For the first eight months of 2018, visits to dealer showrooms from mobile shoppers increased by 13 percent. That’s one of the take-aways from the Cars.com August On-the-Lot report.
As we have done each month with our On-the-Lot reports, we used our patented Lot Insights technology to study data from shoppers who use their mobile phones to visit Cars.com while they’re on dealerships’ lots. For August, we examined the most popular times of the week and day that car shoppers visit dealerships’ lots – which we had done in January, February, and May. We also studied Labor Day weekend traffic. Here’s what we found:
Shopper Visits to Dealership Lots Continue to Increase
For August, we tracked an 8 percent increase over the visits we tracked during May and a 13 percent increase over the baseline figure of that we set in January.
In addition, from May to August, traffic was up for each day of the week with the exception of Tuesday, which saw a 2 percent drop in visits. Weekend traffic increased 15 percent over May, reversing a 9 percent drop in weekend traffic we had tracked from February to May. Since weekend traffic had also increased from January to February, we conclude that the May drop was an anomaly.
Why the increase in traffic overall? Reasons may include:
- The visits reflect a steady increase in light-vehicle demand throughout the first eight months of the year, which have been attributed to high incentives and a healthy U.S. economy[i]. Speculation about car sale price hikes resulting from auto tariffs may also have spurred consumers to do their automotive shopping before prices potentially rise.[ii]
- Cars.com is attracting more visits, which is noteworthy because our report tracks the behavior of mobile Cars.com shoppers. As we reported in our latest quarterly earnings announcement, for the second quarter of 2018, both average monthly unique visitor count and total traffic grew 8 percent year-over-year on Cars.com. Mobile traffic grew 25 percent year-over-year and accounted for 67 percent of total traffic compared to 58 percent in the prior year. SEO traffic grew year-over-year in each month of the second quarter, accelerating toward expected double digit growth for the full year.[iii]
As my colleague Jake Wittler blogged recently, in the fourth quarter, the auto industry may experience some tough sledding in the form of expected higher interest rates and the threat of tariffs on auto imports. At the same time, auto dealers are rolling out their 2019 models and have an opportunity to end the year strong. It will be interesting to see what happens to on-the-lot traffic in the fourth quarter. Stay tuned.
People Are Visiting Lots Later in the Day
As we’ve seen each month, peak lot visits occurred in the mid-to-late afternoon, peaking as late as 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. during the week for franchise dealerships. Shoppers might be planning their visits to dealerships after they complete research earlier in the day. Whatever the reason, dealers should be ready to staff for peak visits in the afternoon.
With this consumer behavior shift towards lot visits and research later in the day, dealers should also consider tools available that can extend their dealership’s business hours. Social Sales Drive is a prime example. The recent product innovation utilizes a team of managed chat agents and proprietary artificial intelligence chatbot technology to power conversations with consumers and capitalize on off-hour shopping via Facebook Messenger. With 24/7 managed-chat support, consumers receive real-time answers to their vehicle inquiries and dealers do not miss an opportunity to connect with consumers after hours to sell more cars.
Franchises Dominate Labor Day
Franchises accounted for 66 percent of all Labor Day weekend visits, which we tracked for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. By contrast, franchises accounted for 63 percent of traffic for all of August. It’s possible that the franchise dominance reflects franchises’ larger budgets to invest into advertising.[iv]
As is typical with our on-the-lot data, visits to all dealerships peaked later in the afternoon. Saturday saw more total visits with Sunday showing the lowest, reflecting general behavioral trends.
At Cars.com, we worked hard to ensure our dealers had a successful Labor Day by creating fresh content, sending dedicated Labor Day emails to consumers and increasing media spend. As a result of our marketing efforts, we drove 20-percent more Cars.com network visits year-over-year – which led to a 12-percent lift in leads compared to 2017 and a 21.5-percent increase in walk-in leads week-over-week.[v]
As I have noted previously, this data should help dealerships prepare your salespeople to be ready to engage with mobile shoppers, especially during the afternoon hours when visits peak. Assume that mobile shoppers are comparing your vehicles with your competitors’ inventory and have Cars.com’s mobile app loaded on your device so that you are ready to review the same inventory your customers are probably reviewing. In addition, as Jake Wittler noted in his blog post, “Three Ways Dealers Can Close the Year Strong,” you can increase your success by maximizing the value of you online inventory, capitalizing on the value of online reviews, and using the right tools to capture high-quality leads.
For more detailed August and Labor Day data, check out:
- Cars.com On-the-Lot Trends Report: Foot Traffic Analysis, August 2018.
- Cars.com On-the-Lot Trends Report: Foot Traffic Analysis, Labor Day Weekend 2018.
All of our monthly reports are available here.
[ii] Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Auto Sales Maintain Momentum for Now,” September 4, 2018.
[iv] Automotive News, “Small Dealerships Lack the Clout and Capital to Compete,” October 31, 2016.
[v] Cars.com internal analysis, September 2018.