Ian Plummer, Auto Trader's manufacturer and agency director explains why it wants to become a one-stop shop for consumers
What are the other marketplaces that you believe offer motor retailers the most to learn from?
Booking.com, Skyscanner, Rightmove, Zoopla – they are about big-ticket items too. Think about what big-ticket consumers spend a lot of money on – number one is their home, number two their car and number three is usually a big holiday. In two of those three industries, you have very effective marketplaces. In cars, that marketplace doesn’t really exist in the way it ought to – to help consumers find their next new car in the same easy way as those other marketplaces. What those places do is what we try to take inspiration from.
It’s the notion of ease of search, of transparency, of speed and simplicity of search, these are all things we aim to deliver. They are things those marketplaces are already very good at.
Do manufacturers now accept that consumers won’t go to each individual brand’s website to find their car, and that they will use sites like AutoTrader to shop in one place?
Clearly some brands engage with that journey more than others. All are relatively realistic to the fact that customers needing a hotel use websites such as Booking.com, and then may go to the relevant website of the individual hotels for more information and even to transact. In the same way, I think they do recognise that the car buyer needs to do the same thing. The car industry has some ingrained practices that suggest it would love consumers to come to the brand website. But Google estimates 60% of car buyers don’t visit the brand website, they’re probably going to marketplaces like ourselves or to independent publishers who allow them to compare different makes and models and, more importantly, to move from one to another. Once they recognise this, they do recognise the power of those marketplaces to provide a coherent, consistent journey similar to what they show on the brand site.
Some are keen to bring the consumer from that marketplace back to the brand website. Some are conscious a consumer will come to a marketplace to find a new car and happily stay there, and are working with us to provide all the tools to allow the consumer to find out everything they need about that car and then engage with the retailer in an easy way.
The success of Auto Trader is built on a powerful consumer experience. That brings consumers to us. They also come because the stock is here, and the stock is coming because the retailers see consumers are here. We keep building the best consumer experience, providing easy search by finance and adding in deal-building capabilities, such as part-exchange valuation. We make a virtuous cycle which should deliver value to the consumer, then the other things will follow.
Are online sales a growth opportunity for the industry?
Anything which delivers a consumer experience that is better and more diverse than we have given traditionally is a good thing. So long as the industry believes – and I don’t think many do by now – that there’s only one consumer journey, ending in traditionally interacting with the retailer and doing the paperwork in the dealership, that is likely to put off a number of buyers. Anything that makes the process more transparent, more seamless, and unlocks different journeys for different people, will unlock much more and new opportunities to deliver cars to people in new ways.
Different finance products will unlock new opportunities for some people to engage with cars. Give someone a monthly subscription to a car, for example.
So will short-term subscription models become a feature of the market in future?
It will allow us to give more varied solutions to a consumer base. The trio of fundamental aspects of a car usership experience that people are looking for is value, convenience and flexibility. It depends on which of that trio each individual ranks most highly.
Our parents’ generation would have bought their first new car in their mid-40s, having bought five or six used cars before that, and the new car was aspirational. Our generation likely bought our first new car in our 30s after two or three used cars. The fear of retailers and brands is that Generation Z doesn’t want to own cars any more, they want usership. But people still tell us they want exclusive access, and the Generation Z members we interviewed recently told us they would like to get their first new car at the age of 23, after just one used car, and on a monthly payment. So people still plan to get one, and finance is enabling them to do so. The more accessible you make it to more people, then it’s an opportunity more than a risk.
So, in attracting a customer at such a young age, it’s the brand’s and dealer’s opportunity to win their loyalty with the right experience and level of satisfaction, isn’t it?
There’s always an opportunity, if they keep the experience and satisfaction across sales and aftersales, and use the CRM tools available. The challenge is that consumers are less inclined to be loyal now. They change so frequently, that they feel like trying something else.
How do you see the market evolving in 2019?
We have focused on developing a new car journey that we believe allows consumers a much easier search for their ideal car. It’s helping to better match their demand to an industry level of supply. What happens currently is that more than 100,000 new vehicles will be buried from view, under wraps in compounds or in transport.
The product we put in place last year tackles this. We are aiming to offer a one-stop shop, allowing consumers to shop across Auto Trader and compare cars across new, used and nearly new, because they usually don’t have a clear view of what they are looking for.
We are also trying to give a level of transparency around price. New car pricing is so murky with the manufacturer RRP not really worth an awful lot. The consumer knows they’re rarely likely to pay that for most volume car brands – there’s an expectation of always getting some support from the brand or retailer. By showing the level of discount available on Auto Trader, we’re bringing transparency to that journey.
Consumers don’t even know that 75% of new cars are held in stock in the UK and are ready to buy. They expect they will need to tailor their car and get it built at the factory. Consumers are telling us they would pay more to get the car they want quicker, rather than having to wait for long delivery times.
But aren’t you creating a nationwide competition?
It’s not across the whole nation, it’s within a 50-mile radius. By doing it this way, we’re allowing people to see a fair price, but a local price, but it avoids the risk of the most desperate retailer – who is prepared to sell cars at a potential loss – making their price visible to everybody who has no intention of crossing the country to buy their car.
With 9.3 million monthly unique users coming to Auto Trader, we dwarf Google – with four times as many automotive term searches. We dwarf the manufacturer sites, with 10 times more minutes spent on site than the combined websites of all manufacturers in the UK.
That gives us huge scale. We see what the consumer is actually doing and thinking about cars. We are now gathering their feedback, what they actually like about their cars, rating their own model, and we have more than 250,000 reviews by now.
So consumers can see the expert review from our editorial team, and information from people actually owning one today.
What success have you had with new cars so far?
The first new car stock went online in August 2018. Since the start of this year, we have seen 1.3 million unique users engaging with new cars on Auto Trader. In the first 10 days of March, we had 1.1 million ad views of new cars on our site. There are currently 32,000 new vehicles listed. Clearly, that figure is dwarfed by what we do with used cars, but the opportunity is significant. It will be a paid proposition as of July 1. We are having discussions with retailers about the value they are gaining from this – more than 1,000 already put their new car stock on Auto Trader.
How are you tackling the complexity of incorporating all manufacturer incentives and sales campaigns to correctly reflect new car pricing?
Auto Trader is working with vehicle manufacturers and their captive finance houses to plug their own retailer offers into the new car stock advertising. We already have links with retail offers with eight manufacturers and we are in advanced discussions with 10 others. We’re looking to engage with all manufacturers to factor in finance and deposit contributions into each individual stock advert.
Some of them are less speedy to engage because it’s quite sensitive data. We have partnered with Codeweavers, the same company we partner with for all the retailer finance solutions and that provides us with a pipe through to the captive finance houses.
Tim Rose and Tom Seymour