Cars.com will be going live March 15th with Dealer Reviews.
Many of us have several questions like “Why is Cars.com getting into dealer ratings?” I asked Nick Hummer, Product Manager at Cars.com if he would take some time and join me for an exclusive interview / Q&A for DealerRefresh. He was happy to do so.
Before we get into the exclusive interview, a quick reminder that Cars.com will be holding a 4 hour online live web conference right at your desk Tomorrow March 9th starting at 11am ET. You can sign up here!
Lets get started!
Jeff: Nick, why has Cars.com decide to get into the dealer rating business?
Nick: Reviews have become a standard part of any shopping process online, regardless of industry. Automotive has lagged a bit behind most industries, but we’ve heard over and over that consumers are actively seeking out this content.
Reviews are quickly becoming a consumer expectation that shoppers look to find on our site. We added consumer vehicle reviews two years ago and they have been very successful. By offering a comprehensive site experience with all of the information shoppers need to make key decisions, we are able to provide the most value to our advertisers by bringing more shoppers to our site.
In other words – we expect that by adding reviews to Cars.com, we’ll increase consumer satisfaction making them more confident in contacting our dealer partners and ultimately buying cars from them.
We also expect dealer reviews will be a great merchandising tool for our dealers, giving shoppers the confidence they need to make a purchase decision. Since the majority of dealer reviews are positive, reviews are a great way to close a sale. In many ways, we view reviews as the next step up from multiple photos, chat and video.
Jeff: Dealer Review sites are popping up everywhere, our members noted Edmunds review beta a while back. What & how is your service is different from the other Dealer Review sites?
Nick: Let me stress that our goal wasn’t necessarily to create something similar, or even to specifically create something different. What we really wanted to do was pay attention to the feedback we heard over and over from dealers – keep this easy. This is why we incorporated our reviews into our existing dealer tools – we wanted a tool that would be familiar and would not require a new process to manage.
On the consumer side, there is a lot of great information available as to what works and what meets shoppers’ expectations, so we worked with our reviews partner BazaarVoice to incorporate best practices from other sites into Cars.com Dealer Reviews.
That said, there are a few key points I always like to make on Dealer Reviews:
- Our focus is on reputation management not mediation: Reviews on Cars.com are about influencing future purchases through owning your reputation, not mediating disputes. We encourage dealers to respond to reviews, discuss resolution to any problems in a given review and proactively invite the shopper to contact them to make it right offline. This is the model we felt worked best for us after many conversations with dealers and consumers.Our research showed that many reviewers simply want to see that a dealer is staying on top of the process and being responsive. Similarly review writers told us they are just trying to help future shoppers as opposed to seeking resolution from the dealer online in this venue.
- Our reviews are found where people shop: We wanted to directly link reviews with the shopping experience, putting reviews where our shoppers go to search inventory. On Cars.com, reviews will be both on our dealer locator as well as integrated into listings.This does two things: First, as reviews grow in importance to shoppers, having reviews alongside inventory keeps the shopper heading down the path to our dealers, instead of abandoning a vehicle they may be interested to go do more research (which brings us back to the initial goal – giving consumers everything they need to make them ready to reach out and ultimately buy a car). It’s a powerful way for dealers to merchandise their store, directly where they are trying to sell cars.It also gives dealers a platform capable of driving meaningful review volume. One of our goals throughout the process was building a platform to help dealers build their reputation online, regardless of their current level of expertise.
- Credibility: I want to stress why we are approaching reviews the way we are. A lot has already been said here with respect to managing fraud and preventing dealers from stuffing the reviews ballot box in their own favor, or worse, against a competitor. At Cars.com we have always prided ourselves on striving to be one of the most credible information sources. It is one of the key reasons our site is so valuable to consumers.We are taking a similar approach with reviews. We are taking this extremely seriously, partnering with the leader in review moderation and even bringing in a new position at Cars.com to address any issues. This is one of the reasons we are not currently accepting reviews from other sites – we want to be sure we can stand behind the content. We also want to continue to pursue the goal of an even-playing field. If we import reviews from elsewhere, we do help many dealers build immediate volume, but we also run the risk of creating a negative dealer experience on day one for those with pre-existing reviews.
- We’re here to support dealers with the process: While other sites are expert in reviews and ratings, we feel our strength is at the local level. Cars.com is committed to our dealers’ success with online reviews. We’ll be arming stores with a full suite of in-store and direct marketing resources to help solicit reviews and best practices for managing reputation.We are bringing in leading reputation management and social media experts to give dealers advice on how to effectively manage the new reality of online transparency, on Cars.com and across the net (this is where I plug everyone to stop by and talk with me at the Cars.com Reputation Management Lab at NADA).
- Giving all dealers a fresh starting point: As mentioned above – We know that not every dealership is currently engaging in reputation management, but it is becoming a vital part of online business. We want to help every dealer get in the game, giving them a no-cost product, free tools to help drive review volume and an easy to follow process for success.
Jeff: Did you ask your dealers opinions first? -If so, how many did you seek out and what did they tell you?
Nick: In a word – absolutely. We take the feedback of our customers very seriously and don’t make many changes to our site without first getting their feedback. We’ve been talking about dealer reviews for more than three years now, and started in-depth research and focus groups more than a year ago with hopes of bringing this feature to market in 2011.
Over the course of 2010, we did hundreds of market visits and a formal research study that involved 40 individual dealerships of all shapes and sizes. We also took the concept to our largest dealer groups and industry consultants. We universally heard support for reputation management and an understanding that this is simply part of doing business online today. Most dealers understood that this is a move Cars.com needs to make to keep shoppers coming to the site and searching their inventories.
We also heard many valid concerns about how dealers would manage the process in their stores, how we would manage fraud, etc. We took that feedback to heart and as a result, delayed our launch schedule to give dealers more time to prepare and put process in place. We put features like automatic notification of reviews in place to make the process as easy as possible for dealerships to manage.
I’ll also stress that our rollout schedule is based in large part on the feedback we heard from dealers – it was made very clear that the more time we give everyone to get ready, the smoother and easier this will be. This is exactly why we’re talking about this now, when we won’t actually be making changes to our site for almost two more months – and that’s when the Beta starts.
Jeff: Will you be charging for dealers to participate?
Nick: No, all dealers will receive the benefits of Dealer Reviews at no additional charge. While we know reviews will add value to the sales process, the goal is to improve the consumer shopping experience so we can continue to drive the value dealers have come to expect from our core listings products. Even non-customers will receive reviews on Cars.com (with a slightly different mechanism for responding).
Jeff: How visible will these ratings be? -on Cars.com VDP -in Search Engines (i.e. Google Places), exclusive dealer review pages on cars.com?
Nick: Dealer Reviews will be prominently featured on the Cars.com website and will be accessed from the Cars.com homepage, through our Dealer Locator and also on individual vehicle listings. Additionally, each dealership will have a unique Review page with a unique URL where you can direct shoppers to read or write reviews about your store.
We’re building those pages with SEO in mind, but we’re also aware that we’ll need some tweaks and some volume built up to really get everything truly optimized.
Jeff: What is “best case” for a dealer that participates?
Nick: Quite simply, “best case” is selling more cars. We’ve talked to so many dealers who have told us embracing reviews and reputation management has transformed their stores. Even those that were initially reluctant to get behind their store’s reputation management initiatives, have been surprised by the results. In addition to more vehicle sales, they are seeing lifts in their service business, increased customer loyalty and highly motivated staffs that are more engaged in delivering an excellent experience than ever before.
Jeff: Can a dealer “opt-out” of the Cars.com Reviews?
Nick: Initially, this will be an opt-in feature, given dealerships the ability to choose whether or not reviews of their store can be submitted to Cars.com. We encourage dealers to opt-in as soon as they are ready, so they can start building review volume that will help distinguish them with shoppers. Over time, all dealers will become eligible for review and will not be able to opt-out of participation, regardless of whether or not they are a customer. This ensures the most credible product for dealers and consumers.
As we talked to both dealers and consumers in researching this feature, this was important to both groups.They wanted to be sure we had a level-playing field for all dealerships and a place shoppers could use to get and share information about any store.
Jeff: If reviews have “power”, then abuse of power will follow. What are you doing to POLICE false reviews?
Nick: All reviewers will be required to submit an email address along with their review. Every reviewer must validate their address with Cars.com before a review is published. Our comprehensive review moderation process will further verify that a review is indeed from a legitimate consumer.
To manage this process, we have partnered with BazaarVoice, the leader in consumer generated content. They power reviews for companies like P&G, Home Depot, Best Buy and more, and have a proven process in place by which to weed out reviews that either don’t meet our criteria or are not legitimate. Every single review is put through human moderation. We are backing this process up with a new position at Cars.com, dedicated to overseeing the credibility of the reviews environment and working to resolve any challenges to that system.
We’re putting steps in place to guard against fraudulent reviews from competing dealerships. We are taking this really seriously, and dealers caught posting fraudulent reviews, positive or negative, will be penalized. Dealers that try to engage in these activities to get short-term gains, ultimately lose in the end. Shoppers can typically sniff out false reviews and at the end of the day, they do more to damage a store’s credibility than they do to enhance its reputation.
Jeff: How do you “validate” a consumer and the dealer they are reviewing? (I skipped this one, since I think we got it above). Will dealers be allowed to dealers to respond to positive and negative reviews?
Nick: Cars.com dealer customers will be notified whenever a review passes moderation and is posted to Cars.com. At this point, they’ll be given the opportunity to post a response to any review, positive or negative.
We know from talking with shoppers that this response goes a long way in showcasing the dealer’s commitment to customer service. It shows shoppers that the store is paying attention and that they take customer feedback to heart. We did not want the response process to be cumbersome for dealers, so we’ve made it as simple as possible.
In addition to automated alerts, we established a single response model, so the dealerships response is the last word on any review. In the case of negative or critical reviews, we encourage dealers to use their response to take the conversation offline and invite the customer to contact them directly to address a situation.
Jeff: A dealer is made up of several departments, sales, service and parts. Will all 3 departments be seen as one, or, will it be departmentalized?
Nick: On Cars.com’s Dealer Reviews consumers will be able to review any aspect of their sales or service experience. Both sales and service will form a store’s aggregate rating, but each individual review will be clearly marked.
In addition to an overall star rating, shoppers will be asked to rate Customer Service, the Buying Process, Overall Facilities and Quality of Repair on a one- to five-star basis. All shoppers will also be required to submit a written review of their experience offering context to their rating and offering valuable feedback to your store.
Jeff: How will reviews on cars.com factor into a dealer’s SEO strategy (i.e. appearing on Google places for that individual dealer)?
Nick: Cars.com dealer reviews will be optimized for SEO, driving consumers to Cars.com as a destination to read and write reviews of local dealers. Moreover, reviews of each dealership from Cars.com will be picked up by Google Places, giving dealers additional SEO prominence. Again I’ll stress, there will be a ramp-up period here – once we get reviews online, well need to work with the secret sauce to get them indexed.
Jeff: Nick, truly appreciate your time today. It’s going to be exciting to see how this plays out. I have already signed up all my dealers for Car.com Dealer Reviews and waiting patiently for the service to go live.
Nick: Thanks Jeff, for the opportunity to speak with yourself and the DealerRefresh community..it’s been a real pleasure.