To illustrate where the search for the perfect vehicle appears to be headed, Steve Lind of Autotrader mentions a conversation his wife and a friend were having in the driveway.
“Boy, I wish we could find a better way to search for cars with captain seats so my kids could climb between the second row there,” Lind recalls the chat going.
“And that’s a good example of what we’re getting very close to being able to do here, just based on our data and analytics and the capabilities we have here,” he tells Auto Remarketing in a phone interview.
“Those kind of searches are how real people continue to search for vehicles,” said Lind, who is Autotrader’s senior vice president of operations and general manager.
“And I think that gets even more important because the innovations that are coming in cars and coming at increasingly faster paces.”
Of course, Lind says Autotrader is still focused on the foundational elements of classified listing and quality merchandising to help consumers find their ideal cars.
February ratings from comScore Media Metrix shared by the Cox Automotive property indicate that Autotrader has had the highest traffic of competitive third-party car-shopping sites (meaning Autotrader.com, CarGurus.com, Cars.com, Edmunds.com, and TrueCar.com) for 19 straight months.
That said, the company is aiming to continue evolving the quality of that engagement, not just the quantity.
“While our legacy in attracting the largest monthly consumer audience to Autotrader for nearly two years is an impressive achievement, we are even more focused on our unrivaled aptitude for driving superior leads to our clients that help them sell more cars,” Lind said in a news release.
“Success also hinges on understanding and innovating around the customer journey and the different shopping methods of car buyers,” he said. “We offer solutions that are flexible and customizable to each shopper and how they prefer to engage, increasing consumers’ confidence before they walk into a dealership.”
The company, he said, is honing in “those interactions within our consumer search-results pages and VD pages that create more and more direct connections with our dealers with high intensity shopping activities.”
A stronger consumer experience on Autotrader, Lind said, can help foster further connection between the dealer consumer
Evolution of Autotrader
Asked how Autotrader has evolved amid growing competition and consumers changing online buying activities, Lind said: “It’s still a critical part of the shopping process, finding that right vehicle for the consumer. If Kelley (Blue Book) does a good job at helping you understand what to pay and what vehicles might make sense, clearly Autotrader is the best place to then go find that piece of inventory.
“And we give them great ways to find that particular piece of inventory, whether that’s through traditional search methods, new ways to retarget consumers and bring them back directly on to vehicles they may have previously shopped for,” he said.
And then when the consumer finds the car he or she wants, Autotrader aims to continue evolving its services to improve the shopping experience, Lind said. For example, say the search ends up with multiple Nissan Altimas. The aim is to help the shopper “differentiate the one that will make a good choice for you as a consumer.”
That can be accomplished through providing “different ways to shop, whether that’s by price or by color or by location or by whatever else that makes sense. And then giving you great ways for a consumer to connect with a dealer,” Lind said.
“Fifty-plus percent of people still want to walk on the lot. And we give great ways for the consumer to (do things like) print a map, and that gives great indication that the consumer is ready to talk to the dealer and be a buyer,” he said
In addition to evolving the amenities on its site, Autotrader is also aiming to bulk up on marketing side to make sure they can connect with shoppers in new ways through traditional TV, SEO/SEM, retargeting, social media avenues and more, “perhaps deeper in the funnel and more connected to that inventory”
Then it’s a matter of proving the consumer more ways to connect with dealers via their respective Dealer.com websites
“Part of really driving that is — as we brought all of Cox Automotive together, particularly here inside Autotrader — is the use of and our investment in data and analytics to create really good indications of who’s really ready to buy and create personal shopping patterns for them on our site,” Lind said.
Dealer advertising tips
Going back to the early point on having a foundation, the same could be said for dealers and best practices for their own advertising efforts.
“Our basic belief is that first and foremost a dealer really has got to have a strong, fully functioning dealer website, digital retailing platform, digital showroom … they’ve got to have the basics,” Lind said. “They’ve got to be a good SEM marketer to drive traffic to their site.
“And once they have those foundations — and nearly all dealers are doing pretty well there — then we really start to talk to dealers about doing well on third-party sites like Autotrader and maybe Kelley and others,” Lind said.
“And then beyond there, we start talking a digital diet or a digital pyramid where, OK, now you’re really ready for more complicated things like a social media strategy,” he continued.
“You’re probably then ready for the concept of retargeting or remarketing in terms of digital things — meaning, buying cookies in the open marketplace to attract somebody who’s at an Autotrader site or perhaps ESPN and go deeper into it, he said.
But again, it goes back to having a solid foundation. Or as Lind put it, “You don’t need to be doing calculus if you’re not really ready to do the basics, right?”
And then you can get more complicated.
He added: “Where I see dealers getting very good and how I think Autotrader is playing a great role inside of that as well as our friends at Dealer.com and Kelley is more sophisticated marketing (techniques) where they are using tier-less advertising, where the OEM is doing well on one of our sites, and then they’re using that same creative and perhaps buying data and/or cookies to then track consumers that may have looked at .. an SRP here on Autotrader, taking that cookie right down to the specific piece of inventory they were looking at, and then tracking that consumer through the digital universe and putting timely, relevant marketing back in front of (them).
“I don’t believe in just chasing them around the Internet for no reason. But if you get them in other contextual relevant marketing opportunities, I think the concepts of retargeting are really good right now, especially with consumers that are in-market and have shown interest in specific vehicles. And I think dealers are doing much better there.”