A New York City dealership group is suing Autotrader in federal court for at least $1.5 million, alleging the online vehicle-shopping site double-counted the number of shoppers viewing its car listings over five years and hid the issue to retain the subscription.
B&Z Auto Enterprises, which owns Riverdale Chrysler-Jeep and Eastchester Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge, said in the complaint that inflated page views convinced the group to subscribe to Autotrader in June 2010 and remain a customer until last month.
The group says it is entitled to the $1.5 million in subscription fees and advertising spent at Autotrader over that time as well as damages. The case and demand for jury trial was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York by counsel Bellavia Blatt & Crossett.
In a statement, Autotrader said it does not comment on litigation.
But one longtime Autotrader user questioned the premise of the lawsuit. Russell LaFave, dealer principal of Schafer Chevrolet in Pinconning, Mich., said Autotrader sells space for vehicle listings and advertising to dealers, not page views.
A page view is generated when an online shopper clicks to see a set of vehicles (search results page) or one in particular (vehicle detail page). Page views can vary widely depending on how well a vehicle is priced, whether it’s desirable, whether it has good photos and whether it has a good description, LaFave said.
Those are all variables that are the responsibility of the dealer, not the third-party shopping site, he said.
“Autotrader has never guaranteed me that I’d get VDPs or search pages,” said LaFave, whose dealership sells on average about 125 used vehicles per month and 20 new vehicles.
Autotrader is the nation’s most-visited online vehicle shopping site.
B&Z Auto said in the suit that Autotrader’s promotional materials that touted page views helped convince the group to sign up with the site in June 2010.
Thereafter, the group received monthly reports from Autotrader showing how many shoppers made searches of B&Z vehicles on Autotrader and how many delved deeper to view an actual vehicle listed in stock, the suit says.
B&Z alleges, however, that the page views reported were double those actually viewed because of an Autotrader software glitch that double-counted page views. Those allegedly inflated numbers kept B&Z in the fold until the group says it discovered a software glitch in June 2015, when page views from the prior month dropped off precipitously and inexplicably.
B&Z alleges that the drop-off was really the result of the count software being reprogrammed and corrected to reflect real shopping activity -- a drop-off that Autotrader management allegedly blamed on reduced vehicle merchandizing efforts by the group.
The B&Z civil lawsuit accuses Autotrader of false advertising, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, unfair and deceptive trade practices under federal and state law and violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.