DETROIT – Cars.com will add consumers’ dealer reviews on its automotive marketplace website, starting in March.
“We are throwing the entire organization behind it,” Cars.com CEO Mitch Golub tells Ward’s here during the North American International Auto Show. “It is a win-win for consumers and dealers.”
Online reviews for assorted services and products in general and for dealerships in particular have exploded in recent years, with millions of Internet users turning to them for guidance.
Cars.com expects its version of dealer ratings will stand out because of the automotive nature of its popular website.
“There are about 500,000 dealership reviews out there, but it is a fragmented space; there’s no critical mass,” Golub says. “We can bring order, balance and credibility. And we will split reviews between sales and service, which are two completely different dealership areas.”
Cars.com had 200 million website visitors in 2010. Traffic is up 10% so far this year.
Although some dealers may dread the prospects of customers rating them online, surveys indicate 80% of dealer reviews are positive.
“In some respects, having a few negative reviews is better than having no reviews at all,” says Kerri Noeth, Cars.com’s communications director. “And if you have only good reviews, it looks like grandma is writing them.”
Cars.com already posts vehicle reviews. A vast majority of polled dealers say they would welcome the website posting reviews.
Initially, only dealers who sign up will be subject to reviews. “Any dealer can join,” Golub says. “Then, in the summer, we’ll put all dealers onboard. We want to take the time to do it right.”
The company will offer training on how dealers can get good reviews and respond to bad ones. Training includes online videos and sessions at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in San Francisco next month.
Good reviews tend to stem from dealerships treating customers fairly, offering transparency, meeting expectations and asking satisfied customers to post online reviews.
“Reviews are really an extension of what dealers do in earning high CSI (customer-satisfaction index) scores,” Golub says.
Dealers who skew to bad reviews should see that as a reason to make changes at their stores, Noeth says. “A lot of negative reviews reflect negativity in the dealership, something that hurts sales. In a sense, our posting reviews will give dealers a free focus group.”
An outside firm, Bazaarvoice.com, will monitor the consumer postings and delete highly offensive ones
“We’re not editing out critical reviews, but we want to make this as fair as possible,” Golub says. “We may choose not to publish personal attacks or reviews that are blatantly unfair.”
Dealers will get a chance to respond to negative reviews, as well as to post a description of what they might do to resolve contentious issues.
“When dealers respond, consumers are impressed,” Noeth says. “They don’t necessarily have to see the full resolution, but they see the dealer is paying attention.”
Cars.com will run two 30-second Super Bowl ads on Feb. 6. The theme of the spots will be online reviews, without specifically mentioning Cars.com’s impending dealer reviews, Golub says.