Online deal-making part of Autotrader revamp

The new Autotrader homepage. Photo courtesy of company.

Autotrader announced a revamp of the car-shopping site Monday with five key upgrades, including online deal-making.

This would will allow consumers to start the buying process online through Autotrader and help “move shoppers from searching to buying when they are ready,” the company said.

Additional upgrades include seamless cross-device car shopping, the integration of the Kelley Blue Book Price Advisor tool, an enhanced search experience and personalized shopper content.  

The company plans to start by launching a mobile-first homepage then conducting staged rollouts throughout 2018.

“Car shoppers have set clear expectations of how they like to shop and transact online: to have a trusted and transparent experience that’s fast and enjoyable,” said Jessica Stafford, senior vice president and general manager of Autotrader, in a news release.

“At Autotrader, we’ve made bigger, smarter and bolder investments to create a more modern and complete digital shopping experience that will improve site satisfaction with consumers and generate more opportunities for dealers to connect with local, ready-to-buy shoppers,” she said.

Starting the car purchase online

And some of those buyers may have already started the process of purchasing the vehicle.

In a phone interview last week, Stafford said Autotrader will be “iteratively” launching the various components of digital retailing and online deal-making integration on the site throughout the year.

So how, exactly, would this work? What would online deal-making look like for a consumer on the Autotrader site?

“It’s going to evolve and grow over the course of the year. You’ll see components on the site in some places now,” Stafford said. “You’ll see even more of them come to life around the NADA time frame and then more throughout the year. And what we start with is what we call self-penciling.

“So, a consumer can go to a vehicle details page and they’re going to see right there at the top of the page a module that allows them to start penciling their deal,” she said.

That would include some initial steps for the shopper, like looking at the car’s starting price, whether or not he or she has a trade-in, specific details about that trade-in, the shape of his or her credit and the availability of incentives.

“And they’ll be able to submit that deal start over to the dealer, and be able to go back and forth and talk about that deal, talk about what opportunities exist,” Stafford said.

But this is just the first step of the process.

“By the end of the year, and throughout the year, we’ll continue to build on that process and we plan to get to a place where we enable a lot more of that process online,” she said.  

Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group president Brian Geitner, who also joined the call, said dealers will be able to set the various components of the deal like the starting down payment, rate table and so forth.

He points out that having the ability to start penciling in the deal can help boost the confidence level for the shopper.

“And then when you engage with the dealer team member and start showing them the car deal and asking particular questions and getting advice from them, your confidence is high, it’s been a pleasurable experience up to that point,” he said.

“Versus today, where it’s actually at the dealership, there’s a desk between you, there are papers spread out and you’re first hit with terms and rates” and it can lead to the customer putting his or her defenses up, Geitner said.

“The guard isn’t up when you’re comfortable at your kitchen table,” he said. “We’re proud of bringing that to our consumers. Our dealers fully understand this and want it with open arms. We see increased sales, we see helping them with their margins. We just see this being the future process and Cox Automotive’s opportunity to bring these parties together, and create more car sales.”

Granted, the company believes consumers will still want to walk into the actual dealership to test-drive the car and finalize the purchase.

“But they’ll be able to do everything from put a deposit down and reserve that car, go back and forth to see real monthly payments” and not just an estimate, view and understand available add-ons, Stafford said.

A Cox Automotive digital retailing study indicates that by beginning online and reducing time in dealership by as little as half-an-hour, there can be considerable gains in consumer satisfaction with the dealer, car and experience, Stafford said.  What’s more, it can lead to repeat customers.

As far as next steps for online deal-making, “We’ve got a lot more detail that will come out over the course of the year, but we plan to create a solution that allows consumers to (do) everything from this deal-start we’re talking about now, all the way to transacting and reserving the car, to walk into that dealership and be done,” Stafford said.

She added: “That’s through Autotrader specifically and enabled across Cox Automotive. We are developing products that do the same thing on a dealer’s website through our platform, as well as opportunities to implement our digital retailing solution on any dealer’s website.”

KBB Price Advisor added to Autotrader

As for another key component of the upgrade, the integration of KBB Price Advisor into Autotrader listings marks the first time the company has “very intentionally, at a mass level” integrated the two brands together.

Autotrader will be the only third-party car shopping site to include KBB’s Fair Market Range on all eligible car listings, the company said.

 “Kelley Blue Book Price Advisor being integrated on Autotrader listings is huge for us,” Stafford said. “It’s the first time that we are very intentionally, at a mass level, integrating these two top brands together, and really leveraging the strength of each brand: the price confidence and valuations expertise on the Kelley Blue Book side and, of course, the expertise of Autotrader on the classifieds and listings side and putting them together to create the best experience we can for car shoppers, and even more engagement and ready-to-buy shoppers to our dealers’ lots.”

Stafford later added: “We know that cars shoppers want to feel confident about their decision and the biggest part of that is the price.”

The three other pieces to the Autotrader upgrade will largely be back-end components to help facilitate the various changes to the site.

Stafford said: “These are pieces that are going to be a little less visible to a consumer but should totally change the way they experience our site, giving them even more relevant cars that kind of bubble up to the top that are exactly what they’re looking for in their shopping process, which will drive even more, again, engagement back to our dealer partners and allow them to connect with the right car-buyers faster and sell them cars faster.”

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