More than likely, you’ve posted your vehicle on, or shopped with one or more of the big listing sites. Some of the more well-known listing sites include Autotrader.com, Cargurus.com and Cars.com. Although originally created for individuals as a platform to sell and buy vehicles, it’s now dealerships that provide the majority of the revenue via posting fees, lead fees, and advertising that allows a dealer to get the best ad positioning available and a decided edge over the competition listed on the same site. The amount you spend within each platform is suggestive of the quality and quantity of visibility you’re going to get. Hence, a dealership will get better positioning than your Uncle Marvin selling his 1983 Granada or the used car dealer with a limited budget.
The issue is One of Transparency and Perception.
There is so much human element involved and so many moving parts in these platforms that management from the supply chain to customer service is as leaky as a fisherman’s net. Add money, cognitive dissonance, buyer’s remorse, false expectations, and lack of consumer intelligence to the mix and you have a real challenge. This isn’t to say that any one of these listing sites are ethically dysfunctional or don’t provide a great service. They all do their best. If you want to comparison shop, get general pricing, information on a vehicle or a dealer near you, or even research reviews, it’s all there for you. Or is it?
Reviews Seem to Vary from Review Site to Review Site so Buyer Beware
With millions of vehicles on any one of these platforms, you can only imagine that there aren’t enough customer service call centers in Southeast or Central Asia to be able to handle the incredible volume of inquiries, complaints,and refund requests that come in on a minute by minute basis.
When a customer isn’t properly managed, catered to, and assuaged, they have any one of a number of review sites to opine on. Yelp was first but now it’s grown to dozens of sites that will allow you to post your legit or ill-perceived issues. These huge listing sites are all SEO (super) optimized complete with dealer rating platforms In order to provide a modicum of reputation management and protect their subscribing dealers accused of everything from bait and switch, selling lemons, not replying to vehicle inquiries in a timely fashion, treating customers poorly, not matching pricing between dealer VDPs and listing site VDPs, or any number of other issues including their own employees discontent. By super-optimizing your site SEO, the Google algorithm essentially allows you to fully dominate the SERPs (search engine results pages) and basically bury bad reviews by stockpiling tons of content related or unrelated to reviews so no one else with conflicting attitudes even shows up on those SERPs.
Cox Enterprises who owns AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Manheim Auto Auction also owns Dealerrater.com, while Cargurus.com has it’s own rating platform as well. The conspiracy theory is that these review sites and sections are in part created to protect their biggest dealerships (subscribers) from getting picked on by a skeptical and trigger happy public. The conspiracy is fueled by the fact that the reviews on these listing sites rarely match the reviews from outside, independent review sites. It’s hard to find bad dealership reviews on these listing sites and consumers notice it. Often times you’ll find as many 1-star reviews as you will 5-star reviews on indy review sites regarding dealers and the big classified listing sites as well. It’s up to us to decide what to believe.
So, are the classified sites protecting their dealer subscribers who are advertising with them? Is there an unspoken understanding between said listing site(s) and dealers that the listing site managers will filter out bad reviews if a dealer advertises with them as Yelp has been accused of doing? Whereby review pioneer Yelp is accused of posting negative reviews to get businesses to pay for advertising before they allow positive reviews to post, automotive listing sites have also been accused of stuffing the pipes but with positive reviews to protect their subscribers. Irritated consumers have noticed that the negative reviews they’ve posted about various dealerships mysteriously disappear. The question becomes, who really needs protection here, the dealer or the consumer? Or both?
One of the prime tenets of SEO optimization is to keep people on your site. The more compelling the content, the longer a consumer will spend on a site. Top shelf SEO earns you page domination in the search engines. This is why the big listing sites have so much content, it keeps visitors on their sites for long periods of time. When you combine “in-house” review sites as part of the overall SEO content mix to dominate search visibility, you have an effective way of protecting the brand and dealers (being the life blood) are very much part of that branding. It’s good business to protect your brand and all of it’s affiliations. Issue is, you may be protecting some bad guys, and likely trying to cover up known issues within your own operation that need serious address (i.e.customer service, ghost listings of cars long since sold, random price increases etc.).
One car dealer complained that Car Gurus makes you pay upfront and will take your inventory down after 15 days if you haven’t yet paid the bill. Imagine that! Another complaint was that dealers get preferential treatment over individuals listing their single vehicles. Pretty absurd to imagine it any other way if you ask me. Imagine putting 2500 car dealers on terms and then trying to collect! There are countless criticisms of these types of listing sites yet to not list on them means someone else is getting those leads and you are aced out of local comparison shopping operations by motivated local buyers.
On the other hand, there are more serious issues that consumers and dealerships have a legitimate beef about.
The Issues Proliferate Across the Competitive Field
Here are some of the more typical complaints consumers have regarding the larger listing sites from customers and dealerships alike:
Consumer: “The retargeting ads show up for weeks after I leave their site, it’s annoying”.
Dealership: It’s a pay to play scam, bad customer service and emails that go unanswered.
Consumer: “Difficulty adjusting your ads if you are an individual lister”!
Dealership: “I do not have an account with Carxxxxx, but they (ghost) my add’s. They post vehicles I sold a long time ago, and I get calls and e-mails about these cars. The customers get pissed at me, thinking I am posting these fake ad’s to get phone call’s and e-mails. This is called “FISHING” in this business.”
Consumer: “The VIP service guarantees a full refund if you don’t sell within 120 days. The process requires mailing in refund claims in a very tight time frame, I suggest to send it certified else they’ll deny they ever got it.”:
Dealership: “Their value “validator” makes questionable cars “great deals” and perfect cars with proper histories and service records “over-priced”.
Consumer: “They leave cars on the site that are either not available or have been sold previously – bait and switch”
Consumer: Listing prices don’t always match the dealer pricing on the website.
Consumer: Rigged review process
Dealership: Bad service, rarely any follow up.
Consumer: They control all the search results so you can never properly find bad reviews about them or the dealers who use their service…
Consumer: “They didn’t post my bad review”.
Dealership: “ xxxx.com leaves sold listings up for weeks, maybe months, after they have been told a car is no longer available. I guess this is to inflate the number of listings. Also, I presume it helps raise the click revenue they can charge unknowing sellers.”
I’ve intentionally avoided naming who reviewed who but suffice to say, there are issues inherent in a machine this big. Dealers will always blame advertising/marketing and/or vendors when business slows down. WTS, less than 20% of all lead form inquiries are ever acted upon and that’s a huge issue. Yes, there may be a lot of bad leads and scammers prowling these listing sites, but are you measuring ROI? If not, you better figure it out.
Of all of the listing sites, only one relative newcomer has no advertising, lead forms, or other distracting features. Their hook is to create domains that mirror actual keyword phrases used to find vehicles and turn those domains into listing sites. It’s actually brilliant and drives solid volume towards dealer subscribers. The leads are in the form of traffic, and it’s that traffic that needs to be converted. The traffic and leads are all first generation by definition whereby in the aforementioned platforms, leads are controlled by the vendor and can be distributed as they wish.
Essentially, the selling of a vehicle on any of these sites is pretty much the same across the board. The dealership challenge is to figure out ROI therefore attention has to be paid to surveying buyers and tracking web traffic as it comes through the site and the door. Individual sellers have to figure that they’ll be trolled by scammers (can’t prevent it), and used car dealers looking to buy 25%-30% below market value. The listing sites have to do their best to better streamline their technology and keep dealers onboard with enough inventory to appease shareholders, buyers, and bottom lines.