, locked-in price and is more likely to buy as a result from a local dealer. We’ve been doing a data survey that shows 73 percent of consumers say they’re highly satisfied with the experience and that they find the pricing to be competitive.
ADM: With a product like PricePromise, the end goal is to make customers more comfortable. How does Edmunds work to accommodate both consumers and dealers?
Berkowitz: Our general view is that our role could be helping to restore and add trust between consumers and dealers. And this is the perfect product to do it, because, essentially, a dealer is providing a guarantee with this preset, locked-in price. By honoring it and the consumer being able to print this out from the comfort of their home and then be able to redeem it, I think it is actually a trust builder.
That’s actually what we’re trying to do in terms of all of our product development: look for areas of common interest of consumers and dealers, and try to emphasize those rather than areas of potential tension just to try to take the stress out of the process and improve things for our customers and partners.
ADM: What other products — balancing common interest for consumers and your dealer clients — is Edmunds focusing on?
Berkowitz: We’re building out the Promise Suite, and the next product is going to be LeasePromise. We’re in the midst of testing it with a number of dealers — the concept of providing pre-negotiated, pre-approved lease prices online. So you’d bring in your certificate and that lease would be honored in the same manner as PricePromise. We have three waves of pilots, but the hope is to launch the product in the December timeframe.