How cost effectively your advertising drives traffic to your store will impact sales and employee retention. Good salespeople can most often be found at stores with a good reputation and a good ad program providing a consistant flow of store traffic via phone, email, chat, and walking in.
The one dominant difference between AutoTrader.com and Cars.com is that AutoTrader.com tiers the listings and Cars.com does not. This distinction has grown over the years as AutoTrader.com gains penetration for its premium product and consumers search across a wider radius.
It is not accurate, in the strictest sense, to say that Cars.com is like being a Premium dealer for every brand, because there are no dealers getting left out. In a market where no dealers purchase the premium package, the Featured version of AutoTrader.com functions similarly to Cars.com. In markets where many dealers purchase the premium package, Cars.com is more similar to the Premium version of AutoTrader.com.
Metro markets tend to have a high concentration of premium dealers because of intense competition. In rural areas, most shoppers expand their search radius beyond the default setting, pushing more Premium dealers into these searches.
There are two ways to compare Cars.com and AutoTrader.com:
1. Cost per Contact
2. Cost per Vehicle Details Page (VDP)
Cost per Contact is ideal, but it is difficult and involves lots of assumptions. Is a chat worth as much as a phone call? What is an email worth? What are website transfers worth? Are printable ads and map views a reasonable estimator for walk-in traffic? How does one reconcile the completely different reporting methods of the two companies for these metrics? How much duplication is taking place? Whatever your answers are, they will change over time, as your store's operational performance improves faster in some areas than others.
Cost per VDP is accurate and easy to calculate. A VDP occurs when the shopper selects one of your vehicles to explore further. Few shoppers contact the store without looking at the details of the vehicle, so this is an excellent head-to-head measurement. How many VDPs convert into store contacts depends heavily on the merchandising of the vehicles, which should be from the same feed to either service. On Cars.com's Online Ad Reports, a VDP is titled "People Requesting Details On Your Vehicles." The same metric on AutoTrader.com's reporting tool is titled, "Detail pages viewed for your inventory."
Divide the Cost of the service by the number of VDPs delivered to get the Cost per VDP. This provides a very good comparison of Cars.com to the Featured version of AutoTrader.com. A Premium user on AutoTrader.com could run the same metric the same way to get the average cost per VDP from the service. But buying AutoTrader.com involves two questions: Should I buy the Featured version?, Should I upgrade to Premium? It is best to separate these out, as I pointed out in a story last week (Going Premium on AutoTrader.com http://RevenueGuru.com).
Every upsell product on Cars.com or AutoTrader.com either creates more VDPs or improves the conversion of VDPs into contacts. If your rep can't show you how the product improves one of these two metrics and help you measure the Cost per VDP or Cost per Contact, then don't buy it. For most dealers, these services provide excellent value, but results vary based on geography, inventory, pricing policy, and store operations. Don't guess at something as important as cost-effective store traffic.
MANNY LUNA said:
I think it has been pretty well established that both organizations have the same definition for a VDP. A VDP is simply a specific page view, as is an SRP for that matter.
The face validity for VDPs being counted the same is that conversion from SRP to VDP tends to be somewhat lower on Cars.com when looking at same-store data over the 12-month period. This is exactly what we would expect. The difference between the two is in how many cars are presented on a default SRP. The default setting on Cars.com is 50. On AutoTrader.com it is 25. When folks say Cars.com's SRPs are inflated relative to AT, they are correct. It is not a 2:1 difference, because shoppers looking through the same amount of inventory on both sites cause the same number of SRPs to be developed on both sites. The difference is primarily created when shoppers only view 25 cars or fewer. If both sites had the same inventory and the same number of shoppers doing the same thing, then Cars.com would show more SRPs, AutoTrader.com would show a higher VDP/SRP conversion rate, and both would show the same number of VDPs. In studying a market where both inventory and shopper penetration is about the same, these were the very trends that were observed.
My testing was strictly relative to used vehicles. To do this same test, you need to be able to separate out the used VDPs and SRPs from the new on Cars.com. I continue to push Cars.com to provide this information in the same format AutoTrader.com does, and I encourage you to do the same. This answer is way too long, but I hope it provides the credibility you need to make confident decisions.