Category Archives: Verticals

JD Power Auto Roundtable: Digital Auto Ecosystem Shifts

With the majority of U.S. auto buyers now using online and mobile in their research, the auto sites are clarifying their individual roles in the auto ecosystem – and making adjustments where necessary.

This week, a panel of car site leaders at the JD Power Auto Roundtable in Las Vegas – including Cars.com, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book and TrueCar.com — suggested there were two extremes among them. On one side, you have the national verticals that are the successors to the classifieds industry and provide rich information about cars and the buying journey, lead by AutoTrader.com and Cars.com. On the other side, you have sites focused more on providing price estimates for autos, such as Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and TrueCar.com.

Finding a balance between pricing and dealer engagement has been the industry’s challenge.

“Price, while important, is not the sole principal,” said Cars.com SVP Alex Vetter. Most people want to know who to buy from and the quality of the service department. Taking care of customers post sale means a lot to them and they will pay more than the lowest price.

Indeed, a focus on price is seen as a “race to the bottom. “As marketers, we are touting unique value propositions, product quality and things we want to promote.” Vetter notes that Cars.com’s deep editorial content, and growing mobile channel, provides context and relevance for the site’s network of 20,000 dealers.

Edmunds.com President and COO Seth Berkowitz , however, suggested that the presentation of price really is important – so long as it is provided in a rich context. By providing price points that have been paid by other customers, along with price quotes by the dealers, better trust is fostered with consumers. When dealers make promises and keep them, we’ve seen a 10% bump in satisfaction ratings, said Berkowitz – an important boost, as dealer profits are often made less from sales as loyalty efforts such as car trade ins and service.

Berkowitz said that the site now works with 6,000 dealers and is becoming more dealer-centric, rather than relying so much on advertising from the manufacturers. The site’s revenue split is currently 60 percent advertising, 40 percent dealers. By next year, it should be 50/50.

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SevaCall: Qualified Service Leads in 90 Seconds

Fast, efficient service leads has been a goal of numerous companies since the commercialization of the Internet. Richard Rosen and his team at FastCall411 pioneered the space seven or eight years ago, although their service was initially limited to hiring car service. The first car service to respond to queries would win the job.

Several new entrants have jumped into the space. ReachLocal has launched ClubLocal, a service that automatically sends out service pros to customers that send in a query. The pros, who provide discounted service, are sent out based on price quotes, reviews and other criteria.

Another new entrant is SevaCall (i.e. save a call), a five person startup based in Potomac MD that sends out leads to service providers, who can then automatically respond to customers – hopefully, within a 90 second window. The service allows up to three service providers to call consumers, who can do their own price and service comparison, set a service window, and hire who they want.

President and COO Manpreet Singh says the service, which raised $1.3 Million in first round funding, is filtering its leads to find the ideal service providers. It eventually will use call management software to filer leads based on pricing, job types done, ratings and reviews, and even inflection points.

Some service pros are being sent leads for free as an introduction to the service, but Singh tells us that the average lead cost is now $13. It is offering services in more than 50 categories, including taxicabs, florists and accountants. More than 6,000 zipcodes are currently being served, including zips in Atlanta, Boston and Kansas City.

ReachLocal Focuses on Verticals: A Look at its Eyefinity Deal

ReachLocal is now largely focused on providing integrated marketing solutions, including search, retargeting, promotions and process management. As part of this effort, it has also introduced three new brands: ReachCommerce, a process management service; RealLocal Edge, a lead conversion service; and ClubLocal, which allows consumers to book and buy home services online.

It is also drilling down on key verticals, such as auto and health care. The company, which works with 32,500 advertiser locations, recently announced a big deal via is ReachLocal Health Care division to sell the integrated solutions for clients of Eyefinity, which provides business services for eye doctors. Eyefinity will receive compensation for referrals to its franchisees.

ReachLocal HealthCare director Golda Hartman, who is a physician herself, runs a team of 130 sales specialists. She says the division has seen 70 percent year-over-year growth. It makes total sense for digital marketers such as ReachLocal to seek deals with optometrists and other media specialties, she says.

“They do everything in their practices, from business solutions to keeping electronic media records,” she says. The key is to be able to customize not only by vertical, but by type of business and location.

“We look at every individual practice,” notes Hartman. A private practice, for instance, may want to focus on new business or patients that require specialties, she says. Hospitals might focus on other strengths.

ReachLocal CEO Zorik Gordon is keynoting our upcoming Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing event in Austin Sept 11-13, along with leaders of Google, Facebook, Twitter, YP, YPG, Gannett and many others. You may register here.

Schedulicity Makes Case for ‘A-Comm’

The scheduling space is heating up, with a number of key vendors competing for SMB business, companies such as Groupon and Merchant Circle acquiring and integrating scheduling companies into core activities, and new companies such as MyTime attempting to aggregate all the players.

Bozeman, MT-based Schedulicity is one of the key players in the space, selling scheduling and related services for a range of $19.95 to $39.95 per month, depending on the number of users. The company has attracted “tens of thousands” of SMB accounts, booking 1.25 million appointments per month. This week we talked with CEO Joshua Spitzer was promoted to CEO. We talked to Spitzer this week about his vision for appointment- driven SMB commerce (or “A-Comm”)

Spitzer’s first major development is the revamp of Schedulicity.com. In its new guise, it is not only a portal where people book local services, but one that also focuses on customer analytics and consumer discovery of new services. The discovery effort is a major initiative and was launched in late March.

“We facilitate impulse purchasing of services,” says Spitzer. He notes that every person who books a service via Schedulicity is a potential user of the new portal, and is a strong potential customer of all.

“If they used us to book a hair appointment, they may use us for their next massage or to book an appointment in another industry vertical,” says Spitzer.

Meanwhile, Schedulicity’s development continues unabated, covering 60 verticals. Spitzer says the company remains focused on landing SMBs, which he says is always the hard part. A key part of its strategy is to work with third parties such as CosmoProf, a division of Beauty Systems Group, LLC for hair stylists.

“Developing a valuable supply of appointments is difficult,” says Spitzer. “For starters, you not only have to sell to service providers, you have to change the way they do business.” But the ROI is proven – especially if they use Schedulicity as a promotional engine to help drive new customers for unfilled times.

The company, in fact, has two promotional products that are the beginning of efforts to diversify revenue streams: “Pop Up Offers” allow the company to distribute last minute deals to replace cancellations, etc.; and “Deal Manager,” a self-serve product that enables merchants to run their own daily deal type promotions. Additional functionality will be introduced “later this summer.”

GrubHub, Seamless Merge; Mobile Drives Food Ordering Growth


Photo: CNN

Online restaurant ordering and discovery giants GrubHub and Seamless have agreed to merge their operations, creating a single company. Chicago-based GrubHub currently serves more than 20,000 food ordering establishments in 500 cities, while New York-based Seamless serves more than 12,000 food ordering establishments in 400 U.S. cities plus London.

GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney, who co-founded the company in 2004, keeps the CEO job. Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky becomes president. Zabusky recently came on to spin off the operation from Aramark, the corporate catering giant.
The two companies had been going head-to-head in a number of their markets. Both share a vision of the food ordering business being rapidly transformed via smart phone.

We had an extensive discussion with Zabusky in March. At that time, he noted that Seamless had two million regular users and grossed $85 Million in topline revenues in 2012. It projects $100 million in top line revenue in 2013, with major growth seen in coming years.

The company has had a strong foothold in the corporate market, providing food ordering and delivery to law firms, tech firms and investment houses. But its major effort has been focused on the consumer side, which has been experiencing year-over-year growth of 60 percent.

The company has 300 people in three major offices, as well as field based sales. While it is best known for its strong business in Manhattan, where it recently opened a 28,000 square foot facility, Zabusky notes that the company has a strong presence in 13 major U.S. markets. He added that Seamless had “a major national expansion strategy,” and was well-situated to execute it with a customer care center in Salt Lake City.

The key to growth, said Zabusky, was to keep selling new products and features to its food establishment partners. “We don’t make money unless they make more money.”

Zabusky noted that Seamless has been processing electronic order forms, and providing electronic terminals, along with table side ordering apps. Generally, its focus is to move restaurants away from fax machines, and away from phone calls and paper, which he says remains the segment’s biggest competition.

With Seamless, restaurants move up to a “multi-platform portal,” where they could “view, confirm and track orders,” he said. Restaurants also leverage Seamless and its vast network for discovery and retention. For instance, it offers different deals on different days to keep customers coming back. “It is very different than the daily deals space,” he said.

The industry’s transformation via mobile, however, is expecially key. Zabusky says it represents 40 percent of the total business, up from 10 percent a year ago. But for online food ordering, mobile doesn’t just represent a phone. The company’s best customers use the PC-based Web, phones and tablets, he says. “Thirty percent of the mobile volume comes from the iPad.”

After the merger is completed, major competitors for the combined company will include Living Social, which has recently bet big on online food ordering; Delivery.com, which claims a roster of almost 10,000 restaurants in 50 cities; and Eat24.com, which covers 20,000 restaurants in 1,000 cities across the country.

LSA 2013: CityGrid’s Finger Bets on Vertical Revival

Seven years ago, in 2006, we began evangelizing a vision of local media driven by vertical specialties. These would drive high value leads with better, more relevant searches. In this light, Google was seen as a “perpetual vertical machine,” driving every query higher and higher up the food chain.

The vertical revolution never happened — at least to the extent that we envisioned it. There have been many successful vertical breakouts, but a lot of the vertical vision has been preempted by horizontal media that have incorporated verticalization. In recent years, many cross-the-board platforms have diminished the need to verticalize.

Going forward, CityGrid Media CEO Jason Finger thinks that’s wrong-headed. Speaking with Greg Sterling at The Local Search Association meeting in Las Vegas April 16, Finger said the local community has given up too soon on the vertical vision.

“People are taking a broad approach, but the world is evolving towards specialization,” says Finger, who had a major vertical success earlier in his career with Seamless, the online food ordering company, and ZocDoc, the doctor scheduling service. Local sites such as CityGrid have fallen into this as well. They have “tried to be all things to all people,” but the key is to “lean into leads very aggressively.”

Finger says the next generation of local leads will be ruled by “connection types” that “provide high quality ROI, and then get deeper.” They might schedule an appointment, manage as a CRM tool, provide transactional services or rely on call management, he says. “Merchants will demand that service providers get more sophisticated and adapt this kind of pricing,” he suggests.

This means a fundamental shift away from eyeballs to utility. Tools that provide good utility will prove more sustainable than generalized information, even if they are not the highest traffic drivers. A third ranked source of traffic might be more important to the sustainability of a site than the number one source.

It also means a shift in sales strategies. The historical approach of being a comprehensive directory required “a very large sales effort,” says Finger. Newer efforts may be better off with mid-sized or smaller sales team that can build out their capabilities in specific verticals.

AutoTrader Head Chip Perry Resigns; Favorite ‘Chip Perryisms’

Chip Perry, the visionary who was asked by Cox in 1997 to facilitate its own disruption with the launch of AutoTrader –going right after its print classified revenues — has resigned as President and CEO of Cox Enterprise’s AutoTrader Group.

Manheim Auto President Sanford (Sandy) Schwartz will now take the helm along with his existing duties. Schwartz previously led Cox Media Group, and is well versed in digital services, personally heading a major Cox initiative on local search.

AutoTrader.com remains the #1 online B2C auto site. But since 2010, when it began seriously exploring the IPO market, it has greatly expanded its operations via a vertical acquisition (Kelley Blue Book) and auto industry software (vAuto, CDMdata, HomeNet Automotive, and VinSolutions.) AutoTrader Group grosses over $1 billion a year.

Prior to his position with AutoTrader, Perry led several digital initiatives at Times Mirror. He has been a true pioneer in the development of vertical online media, making up the rules for what a vertical site should be as he went along. His personal style has also been unique. Any walk through the hallways of AutoTrader’s headquarters with Perry was a joyful exercise in Meet and Greet – he knows almost everyone.

Inside the industry, he is known as a very tough competitor who doesn’t give an inch. The same attitude was reflected in his relations with industry analysts. He challenges every critical comment, but is personally gracious at all times. A model top executive, he could often be found sitting in the back at BIA/Kelsey conferences and auto industry events, taking it all in and ready to exchange ideas with just about anyone.

Some Favorite “Chip Perryisms” Over the Years

• The secret to success in the auto space is to “focus on unmet needs.” When it comes to auto sites, what people want are “cars, inventory and specials.”

• “We always operate on the assumption that horizontal companies are coming after us.”

• Online’s real value is that it is closing the information gap. “The biggest gap was making used cars visible. We used to have three percent of them visible; now we have 50 percent.”

• The automotive industry is “an influencing medium rather than a direct response medium. The fundamental role of an intermediary is to influence consumers.”


Image: Atlanta Business Journal