ATLANTA and IRVINE, Calif. — Consumers’ newfound dependency on dealership reviews has third-party automotive sites flocking to the scene. But what AutoTrader.com and Kelley Blue Book appear to be after is creating another platform to display reviews for consumers without collecting the testimonials themselves.
AutoTrader.com confirmed it will soon launch a version of dealership reviews, but is still ironing out details of how exactly the rating system will work.
“We currently have a solution where dealers can link to the dealer review site of their choice. 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,” an AutoTrader.com spokesperson shared via e-mail. “We believe that dealer ratings are a valuable part of the consumer shopping process and a great tool for dealers to manage their reputation.”
The spokesperson declined to answer further questions regarding the dealer ratings, but AutoTrader Group President Sandy Schwartz was quoted by Automotive News as saying the system will likely operate by combining popular ratings from various sources — resulting in an average star rating of sorts.
Edmunds President Seth Berkowitz called this move “smart thinking.”
“As large as they are, coming into the marketplace as another vendor trying to get dealers to have unique ratings and reviews to go up on AutoTrader, in addition to the various other players that have a pretty large head start, would be pretty difficult,” he told Auto Dealer Monthly.
Edmunds also is a company that wasn’t founded to collect consumer reviews, but Berkowitz said he understands that a key component for sales nowadays is customers looking to other customers for feedback. “We believe it makes sense for AutoTrader to join that party, because I think consumers are demanding it,” he said. “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. I’m not quite sure how they’re going to pull that off.”
As for any potential loss in traffic directed to Edmunds.com by AutoTrader, Berkowitz said he’s not concerned. Barbara Mousigian, Cars.com’s vice president of product, shared his take.
“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 said in an e-mail. “Any feature that helps build the confidence shoppers need to make those decisions is a good thing for consumers, and for dealers. Since dealer reviews launched on our site in early 2011, we’ve learned what an important role they play.”
Customers in the Chicago area can now link to certain dealers’ ratings and reviews through KBB.com. The vehicle valuation site also allows customers to visit dealers’ social media pages. This is all part of an effort ‘to allow dealers to put their best foot forward,’ said KBB President Jared Rowe. “Through our research, we’ve found that consumers have much more to consider than price.”
Another major consumer review site that could be affected by this strategy is DealerRater.com, whose spokesperson declined to comment.
In a similar attempt to include reviews on its page without collecting its own unique ratings is Kelley Blue Book (KBB). The company is testing a ‘Dealer Ratings’ tab on dealer pages in the Chicago area that currently link to DealerRater.com review pages.
For now, DealerRater is the only review site listed, which officials attributed to the volume of dealers on the site. But KBB President Jared Rowe said the company intends to eventually extend this offering to other review sites such as Yelp, Google and Cars.com, so dealers can link their pages with the rating provider of his or her 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,” he said.
Rowe said KBB has conducted a 'tremendous amount' of research over the past year and a half, and the consensus from customers was "they wanted to better understand how other consumers thought about the dealers that they were interested in forming a relationship with."
The ‘Dealer Ratings’ feature was originally tested in five markets. Rowe explained that testing is complete in the other four markets, but Chicago dealers will continue to pilot the feature until KBB deploys the rating platform nationally in the fourth quarter of 2013.
— Stephanie Forshee