WALTHAM, Mass. -

Jamie Oldershaw said providing a customer experience that meets shifting shopper expectations — especially in today’s stay-at-home economy — is extremely important to a dealership’s success.

“And we saw overwhelmingly positive consumer reviews on our platform over the past year as dealers transformed into digital-first car sellers,” said Oldershaw, who is general manager of DealerRater, in a news release.

DealerRater, a car dealer review and reputation management platform and company of Cars.com, announced the winners of its annual Dealer of the Year Awards. The awards recognize those top dealers for their dealership experiences according to the more than a million reviews that car shoppers posted last year on DealerRater.

The company said top reviewed dealers showed similar characteristics in several areas. One is that they prioritized digital-first services. Another is that they implemented COVID-19 safety protocols.

Another is that they showed a strong review response rate.

A full list of winners in the United States and Canada is available, but among the winners were Naples Acura in Naples, Fla., Bill Luke Tempe in Tempe, Ariz., and Foreign Cars Italia in Greensboro, N.C.

DealerRater presents its Dealer of the Year Awards annually to the top U.S. and Canadian car dealers with 25 or more reviews based on categories such as customer service, quality of work, friendliness, pricing and overall experience. DealerRater said those are key drivers of repeat and referral business.

Regarding the characteristic of prioritizing digital first services, DealerRater said features such as online and video chat, at-home delivery and virtual walkarounds were significant factors toward positive reviews.

DealerRater said 48% of winning dealers were badged on Cars.com and DealerRater.com for home delivery and virtual Appointment, according to DealerRater Internal Data in January.

DealerRater also said the awards show that car shoppers place value on how dealers adapt to pandemic realities. More positive reviews, at a rate of nearly 30- to-1, went to dealers that implemented COVID-19 health and safety protocols, such as masks, social distancing, and sanitization, according to DealerRater internal data from October.

Regarding the characteristic of digital engagement of employees at dealerships, DealerRater said that was especially important this past year with car shoppers performing most of their research and vehicle purchase online.

Recognized dealers shared a high review response rate. Eighty percent of award-winning dealers responded to customers at double the average response rate, according to January DealerRater Internal Data.

“Dealers that go above and beyond traditionally respond within 24 hours,” DealerRater said.

About 75% of winners provide their staff with employee profile pages on DealerRater. With those pages, according to DealerRater, car shoppers can ask questions and connect with individual salespeople at a dealership before ever stepping on the lot.