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Autotrader vs Cars.com Value comparison

Discussion in 'Marketing Gripes' started by Rob, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. Rob

    Rob Noob

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    My dealership lists our inventory on both Cars.com and Autotrader. Autotrader costs more, of course, which would be fine... if it delivered more value.

    The problem is that it doesn't.

    Throughout the entire year of 2011, an Autotrader SRP cost me over twice as much as a Cars.com SRP.

    Worse, an Autotrader VDP cost me 4 times as much as a Cars.com VDP.

    This, of course, has me thinking long and hard about dropping Autotrader to spend that money elsewhere more wisely. Has anyone else done a similar SRP / VDP cost / value comparison between The Big Two?
  2. ddavis

    ddavis Sr. Refresher

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    Rob, I'm familiar with your store being in Dallas. I have always had good results with AutoTrader. The ROI was always good with Cars because it is cheaper.
    The customer gets a lot more information on AutoTrader than Cars. The area on the SRP is larger. I looked at a couple of vehicles that you had on AutoTrader. One was a used Town and Country Touring. There was a cheaper LX above you. Your description is: Shopping should be FUN and at IPAC it is. You are considering making a big purchase and we understand and want to make the process as smooth as possible. We are here to provide all the information you may need to make the best purchase for you and... I would suggest that more people will click on this if it sell the car instead of the dealership.
    With the cheaper vehicle above you, the first few lines should state the features that separate it from the LX: Beautiful leather Interior, power passenger doors, stow & go etc.
    The same is true with new vehicles. You don't have any descriptions on them. Seeing how your vehicles are well priced, I believe that if you add descriptions, you will see better results.
  3. Rob

    Rob Noob

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    Thanks for the feedback. Over the years, I've gone back and forth with writing custom comments and not. Though I see the theoretical value of writing great comments, what I've never seen is an actual increase in VDP's, emails, phone calls, or trackable sales. Given the time investment... I can't make sense out of writing them.

    On Autotrader we don't pay for a new car package, so we just have the free listings. In the past we've been both Featured and Premium on the new car side, with zero results to show for the big bill each month.

    One question - if the SRP area is larger with AT than with CC, any idea why I get a drastically higher number of SRP's on Cars.com? Cars.com delivers more SRP's, more VDP's (by a huge percentage,) more leads, and more trackable sales, at least for me.
  4. ddavis

    ddavis Sr. Refresher

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    Rob, I didn't notice if the new car listings were premium or not. I did notice that you topped the list (best price). There may not be any premium dealers in that category.
    Cars.com doesn't give you the space to write a description. I had a library of descriptions for my new cars. I wrote custom descriptions for each used car. It was time consuming. I have had months where we led the Metroplex with VDPs from AutoTrader. This was a single point Nissan store.
  5. ajholland

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    Unless it has changed, SRP's are always higher on Cars.com reporting because they report every time you come up in a search, even if you are on page 10 and the customer doesn't get that far. ATC only reports an SRP if the customer gets to the page your vehicle is listed on. I'm not sure of your market, but a lot could depend on your program and the program your competitors are on. If you are aggressively priced, you may get great results from Cars.com. However, on ATC, you may be aggressively priced but could be buried behind Premium dealers. If this is the case, you may want to look at the potential ROI of bumping up to a Premium program to see if it's a good fit.

    Also, what about the non-trackable results? Do you have any type of exit survey..you never know, in your area ATC might blow away Cars.com with walk-ins.
  6. ajholland

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    For what it's worth, we cancelled Cars.com about 1 1/2 years ago, kept ATC and haven't looked back.
  7. Ryan Thompson

    Ryan Thompson Sr. Refresher

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    This thread could be turned into an E-Book. DealerRefresh at it's best!! really enjoying these different perspectives. I wouldn't even call this an AT vs Cars.com discussion. It is now "Advertising on 3rd party sites - Best Practices".
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  8. jscole86

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    [FONT=Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif]About 4 months ago, I was told about a difference of how ATC and cars.com calculates an SRP from our reps... Say you are searching and pull up an SRP, then click on a details page, and then click back to the SRP, cars.com will count this as 2 SRP's, where ATC counts this as 1 SRP because the consumer simply went back to the last page. That might be 1 reason why there is a distinct difference in SRP counts. We are actually in the same boat in that our cost per vdp is 3 times less for cars.com, but we also pay 3 times less than ATC... We get more results as a whole with ATC though between the walk in traffic, the referral traffic to our dealer site, and phone ups.
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  9. ddavis

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    jscole86, You are correct. Remember also that Cars.com lists more vehicles on a page than AutoTrader. As long as you are on a page that contains your car, you get credit for a SRP.

    Internet customers are greedy for information. They tend to click through to your website, searching for more information. If they click through to your website, from AutoTrader, you will think that your website was the source.
  10. JQuinn

    JQuinn Super Moderator

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    Didn't we just have this discussion? I remember there was some convincing evidence that the Cars.com SRP counts as described here were nothing more than rumor and false -- the only definable SRP truth was that Cars has more results on the page.
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  11. Ryan Leslie

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    One other consideration here is the lifecycle of a lead. The ZMOT study gave a surprisingly high number of 10+ sites a consumer will frequent pre-purchase. I would guess that the cost of a car would push this purchase to the high end of that scale too. I'm not advocating for you to keep both necessarily based on that data, but I do think that it probably isn't as simple as the two data points you've pulled. I think AJ and Doug are right on the differences in how these metrics are tracked on each site and that needs to be a part of your decision making process too.

    This may be crude, but there is no consummation without an introduction. Is the last site they spent time on the most important one in the buying process? Say I spent 30 minutes reading seller's notes, studying pictures, comparing your car to another dealer's, and reading reviews from experts about that model and then closed down the browser at 11pm to reboot. Rather than go back to the classified site I just google your dealer name for your phone number and called the tracking number on your website in the morning. Does your site get credit for the lead or does the classified site?

    You may be doing this already, but if not I'd suggest a simple one page survey that asks the customer which sites they did their research on to "help you advertise wisely and keep costs low." Present this towards the end of the cycle and use logos, not names, as that will help them with recall too. I'd even include some sources that you aren't doing as a control. If somebody says they saw you in the paper and you haven't run an ad in 5 yrs you know what you got. I think this will give you much better data to work with than "What brought you in today?" during the greeting.

    Hope this helps in some way.

    +

    Loose tie here but I'm going to gripe for a minute. As great as the ZMOT study was, did anyone else notice that the survey accepted data from purchasers up to 2 years prior? Really? Every other industry was a max of 6 months and some were restricted to within 2 weeks of purchase. The Polk study from a few years ago had a similarly long lapse from purchase to data collection. I'd sure like to see a REAL behavioral study that tracked usage and research through a purchase cycle with hard data instead of a guesstimate as to what a consumer did or didn't look at 2 yrs ago while shopping for a car. Maybe I'm losing it, but I can't remember what sites I researched my wife's Christmas gift on and that was just 2 weeks ago. If asked I'd simply rattle off the top 3 or 4 I use most frequently, but I would not take a bet on my own accuracy to Vegas next month... I know there are folks trying to solve for this, but a hard data behavioral study would sure make this easier.
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  12. ddavis

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    Ryan, prior to the internet people would enter the market and purchase within 72 hours. Now, 92% spend 18 to 19 hours doing research. Over what period of time is this done? Could it be done in a single week? Is it different between new and used car buyers? I know that it is different between men and women. One trip to the mall, with your wife, and you learn that they shop differently.
    How deep is the sales funnel and where is the customer, in the funnel? If I see a lead from a manufacturer website, I tend to think they are at the top. KBB or Edmunds might put them in the middle. Third party or my own website puts them at the bottom. I would love to see the data but does it really matter? If we are not following up with customers at least 90 days, we are missing business.
  13. flosho

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    I don't remember that tidbit, but we did just cover a thread on this.


    I just checked both accounts:

    Cars: 2299 SRP, 125 VDP
    ATC: 2352 SRP, 45 VDP

    ATC is lower than normal,but, unless cars.com is fabricating their DPV, I am not concerned about how many SRP (or if the SRP # is inflated) they put out. I still get nearly 3 times the views.

    We only have 26 cars in stock, and we have high quality pictures and custom descriptions for every vehicle.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2012
  14. Ryan Leslie

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    They shop the same, but they actually BUY things at the end of their shopping... ;)

    I totally agree with you about follow up being necessary and even agree with the generalization that a form lead captured on a research site is weeks if not months out and Cars/ATC and the dealer site are ready now. The stimulus for the contact is usually a specific piece of inventory.

    The data does matter. Here is the problem Rob and all other dealers have to solve for in the internet marketing era BEFORE cutting budget lines. As the medium grows and matures we are quickly discovering that our ROI calculations are often dreadfully wrong. Look at CPC on a banner ad for example. There was a time not too long ago that we thought you could measure effectiveness by cost per click alone. We've since learned that may be the worst way to determine real value. There are just a ton of other KPI's to consider.

    This response is getting long already, but I was trying to get at the need to figure out what sources are influencing the purchase while a prospect bounces their way to the bottom of the funnel, NOT just the last trackable actions they took. I was tracked as a website sale on my last purchase, but I sourced the car I wanted through a classified site and never would have gone to the dealer's site if I hadn't been introduced to them on the classified site. I did exactly what I wrote as an example.

    I guess what I'm saying is really just the ZMOT concept. The influencing sources during the search and research are equally as important as the lead submission source.

    Now how does that fit into cost per SRP difference between ATC and Cars? It may not, but the tracking survey I was talking about may show you that cost per SRP shouldn't be weighted very heavily in your formula for the real value of that source.
  15. Shawn Morse

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    Rob in a few weeks you will be able to see detailed reporting on your lead source ROI in your new CRM system. Give me a call after training and I will help you setup some detailed reporting that will hopefully give you some more insight into what each lead, appointment, and sale cost for each source.
  16. Rob

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    See that's what I'm saying. Even if there's some weird juicing going on with the SRP's, the VDP's are still out of whack. Four times the cost per VDP is a really tough sell, especially when it's over a year rather than just an odd month.
  17. Rob

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    This is tough for me to make sense of. Even if we ignore SRP's to focus on VDP's, Cars.com is currently outperforming AT by 4x. Going to Premium on Autotrader would increase my cost significantly — double? I'm not sure. But it would have to perform 8 times better than Cars.com currently does for it to be a similar value. I'm not at all confident that would be the case.
  18. jssimonton

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    Just did this analysis for two stores with over 400 used vehicles. Cost per sold of just over $400 for each. Tack in a decent number of walk-in customers not tracked correctly and this starts to sound good for both vendors. Yes, they track stats differently, list vehicles differently and charge differently, but the results in mid-Michigan seem proportional. This does seem to vary a great deal by geography.
  19. Dayna Wright

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    We have the same problem w/ AT, & when we tell them that we don't sell many leads from them in comparison to Cars.com, of course they say "look at how many people clicked on your map & directions" as if they are driving a ton of people to our website that we cannot track. We now have a new website provider that gives us Google Analytics & now we can track who's driving traffic to our website & I can tell you that our free Craigslist posting's drive 10 x's the traffic to our site vs AT. We recently told AT that we were considering drastically reducing our plan or canceling all together & they asked if they could hire a 3rd party company to call all of our sold customers from the past 3 months to source them. The 3rd party sent me the actual recorded calls & it doesn't look good for AT. Most of the customers that said they were on Autotrader said they got to our website a different way & that it was our website that influenced their purchasing decision. I believe once we cancle w/ them, we won't look back. I will also say to be fair, in our market we are a very reputable dealer & we have a lot of referrals so, a lot of our customers are looking for us.
  20. ddavis

    ddavis Sr. Refresher

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    On the manufacturers sites, they are not looking a specific vehicles but on AutoTrader, Cars.com and individual websites, they are.

    SRPs tell you if your vehicles are desirable. I'm unique in being part of the decision process. Most Internet Directors have to work with what they get. Obviously, having desirable vehicles is important but until they click on one of your cars, you have accomplished: Nada, Zero, Zip. VDPs sell cars and justify your expenditure.

    Is it just market area? Why have I always sold cars through AutoTrader and Cars.com with a great ROI? I'm in a new market and with a different franchise. We will see.

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