Tag Archives: cars.com

Digital First ‘Complements’ Cars.com with Tracking, Other Services

What does a newspaper company do when it loses its affiliation with a major vertical brand? That was the question for The San Jose Mercury News and some of the other Digital First Media papers on New Years Day, when the company’s partnership with Cars.com ended.

The Digital First newspapers knew that most car dealers wouldn’t want to abandon an existing relationship with a partner like Cars.com, a major source of leads and online presence. The answer? Change the value proposition that local car dealers had with the newspaper. For instance, it could complement the Cars.com relationship by developing a service agency-like model. Specifically,it could track where the dealers’ leads came from, and provide actionable information about these active car shoppers.

To this end, Digital First signed up with Cupertino-based TapClassifieds, and its growing, 15 person TapClassifieds Auto division. As part of its program, TapClassifieds evaluates websites, landing pages, text emails and credit applications as they come in. It also clean ups a dealer’s inventory to make landing pages more aesthetic, and to track results.

Tracking dealer results from Craig’s List – a major channel for dealer visibility and source of leads — has proved especially important. The site switched to a premium classifieds model Dec. 3, killing a dealer’s ability to “spam” the site –along with a dealer’s rivals. Consequently, dealers needed to review their efforts on Craig’s List, and pursue alternatives.

Another major task for TapClassifieds: make sure that listings on sites like Craig’s List and eBay Motors are compliant with their regulations. They must remain compliant with the site’s terms of use or see their accounts shuttered without warning or recourse.

“It’s a far cry from the old days, when people would just want to see inventory,” said TapClassifieds COO Jeff Herr, a longtime digital newspaper vet who left MediaNews Group two years ago to join the startup. “There are many, many tasks that you need to do to support the dealer. We are a service bureau.” Pricing for the service runs $15 per month per car, adds Herr.

Digital First has been testing the model with Bay Area auto dealers, and it has now announced a strategic partnership to take the program across all of its markets. DFM properties in Philadelphia, Connecticut, Texas and New Mexico are already up and running.

For TapClassifieds, Herr says that autos are the tip of the iceberg. RV Dealers, real estate and vacation rentals will each launch soon. “Real estate is unplowed Earth,” he notes.

iPad’s Impact on Newspapers: Too Little, Too Late?

Wired on the iPad, via All Things D

Next month, Apple’s iPad comes out (and I will buy one). But what will be the impact of iPads and tablets from other companies on traditional media? Many are considering it to be the new magazine form factor. In theory, the iPad would make online ads compelling, and better enable digital subscriptions and a la carte buys. Wired Magazine, for one, has been showing off a good- looking prototype. I highly recommend this video from the Wall Street Journal’s All Things D site.

Newspapers will look great, too. Look at The New York Times iPad demo. My guess, however, is that the iPad’s impact on newspapers’ bottom line will be marginal for several years – and then, it may be too late. While the iPad should have excellent introductory sales, most sales will likely be low end units without communications, so their usage will be mostly home and coffee shop based. Low end units, limited to WiFi Internet, are $499. Wireless Communications adds $130, plus $30 a month. Wifi-only won’t provide a big lift to newspapers, because it doesn’t get the product onto commuter trains.

Newspaper companies, of course, are better positioned to participate in the mobile revolution than a year ago by virtue of their vertical properties, such as Classified Ventures’ Cars.com and Apartments.com. Both are “on the go” media sites that allow users to get information on a 24/7 basis, but more importantly, while they are out and about shopping for their category.

Other newspaper niche sites, like The Envelope from The Los Angeles Times , bring newspapers into an entirely new domain with the addition of online App games based on news and entertainment. These might ultimately play a role in the transformation of newspapers.

For now, I’m not counting on significant advertising or circulation revenue to develop for newspapers directly because of their investments in tablet devices, or mobile generally.

DriverSide, RepairPal Engage Local Repair Shops, Car Owners

Auto Repairs are a $150 billion part of the U.S. economy, but leads and advertising for auto repair shops remain relatively underdeveloped – even though fewer than 30 percent of U.S. drivers can claim a trusted mechanic. Seeking to change all that are two companies that register cars and make repair and service recommendations : RepairPal and DriverSide.

RepairPal is mostly focused on providing expert and unbiased information and delivering its “AppointmentsPlus” leads for scheduling repairs. The company has partnered with players such as Cars.com, AutoNation and AAA. It also just announced a partnership with The Automotive Services Association, a trade group. It also has a longstanding relationship with the Automotive Services Council of California.

DriverSide’s focus is on getting car owners to build free “online garages” for each registered car, where they can receive information on repair estimates, ask a mechanic, find a mechanic, find parts, and alerts on recalls, etc.. The site has formed key partnerships with companies such as eBay Motors and Precision Tuning, and will soon have 700,000 garages. Advertisers buy monthly lead package programs,with leads priced at different rates, based on categories.

As of today, DriverSide is also providing an online diagnostic tool based on what owners see, smell, hear or feel.” If the site can virtually diagnose the problem, it offers advice for how to fix it, including ‘how to’ videos. If the problem requires professional work, DriverSide will recommend local mechanics and tell the user how much they should pay for the service.

“A hundred dollars spent in proactive car care can save drivers thousands in repair costs down the road,” says DriverSide.com CEO Jad Dunning in a release. “Our site is designed to be a resource for car owners who want to keep their cars running and in good condition, but need a little help along the way. We save drivers both time and money through every step of car ownerships, from purchase to repairs, insurance to accessories.”

Dealix Rolls Up ‘Big 3’ Portals for Auto Quotes

Providing price quotes to online auto shoppers (and the auto ecosystem of lead providers and OEMs) has been a tough business for third party auto sites. It involves a lot of interaction with thousands of individual dealerships.

But Cobalt’s Dealix has jumped into the fray, and is now using its relationship with thousands of new car dealers to provide the service to all three of the leading consumer portals – MSN Autos, which has 4.1 million shoppers; AOL Autos, which has 5.8 million shoppers; and as of this week, Yahoo Autos as well. Yahoo leads the portals with 7 million shoppers.

For a site like Yahoo, it makes sense to outsource its quotes to a company that already has relationships with dealers, and can focus on providing quotes, most likely at a far more efficient price since it has the volume with the other sides. Previously, Yahoo gathered the quotes on it own, and used a weekly auction to distribute its quotes to lead providers and OEMS.

“Dealix has a national sales force and we do the best job of aggregating and sourcing the demand,” notes EVP Anna Zornosa. “We were able to give all these players superior economics by representing their leads for them rather than having them work with someone else (as AOL and MSN were doing with Autobytel and AutoUSA respectively) or in-house.”

Dealix has a rich stake of its own. It can now guarantee the three big portals to dealers who are buying leads from the company. And it does so on a pay for performance basis – a big differentiator from the subscription-based model used by market leaders AutoTrader.com and Cars.com.

In addition to powering new car quotes, Dealix has been expanding the distribution for its used cars listings, this week adding The Trusted Marketplace, Kelley Blue Book’s new classifieds site for used cars (KBB). Between KBB’s unique visitors, Dealix’s own Usedcars.com and 30 other affiliate sites, Dealix says it used car leads are now viewed by 17 million car shoppers. Dealix represents the inventory of 2,000 dealers.

“Large networks like Dealix will help KBB get the inventory that’s going to go on the site,” says Zornosa, who adds that KBB will have one million cars on its site when it launches.

Cobalt: Car Buyers 3X More Likely to Click Thru on Mobile Than Web

In the wake of GM’s bankruptcy, auto dealers are being pitched mobile applications and other technology that would steer likely customers their way. Cars.com reports success with its mobile app, and now Cobalt, a major provider of tech and marketing solutions for dealers, is out with an app as well.

Cobalt’s feeling is that mobile users represent a better cut of the car buying public than typical Internet users. And they’re ready to buy — especially at dealerships for upscale brands, such as Cadillac and Infiniti.

Specifically, Cobalt Mobile focuses on one-click calls to action; easy-to-browse inventory, one click-to-call and point-to-point directions. The vendor’s research shows that mobile users are “nearly three times more likely to click-through to an ‘Hours and Directions’ page than Internet shoppers using standard dealer websites. “As a result, Cobalt Mobile steers shoppers in the final stages of their shopping process to nearby dealerships.”

In addition to acting as a customer tool, dealers are said to use the mobile service as a portable inventory sales tool.

New Data: Mobile Users Extend News Access to Weekend, Nights

The impact of mobile access on media is still being sorted out, but some preliminary data suggests it extends consumer research to the weekends and at night – and that news is a real driver. The first data we saw came from cars.com. The latest data comes from Verve Wireless, a provider of mobile publishing, ad and couponing solutions that serves over one million mobile page views a day.

Verve says its users are accessing news slightly more during the weekend than any given day of the week. They also access news throughout the day beginning at 7am and growing steadily until 10 pm.

“Each day people look to any one of the tens of thousands of local media organizations for news, updates and guidance in local affairs,” said Verve CEO Art Howe, in a press release. “For these local publishers the mobile medium offers an insurmountable opportunity for brand expansion coupled with a new lucrative advertising revenue stream.”

National brand advertisers can leverage Verve’s ad platform to target mobile consumers from regional down to a hyper-local neighborhood level. The service can also be used to send out mobile coupons based on time of day, neighborhood radius, user’s present location, and context, among others.

Verve’s major partners include major local media companies such as McClatchy, Media General, Freedom and Media Span. This week, the company also added The Chicago Sun Times, The San Diego Union Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago and Metro International.

AutoTrader Responds to WSJ: Auto Shopping Sites Are Still Up

The Wall Street Journal
has been making some bold statements in its recent coverage. A couple of weeks ago, the WSJ’s Emily Steel pronounced Yellow Pages “extinct.” This week, a new article by Steel noted the “tapering off” of ad spending on auto sites – another bold statement (although the article itself was measured and balanced).

Given the WSJ’s importance on public perception, I asked industry leaders AutoTrader and Cars.com for their response. AutoTrader’s came in first.

“We’ve actually been seeing that business has been fairly steady, despite the recession—something that is doubly amazing when you consider the current state of the auto industry,” came the reply from corporate. “AutoTrader.com’s revenues are up year-over-year comparing 2007 to 2008, and we’re expecting a solid 2009.

“While there are predictions for the online advertising market as a whole to show some softness in 2009, that universe includes social networking sites and general search portals. Because automotive media sites such as AutoTrader.com, Edmunds.com and Cars.com cater specifically to in-market car shoppers, we expect that there will be continued growth in spending for advertising and marketing through these sites—something that will be happening at the expense of traditional media.

“Automakers and dealers continue to hurt under the weakened demand for automobiles, but they still need to market to potential customers, and will be scrutinizing every dollar more carefully to make sure they are spending their advertising budgets in the most efficient and effective ways possible. Online automotive media sites such as AutoTrader.com still offer both dealerships and manufacturers the best way to reach in-market car shoppers for a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising and marketing methods.”