Consumers have dramatically changed how they buy cars over the last decade, so automotive advertisers have changed how they market, by shifting much of their advertising online, where more than 90 percent of consumers start their shopping experience.
According to the IHS Automotive’s 2016 Car Buyer Journey Study, online shoppers get information from multiple Websites, but they primarily rely on independent research sites, where 60 percent of car buyers spend their time. This is followed by dealer Websites, where 16 percent spend their time, and manufacturer Websites, where 9 percent spend their time. “Most car buyers are influenced by at least three online sources and in-market shoppers prefer independent research sites as their primary resource because consumers crave unbiased information on vehicles and dealerships to help them feel confident that they are making a sound decision,” according to The Digital Influence report by C+R Research. “In fact, when it comes to trust, shoppers find independent research sites to be among the most trustworthy of all sources, second only to their own previous experience with a vehicle and even more trustworthy than friends and family.”
Consumers use independent research sites to start the car-buying journey and to validate the prices they receive from dealers later in the process. Many successful dealers also utilize independent sites to buy leads and to acquire customers for less money than traditional mass marketing. In some cases, dealers are also using these sites to educate consumers when they are unrealistic about what they should pay for a car or what they should receive for their trade in. The credibility of third-party Websites can build a bridge of trust with consumers when they validate the pricing the dealer provides.
To win with the modern car buyer, manufacturers and local retailers need a strong online presence, both on their own Websites and on the most influential third-party sites that consumers trust. In this article, we rate and review the top car buying Websites that help consumers and dealers respectively. Two of the largest car buying Websites, Autotrader and Cars.com, are early pioneers of online car buying. Both sites offer online classifieds where consumers receive price quotes from dealers who pay a monthly subscription fee to receive leads. TrueCar, a newer site, goes a bit further by showing consumers what others paid for the car they want and by delivering competitive prices from multiple dealers in their network who receive free leads and pay a fee if the customer buys a car. Two large retailers, Costco and Walmart, have influential auto buying sites that connect their customers with a network of certified dealers who provide fair prices that are validated by two of the most trusted brands in America. Costco’s auto program sold more cars than AutoNation over the last 25 years and they sold more than 500,000 cars last year through their 474 stores.
The most successful dealers have a blended strategy that includes a strong presence online, both on their dealer Website and on the most influential third-party car buying sites that consumers trust. Our Top 5 rated Websites represent only a fraction of the independent sites in the market today, but they are amongst the most influential.
In the following page you will find a comparison and ranking of the Top 5 auto sites in America for consumers and dealers.
According to the 2016 IHS Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study, “Shoppers find independent research sites to be among the most trustworthy of all sources, second only to their own previous experience with a vehicle and even more trustworthy than friends and family.” The study showed that online shoppers primarily rely on independent research sites, where they spend 60 percent of their time, dealer Websites, where they spend 16 percent of their time, followed by manufacturer Websites, where they spend 9 percent of their time.
The Top 5 Auto Sites in America
The Top 5 Websites in America are listed below in alphabetical order.
Autotrader.com is an online classified site that helps buyers research and shop for new and used vehicle inventory. Autotrader boasts having the largest inventory from 40,000 dealers and 250,000 private owners that are seen by approximately 14 million buyers each month. After choosing from one of their 3 million vehicle listings, consumers provide their contact information and receive quotes from sellers, who pay a monthly fee to receive leads. Dealers can upgrade their presence on the site to build and differentiate their brand while generating more exposure for their vehicles. Autotrader is owned by Cox Automotive, which also owns Kelley Blue Book, another trusted source for online car shoppers who want to know what they should expect to pay when they buy or sell their car.
With an average of more than 31 million visits each month, Cars.com is the most visited online classified site that helps consumers research, price and find new and used vehicles and quality service and repair providers through their partnership with RepairPal. After finding a car, consumers provide their contact information and receive quotes from dealers, who pay a monthly fee to receive leads. Dealers can upgrade their presence on the site to build and differentiate their brand while generating more exposure for their vehicles. Cars.com also connects customers with private sellers. Cars.com was launched in June 1998 and is owned by TEGNA Inc., which also operates Auto.com, NewCars.com and PickupTrucks.com.
CarSaver is an auto buying program that is exclusively marketed through Walmart and Univision. CarSaver helps consumers buy new and used cars with the help of a bilingual personal auto advisor who schedules exclusive appointments with certified dealers. CarSavers’ exclusive appointments close above 50 percent because customers are only sent to one certified dealership. Dealers pay a success fee for each transaction or a monthly subscription fee depending on the state. CarSaver is promoted through Walmart, the No. 1 retailer in the world, and Univision, the No. 1 Hispanic media company in the U.S. Walmart has 250 million customers, 140 million of which visit their store every week. Univision promotes CarSaver through their TV, radio and online networks that reach 93 percent of the 56 million Hispanics in the U.S.
Costco has sold more vehicles over the last 25 years than any dealer — even though they don’t own a dealership. Costco’s auto buying program gives its members pre-discounted prices to buy new and certified pre-owned cars (not used) from its network of dealers that pay them a monthly fee. Customers save time and their average savings is $1,000 according to Forbes. To get the Costco price, consumers only need to drive down to the dealership and the Costco program managers provide consumers a pre-discounted price on the vehicle they select, and this price is validated by Costco, one of the most trusted brands in America. Costco has the only program, other than Walmart’s CarSaver, that offers this type of validation from a trusted retailer.
TrueCar helps consumers obtain market-based pricing data on new and used cars, including the prices others have paid for the model they want to buy. TrueCar customers receive price quotes from participating dealers who pay TrueCar for each transaction. TrueCar customers receive upfront pricing before they visit the dealership so they avoid the hassles often associated with the negotiation process, which saves them more time. TrueCar sold nearly 600,000 cars in 2015 and was recognized as one of the 50 best Websites of 2014 by Time magazine. TrueCar’s new management team, led by Chip Perry, has pledged to make TrueCar more “dealer-friendly” by conducting ad campaigns that positively promote dealers, offering a subscription price model and providing a transparent view of how they utilize the data they gather from their dealers. Susan Givens