A funny thing happened when eXteres Corp. tried to determine whether dealers do a good job of generating positive consumer reviews for their stores.
EXteres, which provides online marketing and reputation-management services to dealers, found that just 53 percent of U.S. franchised auto dealerships had at least 15 customer reviews total posted at seven major Internet review sites -- Google, Yelp, Yahoo, DealerRater, Edmunds, Cars.com and Citysearch.
Richard Winch, CEO of eXteres, said he was taken aback by the finding given evidence that consumer reviews help shoppers select the stores they'll patronize.
"That's crazy," Winch said of the percentage of dealers attaining at least 15 reviews.
Dealerships can help populate the review sites by encouraging customers to write reviews.
The company looked at online reviews for 17,220 U.S. franchised dealerships, Winch said. At consumerperceptionrating.org, eXteres has published a rating of how each dealership scored on the reviews. Dealerships with fewer than 15 reviews were listed as unrated by eXteres.
Research shows that reviews can move consumers. Volkswagen of America last year found that its dealers who average four stars (out of five) or better on consumer reviews received 32 percent more traffic to their Web sites from Google searches than those with two stars or fewer.
General Motors feels so strongly about reputation management that this year it mandated that its 4,300 dealers use one of three vendors to assist stores with online-review solicitation and monitoring.
Failure to comply puts at risk 20 percent of what GM's four brands pay quarterly in dealer Standards for Excellence bonuses pegged to vehicle sales, consumer satisfaction and other measures.
The good news in the eXteres index is that 19 percent of dealers industrywide posted a rating of 85 or greater (of 100 possible) -- a measure that they are paying close attention to how customer satisfaction plays out online, Winch said.
The luxury brands whose dealers carry the highest scores are Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and -- tied for third -- Infiniti and Cadillac, Winch said.
GM corralled the top spots among value brands, with Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealers generating the highest scores.
EXteres is constantly updating the ratings for individual dealerships. The company allows dealers to use the index on their stores' Web sites.