In automotive online classifieds I find it fascinating that the US, UK, Canada and Australia have very similar market characteristics and are all what we would consider developed from an online perspective yet there is one glaring anomaly – only in Australia has print not won online in this space.
I have a theory as to why and it is two pronged but first let’s look at the dynamics of each country.
Autotrader.com leads the way with cars.com a very credible and successful number two. Both have grown from print origins being the Autotrader magazine and Classified Ventures, a joint venture of five newspapers, respectively.
Autotrader.ca is the auto vertical leader only recently shedding (finally) it’s print reliance from the Autotrader branded magazines.
Autotrader.co.uk is the clear leader growing once again from Autotrader branded magazines.
carsales.com.au is the clear leader having grown out of leading Dealer Management System (DMS) supplier, Reynolds & Reynolds (R&R, now called Pentana Solutions).
In my opinion a leading DMS supplier is in the best position to own the online automotive vertical space like what happened in Australia. This is because they have a natural advantage of understanding dealers, rely on technology and are able to integrate the day to day operations of a dealer into the online world.
So why did this happen in Australia and not in the other countries?
I put it down to two reasons:
1. R&R was a clear leader. This was especially so with the large franchise dealers which brought the bulk of the inventory, so vital to bringing consumers to the website. So when R&R set carsales up with a seamless, automated link to update inventory directly from the DMS, a great part of the early challenges for the competitors (i.e. Newspapers & Media groups) was solved.
2. The leaders of R&R. This is undoubtedly the key reason as these guys just made the right decisions from setting up a network to the dealers was before its time, recognising its key differentiators early against the newspapers/media players, learning from the US market and defining a business model that blew away the competition. Oh and let’s not forget, they took the risk to have a go against much bigger competition who had a lot more to lose.
In the US the DMS market was a little more fragmented with Reynolds & Reynolds (R&R US) and ADP each having around 40% of the market each. But even then R&R US was perfectly poised to have a real crack at winning online as they had one of the first automotive classifieds sites called dealernet.com.
R&R US didn’t realize what they potentially had and decided to sell dealernet.com and sign on as a strategic partner with Microsoft and their Carpoint brand. This was a decision they quickly regretted and one that wasn’t lost on R&R Australia. As it turned out, Carpoint hasn’t won and it has been Autotrader.com and cars.com who have successfully migrated from print to online to win the market.
carsales has really been a remarkable story because make no mistake, the likes of News Limited, Fairfax, Pacific Access (Sensis), Ninemsn and Trader – much bigger companies than R&R with much deeper pockets – spent millions of dollars and leveraged all of their existing media assets to compete against carsales.
We know that competition will never just go away. We also know it takes more than deep pockets to win.