The importance and prevalence of online reviews is ever increasing; that’s why we discuss customer reviews so much here. That’s why it was no surprise to see this article from Ward’s Dealer Business about Cars.com entering into the auto dealers review space. They had long been allowing customers to review cars; the ability to rate individual dealerships will be new. Emphasis added:
Cars.com will add consumers’ dealer reviews on its automotive marketplace website, starting in March. “We are throwing the entire organization behind it,” Cars.com CEO Mitch Golub tells Ward’s here during the North American International Auto Show. “It is a win-win for consumers and dealers.”
“There are about 500,000 dealership reviews out there, but it is a fragmented space; there’s no critical mass,” Golub says. “We can bring order, balance and credibility. And we will split reviews between sales and service, which are two completely different dealership areas.”
Although some dealers may dread the prospects of customers rating them online, surveys indicate 80% of dealer reviews are positive.
Initially, only dealers who sign up will be subject to reviews. “Any dealer can join,” Golub says. “Then, in the summer, we’ll put all dealers onboard. We want to take the time to do it right.”
Dealers who skew to bad reviews should see that as a reason to make changes at their stores, Noeth says. “A lot of negative reviews reflect negativity in the dealership, something that hurts sales. In a sense, our posting reviews will give dealers a free focus group.”
An outside firm, Bazaarvoice.com, will monitor the consumer postings and delete highly offensive ones
“We’re not editing out critical reviews, but we want to make this as fair as possible,” Golub says. “We may choose not to publish personal attacks or reviews that are blatantly unfair.”
Dealers will get a chance to respond to negative reviews, as well as to post a description of what they might do to resolve contentious issues.
Cars.com will run two 30-second Super Bowl ads on Feb. 6. The theme of the spots will be online reviews, without specifically mentioning Cars.com’s impending dealer reviews, Golub says.
Auto dealers take note! Sounds like cars.com isn’t just jumping in with both feet, but grabbing a couple friends and doing a group cannonball. You (and really, any business) need to have a plan in place for online reputation management. A big part of that plan will include monitoring reviews. Make sure cars.com is at the top of your list beginning this March / June depending on whether or not you are or are going to become a Cars.com member.
One could argue about the fragmentation quote. Google – especially with Hotpot and in its historic practice of scraping other sites’ reviews – will end up being a consolidation point. And cars.com isn’t the only auto-place out there. But with 200-million visitors per year, this will certainly make an enormous impact on the auto dealer industry. It’s also good that they will allow an easy way for dealers to respond to posts: just don’t be defensive!
As for scrubbing reviews…that’s a tough one. Certainly some things need to not be added. But just like with blog commenting, they’ll need to have a clearly defined Review Policy for transparency. Otherwise, people might believe cars.com plays favorites and undermine their dealer review efforts. And it should go without saying that big advertisers should not get any special consideration here.