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Friday, November 02, 2007

Autotrader Producing Smaller Returns, Raising Rates

Once a year there is a post that comes up on Dealer Refresh about Autotrader.com raising rates again, and it always causes a lot of dealer discontent to surface. I've made it clear in the past that I'm not a dealer, and I also worked for Autotrader.com for about two years. There are always people who think dealers should stop complaining about the constant rate hikes, but I am not one of them. Some dealers say the ROI from Autotrader.com is flat at best. Nothing speaks louder than facts and figures, so I decided to take a look at three random dealerships and compare a five-month period from last year to the same five-month period this year, and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

The three dealerships chosen at random are in different areas of Virginia between Virginia Beach and the Washington, DC area. Since each has a different number of vehicles on the lot and use different packages with Autotrader.com, I've tried to break everything down to a common denominator: leads per vehicle per month. Here's what I found for these dealerships:

June through October

Total Emails:
Total Calls:
Credit Apps:
Total Leads:
Total Vehicles:

Big difference? Not really, but over the course of the 5 months examined it does add up. For a dealer with 50 vehicles on the lot each month this translates into 12 less leads over the same period last year. A dealer with 100 vehicles on the lot would see 25 fewer leads over that period. Like I said, not huge numbers, but fewer nonetheless. The important thing to consider is that with fewer leads from the previous year, how is a rate increase justified by Autotrader.com? I submit to you that it is NOT justified, but as the 800-pound gorilla they're doing what they want until the 900-pound gorilla shows up. Is the 900-pounder a Googlerilla? A Cars.comorilla? Time will tell, but it will happen.


Eric Gidney said...

Having worked for AutoTrader since 2002 I remember when the primary focus was about phone calls...then maybe emails. At least in the market I covered it wasnt uncommon to experience 80-20 phone call to email ratios. Then as the activity changed, it wasnt about the numbers anymore...it was about advertising. Sure...its advertising...but it looks like it has slowed down drastically.

ApplesGrunt said...

I could be missing something (I'm definitely not a numbers guy) but it seems like the ratio of leads/car is relatively the same despite 300 or so fewer cars in the example you provided. Doesn't this seem to indicate that performance is relatively consistent and the drop in leads is as a result of fewer vehicles? I agree that a company should provide equitable value if they are going to institute a rate hike, but I'm not sure this example supports your argument.

This brings up an interesting question - who is responsible for generating the leads? The dealer? Autotrader.com/Cars.com/etc.? Seems to me, these sites are responsible for generating one thing - eyeballs. As a consumer, I have seen some downright ridiculous listings on these sites and I'm pretty sure the dealer is 100% responsible for marketing THEIR inventory. Incorrect prices, vehicle details, terrible pictures, misspellings, etc. I mean, are some of these guys really trying to sell the car?

Unknown said...

As a private seller selling just my one car, I created on-line listings with AUTOTRADER.COM, EBAY CLASSIFIEDS, LEMONFREE.COM and CRAIGSLIST. I got one response through ebay, one through lemonfree, three through craigslist, and ZERO through autotrader. And this was after 2 weeks on Autotrader. And Autotrader was the only service that was not free! I had even paid extra to Autotrader for some 'enhancements' to the ad. So, for the private seller I'd have to say just skip Autotrader all together. I sold my car yesterday, to a nice couple from Craigslist. I got a fair price and all parties are happy.