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New consumer search tools 'improve industry's reputation' says CAP

The increased availability of residual value and running cost data to consumers will contribute to improving the reputation of motor retail, it's been claimed.

Numerous suppliers have in the last two years began to offer information via online search tools which had previously been exclusively available to dealers and suppliers and had led to negativity amongst buyers due to the lack of clarity at best in showrooms and, at worst, of unfair trading tactics.

Now, one of those companies behind the opening up of information to the consumer says the approach, while changing the way dealers do business, will have a positive impact on the industry's perception.

CAP has two tools that are designed to better inform car buyers on the value of their existing vehicle and the total cost of ownership of any on their shopping list. The searches translate into leads that CAP is selling on to dealers and manufacturers.

The lead generation programme has been live for six months and in March the site received 100,000 unique visitors, bring the total since going live at the end of last year to 300,000. So, far this has translated into more than 15,000 leads for new and used cars per month.

Matt Thompson, CAP marketing director, said: "Media headlines have been saying for more than a year now the automotive industry isn't in a bad place, thanks to month-on-month improvements in new car registrations.

"So, it would be easy for a consumer to not expect a great transactional process, you will get charged too much, not to say ripped off. But we're offering tools that will help to dispell that myth.

"We are independent, which is an undeniable strength to consumers, and we see our provision of accurate data as enabling better conversations between the two parties.

"Today, a consumer can have information that says, you thought your car was worth £10,000, but actually it's worth between £8,000 and £9,000. 

"And also when you've part-exchanged your car to a dealer for £9,000, don't be surprised if you see it on the forecourt for £12,500 - £13,000 - it's not all about pure profit, but could be down to preparation/repair costs that were necessary."

Thompson believes new online tools will help towards transforming car buying as the only retail sector where the transaction process isn't an inherently "comfortable" one. And, with the FCA voicing its determination to improve the sale of finance and insurance products leading to a transformation in the sale of such products in dealerships, "it's better that we bring about the change than have legislation do it for us", Thompson said.

The valuation tool (at www.cap.co.uk/consumer/free-used-car-valuations) asks for registration number, mileage or ask users to specify the make and model amongst other details. The cost of ownership tool works on the same principles and factors in costs of finance, car depreciation, fuel, as well as service, maintenance and repair charges.

CAP estimates there are, at any time, two million people looking at buying a new or used car. It wants around half a million of these to be using its tools, which see a user explaining why they are selling their car, if they are looking for a part-ex, the timescale they are working to, will the purchase be with cash or finance and annual mileage.

It also plans to monitor dealer response times to leads through seeding the lists they send to them.

Ben Maguire, CAP's head of consumer, said: "Dealers are getting better at managing leads. And with better CRM systems many have, which our information can feed directly into, head offices are certainly more aware of follow up activity."

CAP also disputes the idea voiced by some dealers that they don't need more leads, but need to handle those they already get, better. "I don't believe this can be a genuine feeling. Business might be good now, but nurturing every sales opportunity will put you in good stead for when the market is a little more difficult," Maguire said.

It also acknowledges it is playing its part in changing the way consumers buy cars - the shopping or selection process is done before the consumer visits the showroom. The conversation is then about the deal to be done.

"When a CAP lead comes to a dealership, the sales person should want to take it because it has all the information they need, and the consumer should get an offer that's absolutely pertinent to them," Maguire said.

It says it has dealer customers and increasingly manufacturers are interested in buying leads. One customer is BMW.

Its call centre takes the leads and communicates with the consumer before passing them on to a dealer. "The likelihood of a dealer being able to claim the leads they received were duff is gone, since BMW has already qualified them," said Thompson.



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