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Trends and Tips on Car Shopping Behavior and Customer Feedback Revealed in New Cars.com Study

Domination in the auto industry requires constant innovation, high-caliber salesmanship, and a deep commitment to excellence in the customer experience.

The year 2014 proved to be record-breaking for many car dealerships, raising the bar for 2015 in ways that we have never seen before. Added to increased sales, we are now witnessing a return to larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles as a result of the decreased costs of fuel.

If you are a car dealership marketer, then your 2015 strategy demands fluidity and adaptability. While your goals can be set in stone, your means to achieve marketing objectives need to be extra flexible, and your reaction to market changes must demonstrate superior agility and responsiveness. As a dealership marketer, you are probably already enjoying the many interactive benefits of Cars.com, one of the most popular sites for both automotive reviews and early-stage online car shopping.

A Guide for Automotive Businesses and Car Dealerships: Getting Started on Managing Your Online Reviews

Don’t Overlook Service-Based Revenues (Take a Look at RepairPal Badge)

We have yet to overcome behavioral patterns resulting from the economic downturn. This includes car owners keeping their vehicles longer, and opting for used instead of new. In fact, according to Experian Automotive Survey, at least 86 percent of cars on the road are no longer under manufacturer’s guarantee.

With the guarantee no longer in place, car owners are very unlikely to opt for dealership-based service or repairs due to being skeptical of the prices associated with said services, in comparison to other options available in the marketplace. Dealers are losing service revenue of 60 to 78 percent on three- to six-year-old vehicles, and 82 to 92 percent on vehicles that are seven years or older.

Reversing this trend is key to a successful 2015, and Cars.com has just introduced a program to help dealerships correct this problem. In early January, Cars.com unveiled its first program aimed to help recognize excellence in service departments. RepairPal Certified is a badge for qualified franchise dealerships with service departments that have been deemed trustworthy. The badge gives consumers the peace of mind of knowing that a RepairPal Certified service department has strong customer-satisfaction scores, fair pricing policies, qualified technicians, and strong guarantees supporting their work.

Alex Vetter, CEO of Cars.com, expressed his enthusiasm about this new batch: “We’re excited to launch RepairPal Certified for franchise dealers and help them take back their service business. We’ve always dedicated ourselves to building a trusted platform for car shoppers, and consumers have come to rely on us at all stages of the buying process. Now our goal is to transform the service and repair category by providing much-needed resources for car owners seeking help and advice when it comes to maintaining their vehicles, and for dealerships looking to boost their service business and regain their market share from national service chains.”

Similar to the TripAdvisor certificate of excellence, the RepairPal badge will give shoppers the added assurance to move forward and select a franchise-based service department in lieu of another local option. Having this badge will without a doubt be useful in introducing car owners to your service department and expanding your wallet share in the repair and maintenance market segment.

For your dealership to qualify for this badge, the service and repairs department will have to complete an evaluation every 90 days, addressing four specific business aspects: technical evaluation, minimum warranty, customer satisfaction, and price guarantee.

For a dealership to receive a RepairPal badge, it must have OEM-certified technicians on staff, at least a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty, a minimum number of Cars.com service reviews with an overall 4-star rating in sales or service, and the pricing structure must be within the RepairPal Estimator.

If your dealership qualifies for the RepairPal badge, then Cars.com encourages you to use the badge on your website as well as offline marketing materials. A properly managed and well-promoted service department will not only increase your overall revenue but also be useful in persuading potential buyers to do business with your dealership, with the confidence that your dealership will be with them at every stage of the vehicle’s life cycle.

Note that RepairPal is currently available only in selected markets, but it absolutely makes sense to begin setting the stage to qualify for your RepairPal badge. Work on reviewing your staff certifications, ensure that you are getting excellent consumer reviews, and evaluate your current guarantee policies. By setting the stage for immediate qualification, you could potentially be the first in your market to have a RepairPal badge, gaining a significant competitive advantage over other dealerships.

Leverage Your Reviews Through Email Marketing Highlights

Email marketing for automotive dealerships enforces brand familiarity and maintains a connection between your dealership and your current and potential customers. If you already have a newsletter highlighting new models and their features, sales, and financing promotions, then why not include review highlights?

By sharing positive reviews, you reinforce brand confidence and trustworthiness, setting the stage for repeat business and even referrals. Spend time identifying your best product and experience reviews, and incorporate them in the narrative of your newsletter.

Use this opportunity to also ask your email recipients to review your dealership. Cars.com encourages review solicitation and applauds dealerships for their creative efforts. Many even offer sweepstakes entries as an additional value-add to get a higher response rate when it comes to review generation. Your newsletter, when crafted with confidence-boosting tidbits, is a fantastic way to create a long-term relationship with your customers.

Don’t Neglect Your Used-Car Inventory

Maximizing your used-car revenue and giving consumers more pricing choices can significantly impact your ability to penetrate a market. If the demographics of your location demand that you offer a mix of new and used vehicles, then look into maximizing Cars.com’s Premier Used feature.

The Premier Used feature is a paid feature that allows you to use prime Web real estate to promote your used vehicles. A fantastic way to optimize this feature and get the most value for your marketing dollar is to promote your best-value used vehicles in order to introduce shoppers to your dealership. Once the customer has established a relationship with your dealership, you can explore other options together, including financing a new vehicle as an alternative to a used-vehicle purchase.

Using Cars.com as a vehicle to execute your marketing strategy can significantly boost your profitability. With 80 percent of the visitors to Cars.com in the market to purchase a vehicle engaging via this valuable review site is an absolute must. As a business you could not ask for a better ratio of leads. Do your part to facilitate engagement as you bring new-car shoppers through the door. Great consumer reviews paired with well-managed content are the keys for Cars.com domination.

Kevin Kent

Kevin is the Director of Finance and Operations at ReviewTrackers. Every day he finds creative ways to solve business owners' problems and identifies key issues to help them achieve top results.

Discussion

  1. Christina

    I hear things are starting to turn around for new auto sales. Aren’t they? Or was that auto leases?

    Reply
  2. sasha_482

    As a customer and not a dealership owner, I have to say that on the one hand, used cars can be a good choice taking into account prices and the condition of the car but you have to be careful and know what parts to check when buying a used car.On the other hand, if the money is irrelevant and all you care about is the car itself, than it is clear that getting a brand new car is the best option, not to mention the insurance which you don’t get with used car.

    Reply

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