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From: Jared Hamilton
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Jasen Rice

Jasen Rice Owner, Dealer Management

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How to Manipulate Autotrader and Cars.com Default Listing Order

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Here is a way the dealer body can effect and manipulate the default listing order of high to low by price on sites like Autotrader and Cars.com. As you probably know, Autotrader and Cars.com default listing of vehicles in a search result page are sorted by highest price to lowest price (other than the packages that Autotrader offer like premium listings). I have been told by their reps that one of the reasons they do this is if they were to list the vehicles low to high based on price then consumers wouldn't have any reason to look past the first couple of pages. That makes sense for their marketing purposes but I believe dealers and consumers would benefit if they were listed a better way.
One of the ways I believe the default order should be is by listing them nearest to the zip that the customer puts in. Both the consumer and the dealers would benefit by this order and I believe these site would get more buy in from the dealerships and here is why. If I am a dealer and I know that if a customer does a search in my direct market and my cars would show up before competitors in other markets, I would believe these sites would benefit me more. And from a consumer perspective, I would love to be able to see local offers on vehicles before I have to travel too far to get a good deal on a car I am shopping for I would more than likely give them a chance. Another way a default sort order would benefit the dealers and consumer would be by odometer. If the dealer, or consumer is comparing similar vehicles that have the same equipment or options then the mileage of the vehicles will be the next driving factor on which on is a better deal. If I am a dealer with nice low mileage vehicles I would want the consumer to see my vehicles first, or if I am a consumer looking at vehicles that are in the same price point or make/model search, then mileage would be the next thing to consider.

The dealer body (the reason I am saying dealer body, is that the fact that the more dealers that do this strategy the better it will work) can manipulate the high to low price default by pricing their vehicles at a Flat Price. And what I mean by Flat Price, is to price their vehicles at a flat number like $18,000 instead of $17,998 and here is why:

  1. Autotraders next default, if the price is the same, is by putting the vehicles in order by the dealership closest to the zip code that the customer put in. So for example, if there are 10 cars on a SRP page that have the same price of $18,000 then Autotrader can’t put them in price order so the next default setting is to put them in order by the dealership closest to the zip. Click HERE to see it in action, notice all the $18000 vehicles then notice the miles from zip order.
  2. Cars.com’s next default, if the price is the same, is by putting the vehicles in order by the vehicle that has the lowest miles. So for example if there are 20 cars all price at $20,000 cars.com can’t put them in order by price so the next default setting is to put them in order by the cars that have the lowest mileage first. Click HERE to see it in action, notice the mileage of all the vehicles priced at $20,000.

The more dealers that price their cars at a flat number like, $10,000, $15,000 and so on the more the dealer body can manipulate how these sites put in order to cars listed for sale. These two ways of listing vehicles, 1. By closest to the zip and/or 2. By lowest mileage are the 2 best ways that the customer and dealership benefit from because it’s a win win for the dealers and the consumers.

There are tons of other reasons why you want to Flat Price a vehicle. I would never price a vehicle at $19995 again. 

mark rask
Thanks for the input. we will try this!
Mark Dubis
Jasen, great information to help dealers get max exposure for their inventory. I am sure your customers at LotPop.com are really leveraging these techniques.
Bill Swislow
Jasen, I love the idea of making it easier for consumers to distinguish the differences among a group of cars all at the same price, and I wouldn't call that manipulation. Like you, I'd say it's a win-win. At Cars.com we strongly favor dealers merchandising what makes a given vehicle a good buy, and your suggestion would encourage that. Meanwhile, as head of product and technology at Cars, I thought I could share some perspective on the general sort-order question and why we do it the way we do. First, I'd note that we make it as easy as possible for consumers to change the sort order or to filter on the criteria that matter to them, so this discussion is really about the defaults we set for the first page of results. Our overriding goal is for those results to be as useful and transparent as possible to users (which is also why we don't tier our results by factors not easily visible to them). We have often looked at defaulting to a proximity sort (nearness to ZIP code), and in fact we do use that in other contexts, such as our Dealer Locator, which is focused on location search. However, years of talking to consumers and observing their behavior has confirmed that in the vehicle classifieds context they are first and foremost looking for the right cars â with an emphasis on price, mileage and equipment. Location matters once the user has found cars that interest them, but sorting initially by location would actually make it harder to find the right cars since vehicles at various prices, equipment levels, etc. â the factors that matter most -- would effectively be scattered throughout the results set based on the dealers' locations. The other sort order that's often proposed -- sorting low price to high -- creates its own set of problems. The typical shopper does not routinely want to plow through a lot of beaters at the top of the page to get to the cars that matter. That's why when we launched Cars.com in 1998 I decided to put what most people would consider the best cars -- low mileage, well equipped, late model -- at the top. (And sorting by price tends to put the lowest-mileage vehicles at the top of the page, so it helps kill two birds with one stone.) Although there is a segment of consumers indeed searching strictly for the biggest bargains, most Cars.com users are trying to find the best car at a fair price. Bargain hunters can still use our search tools to filter out more expensive cars, and many do. But a large majority of users are satisfied with the default settings and do not re-sort the results. And they wind up connecting with dealers and buying cars. That's the biggest win-win for all of us.
Timothy Martell
Brilliant. True. Right on point. But dealers rarely do whats best for the group because the negative what if thinking is ingrained in the culture that "someone will not play along and get one over on me." And when the GSM or Sales manager looks at the dealers not following along getting the better listing spot, it all breaks down. And this is what lead providers and auto listing sites count on to keep profits high and the sheep in line... Its a shame too because your assertion is dead on and would really work if executed in mass numbers.

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