Industry News & Trends

Online Dealer Reviews – Are They Ready For Prime Time?

Online Consumer-generated Dealer Reviews

I keep reading that dealer ratings/reviews are becoming important, and that dealers should encourage their customers to go online and fill them out.  While I agree that consumer-generated dealer ratings may someday become an integral part of the automotive sales and service process for consumers, we’re not there yet.

People can go online to find consumer ratings/reviews on almost anything: for instance, has 79 different models of toasters with at least one consumer review each.  A critical aspect to building any ratings is the network effect: ratings become more valuable and useful as more consumers visit and contribute.  Conversely, Web sites that are unable to attract sufficient traffic and consumer ratings stall out.

For this article, I visited three Web sites with automotive dealer reviews: DealerRater, Edmunds, and Yahoo.  In my survey of these sites, I searched for the top 20 dealerships from the Ward’s Dealer 500 – these high volume dealerships should be good candidates to attract consumer ratings. 

DealerRater, as the name indicates, is a standalone site focused on dealer ratings and reviews.  In its six years of existence, it has managed to accumulate many reviews: of the top 20 sites, eleven dealers have five or more.  On the downside, many of these postings are old, indicating that the site may be losing momentum.  For instance, Crevier BMW (Santa Ana, California) has 19 reviews total, but only three since January 2007.  There are also other problems that hinder the site’s viability.

  • No consistency in dealership names.  For Ray Catena, a New Jersey-area dealership group, DealerRater gave me ten different options, including Ray Catena (2 reviews), ray catena (0 reviews), Ray Catena Motor Cars (7 reviews), Ray Catena Jaguar Porsche (2 reviews) and Ray Catena MErcedes Benz of Union (0 reviews).  Note: the last is not a typo.
  • More ads than information (as shown below).
  • Sales and service ratings/reviews are mixed together.


On Edmunds, where vehicle research is the primary attraction, dealer ratings play a secondary role.  Still, Edmunds does better than DealerRater in some respects, including separate sales and service ratings, a map showing the dealer location, and less advertising clutter.  On the downside, I found fewer reviews: the greatest number was eight total reviews for South Bay BMW (Torrance, CA).  Many dealers had one review or none.  It remains to be seen whether Edmunds’s volume of dealer ratings will achieve the robustness needed to be a useful source of information.


For Yahoo!, ratings are an additional piece of information that gives users a full understanding of any product or service, including dealers.  As shown below, the Yahoo! Local entry for Landmark Chevrolet (Houston, TX) provides contact information, hours of operation, map, photographs, and ratings/reviews.  Thus, anyone looking for any information about the dealer will probably see the ratings/reviews.  If there’s only one or two, so be it.  As it turns out, eight of the top 20 dealers had at least five reviews, while five dealers had no reviews at all.  Yahoo!’s reviews functionality has been around for over three years, so it’s clear that dealer ratings haven’t taken off here, either.


In general, ratings have evolved as useful, though still supplementary offerings that support a site’s main goals.  For instance, Amazon’s consumer-generated ratings and reviews are not its focal point – instead, they support the goal of selling products.  Epinions is an exception and thrives because it offers numerous reviews on a broad array of products. 

DealerRater, as it is positioned currently, will be continually challenged to build enough traffic to become a popular destination.  Third-party sites also have their own challenges: they attract far more traffic, giving them more chances to solicit visitors to submit a review, but these visitors may be less inclined to contribute.  Both Edmunds and Yahoo seem to suffer from this problem.  As it stands, there’s no single reliable source of consumer-generated dealer ratings/reviews.

It’s still too early to write off online dealer ratings/reviews, but the existing players have not yet made a compelling case for its usefulness to-date, either.  There’s still the opportunity for a new entrant to get involved and really own this area, but they will need to bring something new to the game or run the risk of achieving only mediocrity.

Guest Posting by Amit Aggarwal
Editor of the J.D. Power and Associates Online Automotive Review

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
  • M
  • July 21, 2008
Maybe it's more of a local thing, but try Here in San Francisco it started with restaurants, but spred to all kinds of businesses, including car dealers. Our dealership has over 130 reviews combined (they also have a name problem, we have more than two). Customers read these reviews and base their decisions on them. Also there is a "cold war" going on between auto chops, dealers and others - we have found evidence that other dealers are sabbotaging our ratings by posting multiple bogus negative reviews, and it is hard to take them off.
  • C
  • July 21, 2008
the difference between dealership ratings and amazon, epinions, etc is what is being reviewed. i could find thousands of reviews on an acura but none on the guy who sold me the acura.

there arent a lot of people reviewing dealers because there isn't a lot of interest in reading reviews of dealerships. most people think all dealers lie and cheat, there's no best product just the least of all the evils.

the car shopping experience is about which car. it doesn't matter who has the car, if you want it you are going to find it wherever it may be. a sect of the buying public may be loyal to a specific dealer, but the majority shops for the product and not the seller.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • July 21, 2008
Micro, you're right about Yelp. The site is growing 2 fold but the business listings for dealers are a mess!
Knowing that Acton Toyota conducts business ethically, and tired of being stereotyped alongside other not so ethical dealers, Acton Toyota began requesting that sold customers please share their experiences online at Before long, hundreds of Acton Toyota consumers were sharing their very positive experiences. The dealership was then able to leverage this 3rd party consumer generated content to radically increase market share. To illustrate, Acton Toyota’s Internet department was delivering 35 - 40 new and used vehicles per month on the day I began as their Director of Internet Business Development. Today that very same Internet department is delivering 140 - 160 new and used vehicles per month. Is this not a compelling case for usefulness to-date?

By the way, since Acton Toyota began receiving leads from, the store has closed an astounding 41 percent. As it turns out, after people read what a great dealership Acton Toyota is, they then proceed to submit inquiries right there on the review page (in many cases having already made up their minds as to where they will be conducting Acton Toyota).

Am I missing something?
  • C
  • July 21, 2008

i don't think you're missing anything if you've found a way to motivate the customer base. there's no better way to reinforce a brand name in a local space.

i would ask if you've been able to port this success to another medium. if you've done it on dealerrater what's stopping you from switching the website for a few months and swamping i can't view the mass chapter, so maybe you've done so. same thing goes for yelp and other sites, too.
Like CS said earlier, people prefer to review the product - especially the product they just bought. People care where they buy from, but I think loyalty is more to a brand than a retailing outlet these days. If Edmunds, DealerRater, or Yahoo had access to our sold DMS records, then they could contact our sold customers to solicit their reviews.

I like looking at the Newegg, Zappos, or Amazon models for reviews. They ask the consumer to rate the product, and then you can read mentions about the retail outlet's customer service amongst the product reviews. I just based a decision on two pairs of arctic boots on Zappos last night through this kind of system - it works. In fact, I wasn't even going to buy from Zappos, but the reviews pushed me over the edge.

Yep, this is definitely the route I'm going.
I'm a HUGE fan of NewEgg - pricing, selection, user reviews. I don't think I've been steered wrong by the reviews on that site - even with the more obscure things I need to buy.

Off topic
Speaking of NewEgg and other online retailers, one of the great resources of yesteryear was, which seems to have transitioned from providing ratings abour sellers to providing information about products. Maybe they saw the same trend Alex saw, but it's a shame because their homepage really has buried the store ratings feature.

On topic
We have the ability to integrate with DMS systems, however it brings up the problem of trust with the consumer. The consumer has already created a relationship with a particular dealership, either through a sales or service visit. An email coming directly from their sales or service advisor has a much better chance of being acted on, than one coming from a third party that the user has no existing relationship with yet. I think most CRM's can be setup to automatically send out this email a few days after their visit - and the key here is to have the dealer link not to their review page on a rating site, but directly to where the customer can ADD a review. No distractions, just results.

This was a tip we received from one of our Certified dealers, and they just received their 400th review.

  • F
  • July 22, 2008
Don't forget eBay, one of the best examples of integrating seller reviews with online shopping. It's not that dealer reviews aren't useful, it's that no site has quite done it right. Getting a good volume of reveiws is key to making it valuable, as pointed out, which is why eBay's model has worked. It's not required, but it's an unwritten rule that for every transaction you rate the buyer and the seller. And you rarely run into the mistake of rating the wrong seller or having multiple names for one seller.

Also, since people purchase cars much less frequently than they go out to eat or travel (the core of sites like Yelp or epinions), it's hard to get hundreds of reviews in a short amount of time. I still think the industry needs to prepare itself for reviews to gain a foothold and start thinking about how they will handle what is written about them online. I think dealer reviews are still in their infancy right now, and as you said, there's ample opportunity for a big player like eBay to do it right.
I tend to agree with CS. I am almost at the point where I go to Amazon to get advice on everything short of groceries. It’s great because you get an unbiased opinion, and you can see how a couple hundred people feel about a certain item. Unfortunately, there are way too many variables involved in purchasing a vehicle (from tough trade negotiations, to service writers telling dirty jokes behind the building). If everything goes well, the salesperson is just doing their job. If something goes awry, it’s time to go to

Back in my retail days, I would send a personal email to my customers a day or two after delivery, just to ask how everything went. If everything went well, I’d ask if we could share their response as a testimonial. We created a page on our site that listed the testimonials. If there was an issue with a customer being on the fence, we’d direct them to the testimonial page. It’s handy to have 80 positive testimonials to offset a couple negative postings on RipoffReport (etc).


"To illustrate, Acton Toyota’s Internet department was delivering 35 - 40 new and used vehicles per month on the day I began as their Director of Internet Business Development. Today that very same Internet department is delivering 140 - 160 new and used vehicles per month. Is this not a compelling case for usefulness to-date?"

So during this time you only changed one thing? You started using Not to say it is not possible, but it seems hard to believe that dealerrater can make and impact to quadruple your Internet business. Please tell me if it did and if so how you did it???

Another question I have for you is why you do not have the logo and link to dealerrater on your website? Do you only hand happy customers info on posting a rating, or do you give it to anyone that stops by and test drives a car? Most of your buying customers should be happy but what about the ones not buying?

Not trying to shoot you down or anything, just want to know how you optimize this for your dealership.

Appreciate any input please...

Just noticed that you do have a link to dealerrater. Question still stands though. How do you make this work for your dealership??
  • M
    Matt Lamoureux
  • July 22, 2008
Hi Oscar,

Good question.

Most dealerships fail to take the initiative to request DealerRater reviews from their happy customers. Dealerships that do request DealerRater reviews from happy customers can quickly turn DealerRater into a competitive advantage.

At Acton Toyota I developed a process by which we requested DealerRater reviews from all our customers. Before long we had hundreds of reviews touting the benefits of doing business with our dealership.

Once we had built up a number of reviews and a very positive score, I inserted hyperlinks into all email correspondence to unsold prospects that directed these unsold prospects to the MA Toyota Dealer Directory page where they could read not only all the great things being said about Acton Toyota, but they could also read those not so great things being said about our competitors.

If you reside in a market where none of your competitors have leveraged DealerRater to increase market share, then I recommend you pounce on the opportunity before it's too late. The real secret is to be the first dealer in your market to accumulate a positive score based on a large number of reviews. Only once you've done that do you include the aforementioned hyperlink in your outgoing email correspondence.

Let’s face it: your competition is going to secret shop you. Don't reveal your hand until you've built up enough of a lead to sustain this competitive advantage. Do this and you’ll be amazed how much your market share will grow.

I had a great time utilizing dealerrater until they stopped having a great time with my dealership. I found our dealership had "one" bad review floating out there., that was blasted to a couple of sites, but it was resolved. This happy customer now has a resolution to the situation, which is great, but i wanted to update dealerrater, and i started sending dealerrater links to my new solds to boast our experience ratings. After getting a mere four great experiences, which got us up to a 3.4 stars, I had a dealerrater rep call, they left a message, and now they never respond. Now my great experiences are also gone, weird, i thought, any thoughts anyone?

I appreciate your feedback. CS asked earlier why you do not change to another rating website to get the same effect there instead of just focusing on dealerrater. Could you give me your thoughts on that?

Our new dealership has been open for almost two months now, and we have been a Dealerrater certified dealer over the last month and a half.

We feel it has given us additional credibility with respect to our online reputation, as well as a great link to send out to all of our existing prospects that have not purchased from us yet.

We just received our first lead from Dealerrater where the customer stated he had heard good things about us from a previous customer. We feel over time, that the amount of these leads will increase.

Andrew DiFeo
Hyundai of St. Augustine
Hi Oscar,

Sure...I am happy to explain.

Originally we chose to build our repuation on DealerRater because it was founded in 2002 as the first car dealer review website worldwide. In and of itself, being first to market is a tremendous competitive advantage; which may explain why DealerRater continues to generate a ton more traffic than any of its nearest competitors.

Nowadays, Acton Toyota is fully commited to DealerRater because:

1) is the name brand in dealership history reports, and

2) has been instrumental in significantly increasing Acton Toyota's business.

How's that old saying go? If it isn't broken...
  • C
  • July 23, 2008
How about this way we all can burn a customer or praise them!?

A Salesperson driven website where you can candidly write up a review on the customers... for salespeople only... this way we know where they've been, how they act up, what stupid money they want for that piece of crap they want to get rid of...what hot buttons need to be pushed...

As far as dealer ratings... we are #1 in the country for Sales satisfaction and Service (really)... so that's all I need to show my people, and what people write about me.... it's taken with a grain of salt.
Just wanted to give an update to the "weird" experience with They have updated my request and we are now happy :)
  • M
  • July 24, 2008
Your customer rater comment sure sounds like you think business would be easier without customers. I am skeptical that your dealership is really #1 with customers with an attitude like that. Just sayin
The thing about consumer opinion is that, when it's negative, it doesn't matter whether it's correct, or unwarranted, or out of date. Other consumers will value it because it's in our nature to heed negative opinion... especially when related to the automotive industry, where consumers are desperate to find out which dealers to avoid. They'll only get more important.

Can a brother get a shameless plug? is a blog I just started that focuses exclusively on the effects of consumer review sites on SEO, traditional marketing, and reputation management. I'll be addressing a lot of the issues Amit brings up here in the posts to come. Many of you here seem to already have an interest in maximizing your review exposure, and I suggest you stay tuned to the site to stay ahead of the curve. //end shameless plug
The reality whether you like or dislike rating sites is that consumers will come more and more to rely on them for advice. You have covered a lot of them above that provide feedback for books, shoes, restaurants, travel, hotels, etc. More dealer rating sites are inevitable. Selling cars is getting more personal and online auto shoppers know that any dealer can meet or beat any legitimate price, so they are now looking for a dealer and a salesperson that can provide a great buying experience. (a new Internet social network and rating site) provides a new take on things and builds on the foundation established by Dealer Rater but improves it by being a dealer advocate to help promote dealers who do the right thing every day. CarFolks offers sales folks free microsites and they start hitting prime positions in the search engines within weeks. No matter what rating site a dealer watches or participates in, every dealer needs to have a strategy and policy on how to manage their online reputation and determine how they want to encourage all their customers to provide feedback whether it is good, bad or ugly. Without that in place a good dealer will be blindsided by online negative feedback.
I can tell this must be your 1st blog post, 'cuz only a noobie would post blatant self promotion.

"blah blah blaaa...CarFolks offers sales folks free microsites and they start hitting prime positions in the search engines within weeks...blah blah blaaa"

You gotta moderate the self promotion, it makes readers vomit. Remember, a good Doctor never let's his patient SEE THE KNIFE (you'll probably need help with this analogy)

C'mon, improve your game!
p.s. sorry, you asked for it.
  • D
  • July 24, 2008
Have you guys heard that one of the industry leaders in online advertising and consumer research will be entering this arena soon? I also heard that they will be spending big bucks to drive people to their review site. Why would they? What's in it for them?
  • I
    Ian Statler
  • July 24, 2008
Joe, I'll second that! Mark might need some reputation management in the future.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • July 25, 2008
I’m torn here. I see both sides of the coin.

If dealer rating websites were/are ever going to be something, why has it taken so long? Consumer rating websites for just about everything else have been live for years. Dealer rating or even consumer rating websites like (rating dealers) have not really come to light until just the last year or so (and I have to wonder if that’s not our own fault). Yes they have been around but no one was really talking about them until now.

The other side of the coin, I have to agree with Matt and Mitch. I have a few dealers that are taking a pro-active stance with the consumer rating websites by asking their customers to comment about their experience. It has no doubt given them a nice advantage in their market.

At the end of the day, I say jump on it and get your customers to comment on the dealer rating sites. Why not? It can only help and it gives you a great WBFM message.

This will be a posting/conversation we will look back at 3-5 years from now be like “oh shit”.


There is an enormous potential for a Dealer Rater brand to establish itself. So far, no one's got it figured out (like does). You'd think that Edmunds or KBB would step it up, or, partner with Chip at to speed the process. It seems like a no brainer to me (both parties win).

In the mean time....
SEO drives our industry, ergo Consumer Rating Sites.

Dealer sites and 3rd party classified players get good SEO ranks because GOOGs algo's makes it happen. My guess is Dealer Rater sites have a more difficult time getting hot local SERPs due to GOOG's engineers -lack of- assistance.

Results? Spotty Dealer Rater results.
GOOG could throw a switch any time and change all of the above.

just my $0.02

You clearly are an Blog-Pro and have some great insite, but please don't be too hard on Dubis. I'm the President of and have somewhat of a bias as well. Also I'm a semi-virgin blogger; 2nd time post'er on Jeff's site.

I think what Dubis was trying to do was simply "chime-in" with a different twist to the entire discussion related to rating dealers online. I DO believe ratings are here to stay and will only grow stronger. However, I also believe that if you look at every rating site out their including DealerRater, it looks like dealers are all pretty much horrible with 80% of folks who buy or service a car having a negative experience, yet we know for fact, most dealers have 80-90% positive experiences.

I always thought that consumers were seeking truth, and until the Name brands and smaller wantabee sites change their model, they will contine to be "DRDS" Dealer Rating Deception Sites.

Mark Boyd

Having worked with Matt Lamoureux at Acton Toyota and being largely responsible for providing the customer experience Matt has promoted very successfully with Dealer I can say that these types of tools are like anything we use to sell cars. If you have the ability and knowledge to use something effectively than it becomes effective. I love being able to use DealerRater to back up the experience customers recieve at Acton Toyota. Our success with the program could not have come without first being a fully commited, progressive dealership with both our employees and customers interested in our success. However having customers "sell" this experience for us has become way more effective than paying customers to refer their friends and family, which by the way we have never done. I apologize if this is self promoting, I just thought I should chime in.
Acton Toyota is clearly a great example of a dealership being proactive in its marketing and using whatever tools are out there. More dealers could and should do the same.

But it does not change my opinion that the average shopper going to is unlikely to get enough information, because there just aren't enough ratings overall. For whatever reason, consumers will spend huge amounts of time on the vehicle research process and then move directly to buying without considering dealership ratings/reviews. Maybe we'll get there someday.

btw, Mitch's observations on his review limbo blog (mentioned earlier) are damning if true.
Having skimmed through these comments here I did not see any suggestions on the idea of the dealership website itself offering reviews and/or customer testimonials. I am surprised by that.

You can argue that it might bring in to question the validity of a customer rating/review but if third-party sites aren't cutting it then there must be a reason why customers are not compelled to utilize this.

Could also just be a socio-cultural thing too that requires more time.
  • J
  • July 27, 2008
We utilize our ratings on ebay and on dealerrater with our customers once we have established a rapport with them. Some times we use it to back up our service, and other times we've been able to bring in customers who got quotes that were lower from other dealers pointing out our good history and it's probably not worth trying to save $200 elsewhere in the long run.

For the most part, we use ebay to sell parts as our website doesn't get much search engine traffic, and adwords was getting to be a little too much money for our margins. It seems more of a culture thing at ebay for customers to leave feedback, however, when we ask our customers to rate us online, they are happy to. We have a testimonial section on our website, but it is just snippets of reviews customers left on dealerrater. If our website supported it, we would just frame it in!

As it is, customers can learn a lot about dealers online, but that also means dealers who know how to use it to their benefit will also see success in it. I suspect with the way it's growing, Amit, you'll see the number of reviews grow to what you might consider valuable enough, quickly. I just hope we have given ourselves enough of a lead. A bit of a chicken and the egg thing. We have 80 or so reviews on dealerrater and our competition is still in the 20s and 30s. I think that's enough to make an opinion on, but not near our 300+ ratings we have on ebay. A lot of our ebay reviews look like school grades (A+++, well ok, not MY school grades...) and don't provide much substance, but then again, we're selling parts on it, not cars so there's less to talk about process wise I guess. When it comes right down to it though, it's fairly easy to get customers to write a review if you just remind them to.

For bad reviews, when they come in and they will as no one's perfect, being able to answer to it quickly is the answer, especially if you can fix the problem before CSI, make right with the customer, and have them update their review. That might not always work, but you have to try.

Sorry, just saw the idea, haha that would be a great parody site - or even a good learning tool for new sales people...if blocked to the general public of course!

OK, enough procrastinating Generation Kill is almost on,


  • R
  • July 30, 2008
What is interesting to me about this post is where it is coming from. If we look at JD Powers, they are the largest "ratings" company in the world. They rate everything. Dealer Rater is focused on one industry and is doing it very well.

I am a big fan of Dealer Rater and have encouraged many of my clients to sign up and leverage what it has to offer. It is my belief that online rating sites such at Dealer Rater are going to make a huge impact on the purchasing decisions of our consumers. Ask yourself what the best form of marketing is. It's word of mouth. Dealer Rater does just that. I recently purchased a TV. I was doing all sorts of research online. What swayed my decision were the blogs I read by other consumers. Not write ups by the manufacturers or one 3rd party that rates products, but those write ups by my peers who have experienced the product first hand. Next, I had to decide where to purchase it. I scanned the blogs and decided, after reading the reviews, where to go. And WOW! They were right! I had a great experience over all.

I think it's time. Dealer Rater is positioned well and is ready to make a huge impact.

  • B
  • August 4, 2008
I have been reading this interesting thread discussing the merits of and challenges with Dealer Rater/Review sites on this site and others. I have this concept for a Dealer/Consumer Social Networking Website and I am doing market research to get feedback on it. I would appreciate it if you could take 5 minutes to complete this survey re: the concept, especially if your are a Sales or Internet Sales Manager/Director or General Manager for a dealership: <a href="" rel="nofollow">Click Here to take survey</a>. Your participation in this survey is completely anonymous and your answers will be used for market research purposes only. We will not share this information with marketers or other companies. Your survey answers will help provide important feedback re: this concept. This is for an MBA Business Feasibility class. Again, your participation would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time and participation.

  • J
  • January 13, 2009
I love my hyundaitucson and lisa klimaitiswas
very nice and friendly
There is no doubt that these type of sites are growing in popularity. eBay founded a business based on "Feed Back"......

Almost 40% of AIU's are researching the "Dealers Reputation" prior to making a decision on where to shop. This is the future!!!! And It's here...

Does anyone out there buy anything on-line that has a Poor rating or Zero Feedback?

Put yourselves in a consumers shoes.... Who would you do business with?
  • T
    Thomas W Gardiner
  • January 31, 2009
I just purchased a 2009 VW Jetta at Volkswagen of Freehold. You couldn't ask for better service. The following are all rated 10's for their service,help,knowledge and friendliness, they make you feel like old friends.

All rated EXCELLENT.
  • A
    Alan Denenberg
  • March 30, 2009
I just purchased my mother-in-laws Toyota Camry which was being turned at lease end. She leased a 2009 Camry,her third one.Both of us were totally satisfied with the sales staff, business dept. and the whole mgmt. team.Freehold Toyta gets a five star rating straight across the board.I would recomend them to anyone thats wants to be treated like royalty which is a rareity in the car business. Keep up the good work!!!
This was the first thread I ever commented on here at DealerRefresh......thought it would come full circle if I posted here how we just became the first Dealer to hit 1000 reviews!

<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> remains one of our best lead sources, providing &quot;low in the sales funnel&quot; customers every day.
That&#039;s awesome Craig, huge accomplishment! I&#039;ve been at my Toyo dealer for a little over 3 months now and we just over 200. We have our service marketing/retention service plugged into the process. EVERY service customers gets asked to review their service experience. WOW - talk about being transparent. Not every review is favorable but 95% are. Amazing!