ADM serves Car Dealers, Automotive Marketing Pros and Internet Sales Managers
AutoTrader made a major announcement regarding its use of dealer inventory:
Below is an excerpt from a mass e-mail that was sent to dealer's.
"This document provides insights into the additional exposure AutoTrader.com provides customers through syndication of our website to select affiliate sites. It’s important to note that AutoTrader.com syndicates our actual website to these sites and does not distribute customer inventory to other sites. With two exceptions, both of which are AutoTrader Group consumer facing sites (KBB.com and DealsOnWheels.com), consumers that view AutoTrader.com inventory on our affiliate sites are redirected back to the dealers’ inventory listing on AutoTrader.com. This approach enables us to ensure that our standards for privacy and the dealers’ expectation for usage remain intact while providing customers with value-added additional exposure."
This is huge! This separates AutoTrader's policies in a very DRASTIC way from what Cars.com is doing! Now, understand, I am in no way advocating for AutoTrader.com. But it is important that dealers understand the BIG difference here. At first glance, it would seem that AutoTrader is more inline with dealer best interests in all ways EXCEPT one!
There is still one MAJOR issue with AutoTrader and that is the ROADLOANS product. I still find the following completely unacceptable:
1) By offering Roadloans, AutoTrader ceases to be an advertiser working for the benefit of their clients (the dealer) and becomes a competitor.
2) If a consumer is interested in a particular vehicle in a dealer's inventory and that dealer is not also a road loans client, the customer will be redirected to some other dealer that IS a road loans customer when they indicate interest via clicking the road loans product.
THIS IS STILL COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. DEALER'S MUST DEMAND THAT AUTOTRADER RESOLVE THIS ISSUE IMMEDIATELY.
I feel that with that last issue resolved, AutoTrader would be aligned with the interests of their clients, the dealer body.
Jim Ziegler and I have been working furiously to raise dealer awareness about the underhanded tactics of many of the vendors. As you all know, Jim has been standing high on his soap box making sure dealers know who's doing it, what they're doing, how to check and so on.
Well, I've been quiet for a few days. I've been on the phones calling talking to some of the folks at AutoTrader. Why would I do this you ask? Very simple! I view this Cars.com debacle as a tremendous opportunity for any vendor to stand tall and say, "Hey you know what, we may not have been doing things quite as egregious as the other guy, but this issue has made us take a look at our own practices and we agree we can do better!"
What an awesome statement that would make! Come out in support of transparency and a Dealer's Bill of Rights. Dealers, how f'ing hypocritical do these vendors look preaching transparency in your stores for how many years and now they want to run backdoor deals on your backs using your intellectual property!?
Having a personal history with AutoTrader that was positive and part of change for the better for dealers in the past, I foolishly figured that we might be able to bottle lightning again. Sadly, the days of Chip Perry and Alan Smith being instrumental in making culture changes for the betterment of all are long behind us. Chip, we miss you already.
I made strong efforts to get that ball rolling. Instead they opted for avoidance and shenanigans to keep any real meaningful dialogue from taking place. Its interesting too, my contact there like many others at these companies seemed to think doing the right thing would be a no brainer.
Well when the bough breaks the cradle will fall and it HAS FALLEN HERE!
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Its time to say goodbye. DEALERS, get on the horn! Get your digital Rep's in your office immediately and demand transparency! Demand that your vendors adopt a Dealer's Bill of Rights!
So what are we going to do?
-Step one: Call your vendor. Ask if they will provide transparency with regard to anywhere and everywhere they are sending, syndicating, or selling your data (inventory, customer data, ANYTHING)
-Step two: If yes, demand it in writing by days end. If no, send written cancellation notice to said vendor.
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW! YOU ARE UNDER ATTACK! THESE VENDORS HAVE NO INTEREST IN YOUR PROFITABILITY OR SUCCESS! THEY ARE THE PARASITE AND YOU ARE THE ORGANISM THEY ARE BLEEDING DRY.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
I was speaking with a colleague from Canada today who was explaining that Canadian dealers went through a similar awakening regarding data transparency a few years ago. AutoTrader.ca was the culprit at the time, sending data to lead aggregators.
What is interesting is that today there are virtually no 3rd party lead aggregators serving Canadian shoppers. You can see that when you utilize Google Think insights. Try it yourself! http://www.google.ca/think/tools/customer-journey-to-online-purchas...
When you hit the site, scroll to the last section: Customer Journey to Purchase: Benchmarks Dashboard.
Choose the Auto channel. You will notice the prominence of the "other paid" channel. Now change from US to Canada. What you will notice is the absence of this channel.
Many have speculated that 3rd party providers are a necessary evil and one that will never go away. This data suggests that premise to be false. What we learn here is that if dealers stop supporting the system that is designed to hurt them, the industry will in fact vanish.
Dealer Bill of Rights
Here are some thoughts on a framework for a "Dealer's Bill of Rights"
Please critique and lets get the voices of Vendor's AND Dealer's in the mix here!
Auto Dealer/Vendor Transparency Covenant
A. Lead Submission
At the point that the consumer chooses dealer Inventory, direct
solicitation by vendor ends. PERIOD
B. Affiliate Lead Diversion
1. If a paying customer (dealer) has an interested party on their inventory, the vendor should not offer services to that customer that would divert that customer to a competitor (ROAD LOANS)
II. Data Policy
Dealers should have clear access to names/lists of all vendor
Dealers should have ability to choose where inventory is
B. Mutual Responsibility
When a dealer chooses an advertiser, there is implied trust.
Vendor should vet affiliates/partners for QC to ensure that
dealers are not at risk with their state rules and the affiliates comply with standards for removing old/sold inventory, etc.
Compliancy standard should be set and adhered to by all
top tier AR vendors.
List to be kept on all vendors in/out of compliance with
Fund to be established to provide for the policing of
compliance/standards. Paid for by members of standard.
SOUND OFF! WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK!
DEALERS! Are your vendors stealing YOUR intellectual property? Have you every looked at your inventory? (See image below)
Notice anything interesting?
That's right, COPYRIGHT! Are the companies that are displaying your inventory without your permission at risk? Do they owe dealers compensation for using their intellectual property without their permission?
Cars.com Controversy Continues!
Cars.com just held a webinar with their field rep's instilling the party line! What's the summary?
-"WE HAVE NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR!"
-ZIEGLER AND FRIENDS ARE CRACKPOTS
-HOLD OUT, STORM WILL PASS.
Not surprising since Alex Vetter seems to think dealers should have ZERO say in what their vendor does. In fact, in a recent tweet, he suggests that listening to dealers would result in a useless cars.com website:
Beware of those that sell slander for personal gain. They don't know what the hell they are talking about and hinder innovation.
Mr. Vetter clearly thinks that dealers are stupid and that cars.com knows what's best for them. These are the guys who have been claiming to be "dealer friendly." Its interesting how companies show you their true colors when asked to be open and transparent. Apparently, honesty, integrity, and transparency inhibit innovation. Thanks for clearing that up!
-Cars.com WAS advertising YOUR competitors to customers who were interested in your specific inventory! AND THEY DID THIS WITHOUT ASKING YOUR PERMISSION
(Because of dealer outrage they have ceased this activity, but have stated they are looking to re-introduce this strategy with dealers who opt-in)
-Cars.com IS sending your inventory to MANY other 3rd party websites INCLUDING CARGURU's a DEALER-HOSTILE WEBSITE!
Now let me explain why some of us consider CarGuru's a "dealer-hostile website." CarGuru's will pay other 3rd party providers to get inventory from non-customers. The list those vehicles on their website and provide vehicle pricing information (no problem so far). BUT THEY ALSO WILL LABEL YOUR INVENTORY A "BAD DEAL" if they consider the price to be too high. What is the basis for this consideration? Its hard to say. It has been speculated that non-customers have an easier chance (or a lower threshold) for being labeled a "Bad Deal" than do customers. I have seen evidence from one dealer who showed 2 identical vehicles. One was actually priced several hundred dollars above his vehicle in question, but his was labeled a "Bad Deal" while the other vehicle (priced higher!) was labeled a "Fair Deal."
Dealers. Its one thing to provide transparency to the consumer when it comes to price information. But no vendor ought to be sticking their nose in to the process and interjecting a SUBJECTIVE opinion and calling a dealer's inventory a "BAD DEAL". They shouldn't be calling it anything! Good, Bad or Ugly!
-An internal Cars.com document has also surfaced citing that dealers can OPT-OUT of having their inventory sent to CarGuru's but that Cars.com will NOT release the names of other vendors they are sending your inventory to. Now folks, they use the term "affiliates" in this document. That would suggest that they are being paid for the information they are providing. But in fairness and to be completely transparent, it is not spelled out in plain english if they are in fact being paid and profiting on the backs of dealers for doing this. But I'm sure being intelligent businessmen that dealer's are, you can draw your own conclusions...
In other news. It has been brought to my attention that Brian Pasch owns a lead aggregating website. It has been suggested that because of this, his original opinion regarding the cars.com e-mail campaign was formed out of a conflict of interest to dealers. I will say, I can understand the perception that could be created by this, but I don't believe that Brian would willfully deceive anyone out of some self interest. Also, and in no way am I trying to denigrate Brian's success, but lets face it, the automotive advertising network is no cars.com.
One last point of concern and please, dealers, don't dismiss this. One common theme surrounding all of this cars.com controversy is that in the digital marketing industry, Cars.com are the good guys. And I happen to agree with this generalization. Now think about that statement for a minute. If Cars.com are the good guys and they will lie to you. Take your money. Send your customers advertisements from your competitors once they indicated they would rather do business with you. AND send your inventory YOUR COMMODITY THAT YOU PAY TO FLOORPLAN TO SOME WEBSITE THAT BASICALLY CALLS YOU A CHEAT MAKING "BAD DEALS"... Then what are your other vendors doing that you don't know about who maybe aren't good guys at all?
Dealers. You need to stand together. You need to get on the phones and DEMAND transparency from cars.com. If you must send cancellation notices to get that transparency so be it. Again, I still believe that the overall business model of cars.com is designed to provide a valuable service to dealers. I would hate to see any dealer HAVE to cancel to make their point. But if that is all they will respect than you must use the weapon you have to defend yourself! Si vis pacem para bellum!
Cars.com has conceded to dealer demand and ended the e-mail campaign! BUT, new allegations have surfaced that suggest that Cars.com is reselling dealer inventory to dealer-hostile websites like CarGurus! We need dealers to sound off to bring this to light. If you are not doing business with CarGurus and you are doing business with Cars.com are you finding your inventory on the CarGurus website?