Diverted leads distress dealer
Cars.com says glitch sent some interested shoppers to other stores
Caputo: “Those were my customers.”
Chevrolet dealer Todd Caputo is happy to use Cars.com, the online lead generator, to help him sell cars.
But he was upset after discovering that some customers who had looked at his vehicle inventory on Cars.com and had taken time to fill out credit applications had been channeled to other dealers.
It wasn't intentional, says Cars.com, which called it a misunderstanding caused by a technical glitch. But the episode shows how the Internet has become a complicated sales landscape that dealers must track as carefully as they watch their showrooms.
Caputo, owner of Sun Chevrolet Inc. in Chittenango, N.Y., said he complained to Cars.com this month. He had suspected that shoppers looking at his inventory on the site were being diverted to competitors when they filled out credit applications on Cars.com.
Because of a technical glitch, the credit-application vendor that Cars.com brought onboard just three months ago, RoadLoans.com, could not see in some cases that the applications were filled out for specific vehicles, said Alex Vetter, Cars.com senior vice president of sales.
Consequently, RoadLoans.com may have considered them generic finance leads and channeled them to other dealers in the area, Vetter said. A finance lead is a lead to buy a car that starts with a credit application.
But since Caputo and other dealers have complained, Cars.com has been working to fix the problem, Vetter said. Cars.com has newly labeled the RoadLoans.com credit applications as advertisements so shoppers know that the credit applications are not those of the dealer whose inventory is listed, he said.
Cars.com also has instituted steps for a dealer to be notified automatically by e-mail when a shopper looking at the dealer's inventory is approved for credit after filling out a credit application on Cars.com, Vetter said. The notification would allow Caputo to start pitching the customer immediately.
As shopping sites such as Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and others try to make financing and insurance a part of the online shopping experience, the process is creating tensions with dealers concerned that third-party vendors might intercept profitable pieces of their traditional businesses.
That's Caputo's gripe. He said he spends about $4,500 a month with Cars.com to advertise Sun Chevrolet and two large-volume, used-car stores known as Sun Auto Warehouse.
Yet he discovered that shoppers looking at his specific vehicles on the Cars.com site were sent to other dealers after filling out credit applications that opened on the vehicle detail page when the shoppers clicked on one of several "financing" tabs on that page.
Caputo said the shoppers were intent enough about specific cars that they took the trouble to fill out credit applications. "Those were my customers," he said.
When Caputo complained to Cars.com, he said he was told he could get his own secure credit application tab if he was willing to pay an additional $300 a month per store.
Vetter said the cost is to defray the expense of offering that service to Caputo through a third-party vendor. He said the other fixes also should help the issue.
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