Auto Trader has begun a pilot a system of online reviews and ratings of car dealers from this month.
Up to 200 retailers of all types – franchised, independent, OEM-owned, plcs and supermarkets – have been invited to take part, with a geographical spread across the country.
Catherine Webber, the website’s search product manager, told AM the concept had been considered previously and dismissed, but that market research had indicated the time was now right.
“It’s something we feel has gained momentum, both internally and with consumers who expect to see user-generated content about the products they’re buying,” she said. “It has a massive influence in decision-making and is something we want to understand more about.”
The scheme, which has been developed in-house by Trader Media Group, will run as a trial until bosses feel they have the insight they need. That’s likely to be several months, but is open-ended and expected to lead to a full-scale roll-out. There will be no cost to participating dealers to encourage maximum involvement, and no current plans to change that business model.
The gathering of reviews and ratings won’t be limited to customers who have bought a car after viewing it on Auto Trader. Instead, every customer will be contacted by email shortly after their purchase and asked to leave feedback.
They will click through to a review form, split into two sections. The first will ask for a score out of five in three categories – customer service, buying process and value for money – to create an overall rating.
In addition, there will be a free-text field for the customer to offer more detailed feedback, and a final ‘would you recommend this dealer?’ question with a yes/no answer.
Completed surveys will go to third-party moderator Crisp to be checked for compliance issues such as abusive language. During the pilot period, each will also be read by someone before being posted.
Webber said existing dealership review programmes can’t be integrated into the new scheme. However, with the message that any review will help future customers of that retailer, she’s hopeful that around 30 per cent of opened emails would generate feedback.
“One of the things that has influenced us is that people aren’t actually buying anything from us. We’re an intermediary between buyer and seller. The people we are contacting are our dealers’ customers; we’re working in partnership with our clients.”
She added: “A number of things will determine if this is a success or failure. We will be measuring consumer and dealer sentiment – asking them if they find it useful – and also using analytics.”