Category Archives: Carsales

Measuring Auto Vertical Websites


Most people accept that the number 1 player in each online classifieds vertical makes the money, number 2 can go alright and generally, good luck being number 3 or beyond.

Yes I am generalising but in most countries it’s not far off the mark, particularly in the automotive vertical. So the battle to prove you are number 1 in Listings and Traffic is paramount – all academic really as “you can’t bank wank”, as my former esteemed colleague would remind me (ie money talks, bullshit walks).

…it’s not surprising that almost without exception, every website monitored display the same traits…

Direct Traffic…generally can’t and doesn’t fluctuate materially from month to month but can be built or eroded over time whereas Paid Traffic can and does fluctuate as levers are pulled…

Some time ago I wrote an article asking Who has the No 1 Auto Classified Website in the World after I had developed an algorithm that enabled me to rank the traffic health of auto vertical websites around the world through an Auto Classifieds Traffic Health Index.

I did this because there are so many ways to measure auto vertical websites against each other – number of Listings, total traffic (Visits), Revenue, EBITDA, etc – and given there are inherent problems with each measurement, I needed a way to compare websites on more or less an equal footing.

Number of Listings is ok but the count on the website may not always be what it appears. Visits can be manufactured and not a true reflection on the sustainability of a website’s brand health through its Traffic Sources and User Engagement. Revenue and EBITDA are not always available (ie for unlisted businesses). Then there is comparing websites from country to country where the populations are different meaning Listings and Visits (or even Revenue and EBITDA) cannot be measured on a level playing field.

The factors that push Encar.com and Autoscout24.ch as the two leading websites by a fair way…..

The Auto Classifieds Traffic Health Index algorithm takes the User Engagement metrics of website along with the Traffic Marketing Sources (not all traffic sources are equal), applies an importance weighting factor to each metric individually (either positively or negatively depending on the metric) and calculates an Index value number.

After tweaking the Index and monitoring 86 auto classifieds websites from 38 countries over the past 20 odd months it’s not surprising that almost without exception, every website monitored display the same traits. When traffic that is not paid for is high, User Engagement is high and Bounce Rate low. When sources of traffic that is paid for is high, User Engagement is lower and Bounce Rate higher. There are next to no exceptions.

Total Traffic is not a factor for me (to an extent) as not all traffic source are equal and to protect the integrity of comparing websites between countries and regions (ie Brazil has strong regional players). In saying that, for the purposes of overall ranking, I exclude websites with relatively low monthly visits from rankings and I do value more traffic when doing an overall assessment. This takes the ranked number of websites down from 86 to 64.

The average Auto Classifieds Traffic Health Index score for May 2018 is 37, with 93 at the top and -23 at the bottom. A negative score is possible if a website has a high ratio of Paid Traffic which leads to a high Bounce Rate and lower User Engagement metrics and weights the Index down – 4 websites have a negative index score while another 1 has a zero score.

Here’s the top 10:
1 Encar.com, South Korea (owned by carsales.com) 93
2 Autoscout24.ch, Switzerland (Scout24) 91
3 Autotrader.co.uk, UK (LSE:AUTO) 79
4 Mobile.de, Germany (Private) 75
5 Gebrauchtwagen.at, Austria (Private) 71
6 Seminovosbh.com.br, Brazil (Private) 70
7 Tucarro.com.co, Colombia (Mercado Libre) 67
8 Sauto.cz, Czech Republic (Private) 64
9 Autoscout24.be, Belguim (Scout24) 63
10 Autoscout24.it, Italy (Scout24) 63

The factors that push Encar.com and Autoscout24.ch as the two leading websites by a fair way are high traffic source that are sourced organically, above average User Engagement, very low Bounce Rates and virtually no Paid Traffic. These factors epitomise a strong online Brand Health.

I don’t know a lot about the AutoScout24 group except that it has an impressive stable of auto vertical websites across Europe in terms of Brand health when measured by traffic. 8 of their websites are measured with 3 in the top 10 (see above). In addition there is Autoscout24.de (Germany) at 20, Autoscout24.at (Austria) at 22, Autoscout24.fr (France) at 25, Autoscout24.es (Spain) at 35 and Autoscout24.pl (Poland) at 43. All but Spain and Poland are more than comfortably above average.

Are each of the top 10 clear leaders in their respective countries? Yes they are except for Seminovosbh.com.br which is a regional website in Brazil typifying the Brazilian landscape where loyalties to local players remain, even online. Consumers parochial to regional automotive websites in Brazil resulting in high user engagement and positive traffic sources with others such as the Webmotors owned Blucarros.com.br, Joinvillecarros.com.br, Compreauto.com.br and Meucarango.com.br all with strong Index rankings (albeit under the monthly visits threshold I have set).

Autotrader.co.uk (3) and Mobile.de (4) are the clear traffic leaders from the top 10 in terms of Monthly Visits which, despite not wanting the amount of traffic to influence the ranking, shows how strong these businesses are in their respective countries.

Other websites of note in the rankings are:
11 carsales.com.au, Australia (carsales.com) 60
12 chileautos.cl, Chile (carsales.com) 59
16 Autohome.com.cn, China (NYSE:ATHM) 54
24 Autotrader.ca, Canada (Private Equity) 46
26 Autotrader.com, USA (Cox Automotive) 42
29 cars.com, USA (NASDAQ:CARS) 40
30 Webmotors.com.br, Brazil (carsales.com) 38
42 Cargurus.com, USA (NASDAQ:CARG) 29

It’s interesting watching the evolving nature of these websites and businesses month on month and year on year. For instance Direct Traffic, the most valuable traffic source, generally can’t and doesn’t fluctuate materially from month to month but can be built or eroded over time whereas Paid Traffic can and does fluctuate as levers are pulled or put away day by day, month by month.

Like anything, the Auto Classifieds Traffic Health Index is not perfect but it does give a view that is valuable on a number of fronts for peers, competitors and potential targets around the world.


The Webmotors Journey – Automotive Classifieds & Finance in Brazil


When carsales acquired a strategic stake in Webmotors in 2013, it was more or less a business unit within Banco Santander that was fighting it out with iCarros to be Brazil’s number 1 automotive vertical classifieds website.

Santander invited carsales into Webmotors to help transform its thinking as part of the bank to that of an absolute number 1, legitimate automotive classifieds website that provides an online channel for effective consumer financing.

As we get towards the middle of the 2018 calendar year, the Webmotors business is now run as a nearly totally autonomous business and is the clear number 1 automotive vertical classifieds website in Brazil that is bringing enormous value to the Santander Financiamentos business along with the thousands of car dealers who chose Santander as their finance partner, not to mention the millions of consumers buying and selling their car on the Webmotors platform.

As I talked about in a previous post titled “What Does Brazil Know That We Don’t?“, the three leading automotive vertical classifieds websites in Brazil are owned by banks: Webmotors is owned by Banco Santander (70%); iCarros is owned by Banco Itau; and Meucarronovo is owned by BV Finaceira. This is unique to Brazil (and not the only thing that is unique to Brazil!).

So how do I think carsales has brought increased value to the Santander Financiamentos business? By changing the focus of the business to helping dealers and consumers to sell cars (as opposed to advertising) as the key metric rather than having finance drive the business. Finance can only come about if a car is sold so this thinking isn’t revolutionary but it is a mindset change in Webmotors, in Santander Financiamentos and with the Dealers.

What has been the difference is an unwavering objective of delivering sellers value and helping them to understand, embrace and manage the value that Webmotors is bringing.

This has come about in a number of different forms and there is not one thing that has put Webmotors into the position it is in today.

People – I love visiting Brazil and working with the passionate, smart people at Webmotors. The thirst for learning and achievement is there in each and every visit. We have a great team in place with a fantastic leader. We all know in business how important people are in an organisation. When you can combine passion with smart people across a business of 170 plus people being led by a great leader with a fantastic support team who are smart and engaged, I think you are on the verge of something special.

Product & Technology – Webmotors is an online business that therefore relies on Product & Technology which must be at the forefront of your competitors and peers. One of the first things we had to do in 2013 was create a Product & Technology team by hiring a CIO and to move the technology platform out of Santander. It is hard to believe now that Webmotors did not have its own Technology team some 5 years ago. Development changes would be submitted to the Santander team and prioritised against bank priorities. Being nimble or agile wasn’t in the vocabulary. Today Webmotors Product & Technology is in great shape led by a couple of incredibly talented and passionate people and getting better by the day enabling us to provide enormous value to buyers, sellers and Santander.

Education – This one cannot be underestimated both internally and externally. Internally it is about educating ourselves. Everyone at Webmotors had to understand and believe in our objectives. As I say to the Webmotors team what seems like all the time, “we at carsales are not smarter than you guys, we’ve just lived through this stuff before“. This continued education of Webmotors people of carsales thinking along with their expertise on the local Brazilian market is a formidable partnership.

Santander Financiamentos – One of the great advantages Webmotors enjoys is the support of the Santander Financiamentos business and in particular, the 1,000 odd strong people out in the field visiting and supporting dealers. The association of Webmotors and Santander and the value proposition that exists therein provides for a unique offering to car dealers and in return, both the Webmotors and Santander Financiamentos businesses. As mentioned earlier, the Webmotors focus is on helping sellers sell cars. By having over 1,000 Santander people visiting dealers living the Webmotors focus of helping sellers sell cars, an unparalleled value is created for the dealers and Webmotors.

carsales Strategic Focus – This might be a little self-indulgent but I have no doubt the role that carsales has played in where Webmotors is today. The mindset of everyone at Webmotors had to shift in order to facilitate change, this is why Santander brought carsales into the business and each time I’m there it gives me great pleasure to see that change of mindset in action and continually growing.

What has been particularly pleasing is what has been achieved in the past few years in a Brazilian economy that has been poor at best. Where other Australian companies have seen their interests in Brazil take a hit, Webmotors has bucked the trend to prove that money can be made when value is delivered. Now that the economy appears to be turning a little, we are in great shape to take advantage of it.

While we are pleased with where Webmotors is today, this is still only the start of the journey. Brazil is an exciting, unpredictable place and none more so than in the world of online automotive. Webmotors is primed, ready and willing to take it on.


The Platform Advantage. For who?


The “platform advantage” is something every online business strives for; where your platform becomes the default method in which people use your chosen service.

carsales sells a car every minute (you might have seen the ads 🙂 ) yet doesn’t own a vehicle; Uber is a the biggest taxi company in the world and also doesn’t own a vehicle; and Airbnb is the biggest accommodation provider in the world yet doesn’t own any real estate.

Each of these businesses has leveraged their “platform advantage” primarily through matching people with people in order for them to transact be it to buy a car, get a ride or rent a place. I still have people asking me if carsales has certain types of cars in our stock and when I explain that carsales is “just” the online platform for buyers to find cars from sellers, the concept that “it is just a website” can be hard to fathom for some (how can an ASX100 company be just a website?).

There are, however, many moving pieces in operating an operating online marketplace like carsales and one of them is managing your brand, especially since the primary purpose of the business is relying on a buyer and seller to reach (and execute) a mutually acceptable deal to purchase a car. carsales does not get involved in the transaction but when something goes astray, it is the carsales brand that can take a hit and as such carsales has lots of proactive and reactive measures to stop things that could in any way damage the carsales brand.

“This Airbnb thing is so easy…”

Airbnb is the same. It has a user controlled rating system for vendor and renter as well as a long list of terms and conditions that are meant to protect both parties; until one side takes advantage of those “terms and conditions” that is. We had an example using Airbnb over the New Year period where the Airbnb platform was taken advantage of.

My sons and a few mates were heading down the Mornington Peninsula for New Year’s Eve to join another group of friends who had organised a gathering at a family property. They searched Airbnb and found a place that suited their needs beautifully with the only drawback being that they had to take a minimum of three nights so they thought they’d make a weekend of it. This Airbnb thing is so easy.

They arrive at the property at around 5pm and headed out onto the back verandah to have a few drinks, put some music on and play a little backyard cricket in the confined space. They were living the dream.
Just after 6pm (yes they had been there just over an hour) they receive a call from the person (let’s called her Zarah) they had organized the Airbnb stay with – she had received a call from a neighbor complaining about the noise so she informed them that they were being evicted immediately for excessive noise and hosting a party. WTF? Summer holiday period, late Saturday afternoon, sitting on the back verandah with music on and they were being evicted for this? WTF?

Zarah arrives shortly thereafter with the police. Yes, the police. They inspect the property (nothing had been used, no beds slept in, etc) so obviously nothing is out of place, no damage (heck they’d had an hour there) and the police apologise to the boys saying “this was not what we expected but it is out of our hands, sorry boys”.

This is where an online platform like Airbnb differs from a hotel or caravan park

The boys contact Airbnb to argue their point and at the very least get some if not all of their 3 nights money back; Airbnb should be responsible after it all it was Airbnb who facilitated the rental. Airbnb take the boys version of events and then take Zarah’s version before informing the boys “sorry, there is nothing we can do because you have violated Airbnb’s terms and conditions by having excessive noise and hosting a party”. WTF?

Let’s get this right again. Airbnb rental, summer holiday period, late Saturday afternoon, no request to kindly turn the music down just a neighbour’s word that loud music equals a party and this constitutes a breach of Airbnb’s terms and conditions to which Airbnb wipe their hands of all responsibility and the boys lose their money (and a summer experience).

Was this a scam? This is where an online platform like Airbnb differs from a hotel or caravan park (the traditional alternative) where they would have people that worked for them on the premises to control exactly these types of scenarios. What was stopping Zarah from organizing a neighbor to call to complain so that she could “exercise her Airbnb rights”, take 3 nights income and alleviate all risk by getting them out before they have even stayed?

…my older boy went to a 21st birthday celebration at an Airbnb rented house 3 weeks later…The neighbor came over early in the evening, introduced himself and said “have a great night just turn the music down after midnight if you can please”…

Airbnb were not interested, this was between the boys and a faceless Zarah for them. For the boys yes Zarah is a douche but it is was Airbnb who failed them here in their eyes. The Airbnb accounts were quickly deleted and they mercilessly sprayed Airbnb through any and all of the social media accounts they were active on (read, all of them), letting everyone know just how easy it is to be taken advantage of on the Airbnb platform and Airbnb didn’t care in the slightest.

In reality, did the Airbnb brand take a hammering? Not really, this was not worthy of a TV news grab to cause too much brand damage. No one was hurt, no property damaged, a few kids (and their parents) felt they were “duped” out of $800 odd dollars, a “first world problem”.

Was this Airbnb’s fault? Probably not. They were running their business according to their “platform advantage” that works seamlessly 99% of the time in all likelihood.

Incidentally, my older boy went to a 21st birthday celebration at an Airbnb rented house 3 weeks later back down the Mornington Peninsula. The neighbor came over early in the evening, introduced himself and said “have a great night just turn the music down after midnight if you can please”. That wasn’t hard was it?

This is the new world we live in where using online platforms to find someone willing to rent their house out or drive them from point A to point B or buy their car is the new norm. We still have to deal with people at some point though as the “platform advantage” only goes so far. I wonder for how much longer.


3 real time carsales metrics


I’ve spent the best part of the past 18 years leveraging the power of data in the online classifieds space.

When you have millions of consumers searching and finding their next car on a country’s number 1 automotive portal like carsales, Encar, Chileautos or Webmotors, data can invariably tell thousands of stories.


Here’s a few powerful “real time” metrics that only a carsales is able to provide with any credibility in their respective country’s car retail market:

Supply and demand
The Days Supply metric is one of my favourites, as it provides real value and something more accurately in the used car market that I don’t think can be replicated. It shows whether supply outstrips demand and vice versa. The beauty of Days Supply is that it can be measured for makes, models, versions, etc and for different geographical regions.

So if you were say a Melbourne metropolitan new car Dealer and a buyer has a 2015 Mitsubishi ASX as a trade in, a vehicle your used car team knows little about. Wouldn’t it be great to know that this model is the most sought after vehicle in Melbourne from a supply and demand perspective for vehicles that are less than 8 years old, have less than 60,000 kms and an average asking price of over $20,000?

What this means is that in the past 60 days 116 were sold but there are only 29 for sale which gives a Days Supply metric of 15 meaning that supply of this model for sale will run out in 15 days. Supply and demand says this is a car you should stock (all things being equal with the acquisition price).

Using the carsales LiveMarket Stocking feature, here’s the hottest used vehicles in Melbourne at 27 July 2017 (using the parameters above).

This list can be a pretty handy shopping list and reference point for any used car dealer.

Whilst Days Supply has been in available in Australian Dealers for some time, it hasn’t been used extensively from a buying perspective whilst some of the most profitable used car operations in the US use this metric to make great buying decisions.

Competitive sets
What better way of knowing what the competitive set is of a model of a car than comparing the models a consumer is searching, viewing and enquiring on?

We see millions consumers searching and finding their next car. Most consumers do not what they are going to buy next when they start their car finding journey on carsales. We see them search, view cars, narrow the search, view more cars, save cars in their Membership and finally enquire on cars, usually more than one.

By analysing this activity, we can categorically provide the true competitive set of each model of car and more often than not, the true competitive set is a little (or a lot) different to what the OEM thought was the competitive set for most cars.

The beauty of these data sets is that is always being updated and available virtually real time meaning that fluctuations in any competitive sets is quickly seen, providing enormous value to any “always on” marketing campaign.

Brand loyalty
When a consumer puts an enquiry through on carsales, many include their trade-in details with the enquiry. This information gives us a real-time view on brand loyalty, before the car has been purchased! Post enquiry surveys can then provide another level and view on brand loyalty too.

Comparing the make of a car being enquired to the make of the trade-in vehicle nominated immediately gives us a picture of brand loyalty. If I am enquiring on a Toyota Landcruiser and in the enquiry I include my Land Rover Discovery 4 as a trade-in, I think there’s a pretty good chance that I am thinking of swapping my Disco for a Cruiser wouldn’t you think?

When I am surveyed about my experience on carsales and if I bought the car I enquired on, this then provides rock solid evidence towards the brand loyalty indicator.

Using this data, brand loyalty can be measured daily and is accurate as opposed to waiting for registration details or OEM surveys.

The take out
These metrics are just three of a plethora of such metrics that carsales, Encar, Chileautos and Webmotors has available to benefit OEMs and Dealers, whether it be for effective advertising, pricing, appraising or buying cars.


Why Australia was different in online auto


Around 12 months I wrote a post titled “Why Australia was different to the US, UK & Canada”.

Here’s another angle to why Australia was different in the online auto classifieds space.

From an auto, jobs and real estate classifieds perspective in Australia, the old school media giants missed out online, big time.

With the exception of News Limited’s $2.2m acquisition for 40% of Realestate.com.au back in 2002 (which is now risen to 61% of over $8b value at time of writing), the media heavyweights in Australia being News, Fairfax and later Sensis (Telstra), especially with their $636m acquisition of the Trading Post in 2004, really missed the boat.

I can make educated guesses about how/why News and Fairfax failed in jobs and real estate classifieds online but I’ll concentrate now on the auto online vertical where my experience is much stronger.

The way they approached it was different and they did different things wrong.

News were too late to the party with Carsguide. Their first online auto go was Newsmotoring which didn’t even leverage their Carsguide offline brand and when they launched Carsguide online in 2003 it was too late. This should have been done in 1995! Isn’t hindsight beautiful.

Fairfax launched Drive online early but (in my opinion) didn’t leverage offline anywhere near well enough. Maybe this was because they were trying to protect the riches of their offline asset?

To highlight my point, when carsales started it was called Carz.com.au because you couldn’t register a generic name as a domain in Australia back then.

Then one Friday the Drive newspaper lift out had a computer on the front with a car crashing out of it with the caption which read something like “carsales.com.au – the end of the used car salesman?”.

So here we have Fairfax through its Drive newspaper brand brandishing an alertnative auto domain to their drive.com.au brand on the front of their lift-out and worse, no one owned the carsales.com.au domain – for long……the guys at Carsz.com.au saw the lift-out, checked the status of the domain, registered it and carsales was born.

Additionally, in both News and Fairfax’s cases, they had opportunities to acquire carsales early and didn’t. Again, I think they were trying to protect offline.

Sensis did a few things wrong. The number one thing was that an online classifieds site was way out of their core competency (I would have thought that they learnt that lesson 5 years earlier in 1999 when they spent millions trying to launch an auto online classifieds site and failed).

The second thing was that with Auto being the biggest part of Trading Post, by 2004 it was too late to win Auto online, especially with their lack of online expertise.

But from an operational point I actually don’t think they did too much wrong in terms of execution except that their thinking was protection of their print legacy rather than online first.

Could they have really done anything more than they did? Maybe but I’m not really sure what; the horse had bolted very, very quickly and before they knew it, the game was over.

The fact is that each of them did what has been done in virtually every other country but they ran into the perfect storm that carsales created.

As soon as carsales moved from the “pay per listing” model (which was/is used by 99% of online classified players) to the “pay per lead” model the game was up for News and Fairfax’s online auto transition from offline and Sensis’ new foray into online classifieds (even before they had started).

carsales made changes to its website to drive leads to dealers, at the same time the model encouraged dealers to put all their inventory online and the inventory was always refreshed because dealers didn’t want to pay for leads on sold cars.

In the same year carsales moved its private seller to pay until sold which saw a sharp increase in private sellers which in turn drove traffic and brought more buyers of dealers cars. The perfect storm.

For dealers, leads quickly became the way that online automotive websites were measured and no site could get near carsales for the number of leads a dealer would receive.

The reality was that no matter what the competitors did at that point and moving forward, the horse had bolted, carsales had won.

Traffic kept on growing as did leads and as a result, revenue just kept growing too.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all roses for carsales and did not come easily. They were incredibly smart and worked incredibly hard, after all the business decisions they made are what made them!

If the big media players did anything wrong (apart from the acquisition thing) it was not realizing earlier that the game was up; each of them kept throwing good money after bad thinking they could win.


1 out of 3 ain’t bad, apparently


To find a used car to buy before the Internet world we live in now, you would read the Trading Post or newspaper Classifieds and/or visit a good strip of multiple dealers close by so you didn’t have to run around too far.

Today it is so much easier to see all the cars for sale online in the one place but that in itself can make it somewhat harder as you second guess yourself and try to do everything to ensure you are getting a fair price.

I’ve just been through the car buying process again and can confirm that buying a car can still be hard work and stressful, even with all the information available today.

This was the process I recently went through.

The first step was to narrow down a few makes and models. I did that by searching through carsales, saving the cars in the member area, reviewing, culling and finally coming up with a model choice.

This part is definitely easier with lots of photos, information and great tools to help the search for the right car.

The second step was to visit a dealer to test drive the model I selected. As soon as got to the dealership another model jumped out as “car of interest” so I test drove both models. The new choice of model got the nod.

The third step was to get back onto carsales to find the right deal. I narrowed it down to three cars so I submitted enquiries on two of them as the third one was at the dealer I visited the previous weekend. Both dealers were prompt in contacting me which was great and I indicated to both that I would be visiting their dealership the coming Saturday.

The third step was to visit the dealer to check the cars out. I went out to the first dealer and headed into the new car sales as the car I had enquired on was listed on carsales as a new car demonstrator vehicle with a few thousand kms.

When I asked for the sales person I spoke to on the phone I was directed to the used car section. This was strange. Even stranger was the actual kms on the car – 27. Not 2,700, not 27,000, just 27. This was a new car. Being sold in the used car section. WTBH (What The Bloody Hell).

I asked the sales person the obvious question – Why? “The new car department is too busy so we are helping them out”, was the reply. It didn’t gel. I checked over the exterior of the car closely and found an obscure little divot that looked very much like a hail divot. This has to be why it is in the used car yard.

I asked the sales person if this car was a hail damaged car. “No, we don’t have hail damaged cars” was the response. I showed him the divot. He looked surprised, reiterated his answer, I questioned again so he said he’d check and waddled off to the office.

He came back five minutes later and said “Yeah, well it is a hail damage car. That’s why the price is so great. There’s only the one divot, it’s a new car in every aspect with the 5 year new car warranty, capped price services and all that”. Yes there’s only one divot, that we can see now. How many were fixed?

Ok, so 3 questions and 1 straight answer. Further to that, the car was advertised online as a new car demonstrator vehicle with a few thousand kms on the clock with no mention of it being a new car with hail damage. This is clearly misleading.

I ask the question now – which approach is better? To mislead and lie per my experience just described or to have advertised the car as “A great deal to be had, brand new car with minor hail damage, 5 year new car warranty, capped servicing, don’t miss out!”.

I don’t quite get it out but then again as I have had pointed out to me many times before, I’ve never actually sold a car (my previous cars sold themselves)


Which carsales moves were most critical?


After an article I wrote a little while ago (6 moves that drove carsales) I was asked by a number of people “were there any one of these moves that if not made, could have been terminal for carsales?”.

The 6 moves I talked about were introducing Private Sellers, adopting the Sell Your Car Until Sold model for Privates, moving to the Lead Model for Dealers, Acquired Trader Assets (cars, bikes, boats, etc), creation of Mediamotive and the implementation of an All Car Search, all in chronological order.

It’s a really interesting question and really who knows; I’ll have an educated guess nonetheless remembering I was not in the carsales business for ANY of the 6 moves I talked about although I was very close in running DMi, an independent technology/data services provider working with carsales’ competitors.

I can safely say that if carsales hadn’t have introduced the Lead Model in 2002 they would have been in a lot of trouble and most probably terminal.

At the time they were one of 3-4 auto vertical sites with the same business model trying to make a dollar; none were profitable and carsales was the only business whose sole focus was the online auto vertical space.

Almost immediately the currency for ALL websites listing dealer cars online was the number of leads they delivered and because of this model and the actions around it (like the mandated use of Autogate Lead Management), carsales were delivering a minimum of 4-5 times the leads of their competitors.

They had differentiated themselves from their competitors with a profitable business model and had created the ultimate barrier to exit for dealers – they become an integral part of the process for dealers to sell cars.

carsales made the car buying process all about the car and not about who was selling it. This flew in the face of virtually every dealer at the time who were convinced it was their brand, the dealership, that drove the sale.

Do people really care who they buy a used car from? No, they care about getting the right car at a fair price. This was true then and holds true today.

So what about the other points? Well, there could be an argument mounted that if they hadn’t have introduced private sellers in 2000 they may not have made it to 2002 for the next two important moves.

When they introduced Sell Your Car Until Sold (also in 2002), there is no doubt that this pushed their private seller business to relative levels no other auto classified vertical site in the world has reached.

But the fact that this was done in the same year as the Lead Model makes it hard to say that if they hadn’t had made the move it could have been terminal. In isolation, yes.

As for the last 3 moves, no they would NOT have made carsales terminal had they not been made. These moves just helped to accelerate the business.

Acquiring the Trader assets was very nice, gave the company added breadth and strengthened their offering but if it wasn’t done, carsales was going nowhere.

Establishing Mediamotive has been fantastic for the business in terms of diversifying and maximising revenue but again, the business wouldn’t have been terminal.

Same with All Car Search; excellent differentiator and driver of sustained growth but not terminal if not done but did have high risk in terms of potentially reducing dealer leads in favour or private leads (this did not happen).

All 6 moves weren’t without a high degree of calculated risk even if they all wouldn’t have risked the company.

To reiterate, I wasn’t working with carsales for any of these moves but I was working with carsales’ competitors at the time and saw first hand the impact each move had on them.


Any Questions? No, I Know It All


It is fair to say that these days a company usually knows that they have to be a lot better equipped at bringing young people into the company with on-boarding programs, training and mentoring programs.

When I started my software development career it wasn’t quite that way.

I was one of two people hired as a trainee programmer many years ago. We had both very young and had graduated from the Control Data Institute with a Diploma in Computer Programming.

The software language we were hired to develop in was Pick (or D3 as it was later renamed), a multi-dimensional database language and a world away from the language we had learnt in our course, Cobol.

So for the first few days we were given Pick book and green screen access to a Pick system to “play around”. After a few days our manager said to the both of us “I want you to take the book home tonight and come back with any questions”.

The next morning I arrived at work with a whole list of questions which I was eager to ask about.

My new colleague was asked if she had any questions. “No”, she said. “You have no questions at all?”, our manager asked. “No, I know it all”.

We all know the person that actually thinks they know it all. When someone says or acts like they know it all, one of two things is at play: they are either over self confident or they have no confidence at all.

In this case I believe the latter was true; this person was no over confident. It was obvious she was a young girl lacking in the self confidence to be able to show that she needed some help combined with the fact that equality in the workplace wasn’t quite around in 1988.

I think back now with the benefit of hindsight, empathy, a greater appreciation of equality and wonder just how uncomfortable it would have been for her. I’m sure it hindered the experience of her entry into software development and the work force in general.

It wasn’t helped a few weeks alter when we were both mocked by a more senior software developer as I described in another post I wrote “I Think I Was Bullied“. I still wonder where that guy ended up.

Today we have much better understanding and appreciation for all types in the work environment to ensure they have all the help and tools to be successful. At carsales not only are we being proactive with a diversity programs, our mentoring program is fantastic for allowing all levels the opportunity to learn from more experienced people within the business.

Mentoring is a great initiative. As long as the mentor doesn’t think they know it all….


carsales – if it was easy, everyone would do it


The carsales story is a tale of many things coming together to create the business it is today.

One of those things is foresight; fundamental to building a successful dot com into an ASX Top100 company.

I have watched the business start and grow from near and at times little further away. Right at the very start my first business trip overseas was July 1997 to the US to review two new technology products with a view to make a recommendation on which path to take.

I was working with Reynolds & Reynolds Pty Ltd (R&R) and had just been giving the job of getting their E-Commerce business going.

Over the previous 3-4 years I had been designing and developing software to that utilizes the new DealerLink private network that would revolutionize the dealer management software services in Australia.

The software products I were to review were touch screen kiosks; a new technology showcased by a few vendors at the NADA convention earlier that year in San Francisco.

A dealer had seen the technology at NADA, immediately saw some benefit in helping his dealership and grabbed the CEO of R&R to show him.

The value he saw was the ability to have his inventory from all three locations available to be viewed at each location complete with photos. At the time, this was ground breaking.

The first place I had to visit was the Reynolds & Reynolds Inc head office in Dayton, Ohio. As they still had a small strategic stake in R&R and had a kiosk solution, it seemed prudent that we considered their software.

Their kiosk software was slick and worked well with the only downside being that each kiosk was standalone meaning the only way to update each kiosk was to load the inventory by disc each time.

The second stop was to Austin, Texas where Digital Motorworks Inc (DMi) had built the kiosk software our Australian dealer had been wowed by earlier in the year.

Whereas the Reynolds kiosk solution was standalone, the DMi solution utilized the Internet to update its inventory automatically.

Remember this was 1997; using the Internet to drive your business solution was somewhat new and deemed to be somewhat risky.

What this did was not only fed the kiosk solution, it also immediately enabled an internet strategy for the dealer – their inventory could be searched online within the dealer web site and it enabled individual dealer inventory to be aggregated together.

This was groundbreaking stuff back in 1997, especially in Australia and my mind was made up so I started preparing my recommendation paper.

The one hurdle was the cost of each – the DMi solution was over 4x the Reynolds solution up front and considerably more ongoing. I didn’t know how this would work as I put together my findings and recommendation.

Well on my return the decision ended up being clear cut – the Internet driven DMi solution, despite the relative cost, was chosen very quickly without too much debate – The leaders at R&R had bigger plans.

The last software piece I had developed before heading over to look at the kiosk software was the automated aggregation of dealer inventory direct form their dealer management system to a centralized database with a view to creating a wholesale vehicle sourcing system we called StockLink.

We used this software to populate the kiosk inventory database automatically and within months had kiosk systems running in each of the dealer’s three locations and searchable on the dealer’s new website.

Little did we know (or maybe we did) what this was the start of what would become carsales.

We thought touch screen kiosks would be a big hit, be in every dealership, shopping centers, airports, etc so people could find the car they were after, wherever they were at the touch of their fingertips.

Well the touch screen kiosks didn’t last but the Internet did, carsales was born through this technology and we are where we are today.

So, who had the greater foresight here?

Was it me for creating the software to automatically aggregate inventory and recommend the internet based solution? Hell no, I was merely following directions from my esteemed leaders at the time although I can take solace in that I didn’t hesitate in recommending the Internet based DMi solution.

Was it the car dealer who had the foresight to see the value of a networked solution? Yes he has to have some of the credit as he had a vision and whilst it ended up a little different to what was originally envisaged, he saw some value at the start.

Was it the leaders of R&R? Yes most definitely. They saw the vision of what this could bring to R&R, dealers and consumers.

It would have been much easier taking the Reynolds solution to fill a need. It was far cheaper and developed by trusted partners but it didn’t provide a platform for the future.

The fact that they took the harder, more expensive option was not the first time they would a similar road. They had the foresight to be brave in their business decision making.

If it was easy, everyone would do it. Amen.


Hindsight to be the next carsales


We’ve all talked with friends about super powers and asked each other which one you’d want. Mine would be the power of hindsight.

In my post The Hard Decision carsales had to Make, I talked about the leaders of Reynolds & Reynolds Australia using sound business acumen to make the right decision in persevering with carsales as a startup (it is now an ASX Top100 company with a market cap of ~$2.5b).

One of the learnings they used was the decision of Reynolds & Reynolds Inc out of Dayton, Ohio, to sell DealerNet.com in favour of being a business partner to Microsoft’s Carpoint.com.

Reynolds acquired DealerNet.com in 1995, the same year Autobytel was founded, and was one of the first online automotive classified sites in the US to list used cars. It was described as a “pioneer” in bring dealers to the Internet.

An article in Automotive News (26 June 1995) said ” DealerNet allows a computer user to hook on to the World Wide Web to get information on current car and truck models…..a consumer can get further information and even negotiate a deal via E-Mail – without ever stepping foot into a showroom”.

Reynolds was ahead of the curve with DealerNet.com with current day online heavyweights Autotrader.com and cars.com starting in 1997. Today each of them are worth billions of dollars as a couple of the leading online automotive classified sites in the world.

In the same year that these two now internet giants started, Reynolds sold DealerNet.com to The Cobalt Group so that it could focus on it’s non-equity strategic partnership with Microsoft’s Carpoint.com which was launched the previous year (1996).

When you look back now, this was a pretty big mistake no matter which way you look at it and would have been realized early.

So why did they make the decision to sell DealerNet.com?

Automotive News at the time said that Reynolds wanted to sell it to focus on its relationship with its new partner, Microsoft CarPoint.

They quoted the Reynolds director of online services saying “With CarPoint, we’re better able to fulfill our mission of linking dealers to buyers”.

The irony with this comment is that DealerNet.com, Reynolds had exactly the same assets as what Reynolds Australia had with carsales – they were the number 1 dealer management system provider to franchised new and used car dealers in the US.

What they didn’t have was the foresight that Reynolds Australia had – they couldn’t see that Microsoft had started CarPoint because it saw something big. Had Reynolds realized at the time that if this was a big enough opportunity for Microsoft to invest in then instead of taking a back seat and helping them try to build something big, they would have committed to DealerNet themselves.

The other irony is that CarPoint ultimately failed because it concentrated on new cars as opposed to used cars, using Reynolds as the link to the new car dealers instead of using Reynolds for integrating used cars online which is the path Reynolds Australia took to make carsales so successful in Australia.

Microsoft found that it was bloody hard building a profitable online automotive portal. They bet on the wrong horse (new cars).

If Reynolds were able to use hindsight they would have realized that if it was hard for them to build DealerNet.com, imagine how hard it will be for someone outside of the dealer eco system?

We’re never wrong hindsight, I know that but I wonder if there is anyone still at Reynolds who thinks “what if”.


6 moves that drove carsales


With carsales turning 20 this year, everyone seems to forget or fail to realise that for the first 5 or so years, carsales was not profitable and was fighting for the number 1 position with a number of (much bigger) players.

carsales had a (seemingly) unique advantage from the outset in terms of access to dealer inventory by virture of starting out of the number 1 dealer management system provider, Reynolds & Reynolds.

This is a snippet from the carsales’ website in February 1998 when there were just 9 dealers online (1 from South Australia, 4 from Western Australia, 4 from New South Wales):

But this wasn’t the silver bullet everything thought it was (some still think it is today funnily enough), things didn’t just happen for carsales though – they happened as a series of good, calculated business decisions that weren’t necessarily popular or seen as the best way forward at the time but each of them were winners.

Who have thought the “I’m Interested” Form would have been so influential:

Here’s 6 influential moves that drove carsales to where it is today:

Private Listings (2000): Despite having a seemingly huge advantage with unparelleled access to dealer inventory, carsales needed to find a way to drive traffic to the dealer’s cars especially since it didn’t have the seemingly huge advantage it’s competitors had – offline marketing presence. It’s leaders understood that “buyers are sellers and sellers are buyers” so if they could attract private listings on carsales these sellers would also be buyers (of dealer cars). Of course the dealers did not agree with this thinking as they were worried that nobody would look at dealer cars if cheaper private cars were also available for sale. We know who was right.

carsales September 2000:

Sell Your Car Until Sold (2002): Most automotive websites around the world are products of media groups, usually newspapers migrating online. Their model for selling was/is “pay me now for this edition, if it doesn’t sell pay me again to advertise again…and so on”. Translated, this means if I do a bad job helping you sell your car, pay me again. This makes sense for a newspaper as there are costs associated with re-publishing each edition but there is no (cost) reason for this model online. When carsales introduced a flat fee to sell your car until it was sold, private sellers lapped it up. It now made sense to sell your car where you are looking to buy.

Lead Model (2002): Like the previous point, the media groups and their online automotive off-shoots were all about sellers advertising their cars “for sale”. If carsales followed this lead, it would be tough to compete as there was no differentiation to its competitors who being propped up by their offline assets. The carsales leaders decided to change the paradigm by moving from “fee per listing” to a “fee per lead” model. Almost instantly carsales changed the currency of online automotive to leads and created a differentiation that helped propel the business. For dealers, the proposition was now not about “advertising” online but it was all about “selling” – the better they worked the leads they were paying for, the better their closing ratio and more cost effective their online “advertising” would be. It was a true win-win-win for dealers, consumers and carsales.

Acquired Trader Assets (2005): For a number of years there was speculation about “who was going to buy carsales”. Yahoo was the first to take a small stake in carsales in late 2000 which they on-sold to Fairfax in early 2005 but for the carsales’ leaders, each inquiry for acquisition was a takeover bid, something they did not want. The approach from PBL and the end result was different as it was about merging the complimentary assets for both sides to get a win-win (one plus one equals three…or ten as the saying goes). carsales acquired the Trader online assets in the deal in return for 41% of the business giving it the number 2 online auto player as well as number 1 online assets in bikes, boats, trucks, machinery, etc. adding an unparalleled depth to the business.

Mediamotive (2009): The move by carsales to create its own direct corporate sales presence was pivotal in the growth of the business around this time. By taking control of the display sales and recruiting seasoned experts, carsales was able to take its product directly to the buyers using analytical data to ensure a premium marketplace. The Mediamotive business has been a show point for carsales to all automotive classified marketplaces around the world such has been its effectiveness in delivering in a results driven environment.

carsales May 2009:

All Car Search (2009): This may not seen significant to some but by including all cars in the one user search was a great success for carsales. Once again they were ahead of curve in understanding that “all car buyers are new car buyers, it’s just some of them are used” (credit to Greg Roebuck for that quote). For the first time a user could search dealer used, private used, new cars in stock and new cars available in the one search meaning consumers who thought they couldn’t afford a new car, were presented with new cars directly comparable to used cars. There was a fear by some that leads on dealer cars would go down if a consumer could directly compare dealer and private seller cars in the one search given dealer cars are usually a little more expensive (to cover warranties, overheads, etc). Well the opposite was true, interest on dealer cars (new & used) increased and a whole new consumer experience was the result, another win-win-win.

Finally
Running an online business like carsales doesn’t just happen, it takes hundreds if not thousands of constant decision making moments (big and small) to ensure it first of all gets ahead of the curve and then stay there.


The Hard Decision carsales had to Make


Very early in in the founding of carsales.com.au, it’s founders had a pretty big business decision to make which had an easy option and a hard option; the answer would have a material effect on its life span.

Here’s a little snippet that I believe is a great example of sound business decision making.

The rise of carsales.com.au was no accident and showed how the leaders at Dealer Management System provider Reynolds & Reynolds (R&R and now Pentana Solutions) were/are extremely astute business people who used business nous and previous learnings to make the right decision to forge what has turned out to be an incredible journey.

carsales grew out of R&R back in the late 90’s leveraging the DealerLink network between it’s dealers to seamlessly collect used car information.

R&R had a choice to make between two alternatives very early in the life of carsales:

The Easy Decision
Was to partner with one (or more) of the biggest media players in Australia to supply inventory as the infrastructure was already in place to collect the inventory and it really was just incremental revenue for not doing a real lot as well working with some of Australia’s largest and most well known brands, which could have been attractive to a small(ish) software house in Mt Waverley.

The Hard Decision
Was to go hard with carsales.com.au which was going into the unknown of competing against these media giants (at what they considered was their “bread & butter”) as a small software services provider.

Here’s my take on two important decision points that drove R&R to making the Hard Decision to turn their back on the media giants and compete against them with carsales.com.au:

1. “If it is this f&@king hard for us imagine how f&@king hard it is for them.”
This quote has stayed with me for nearly 20 years now. R&R had been trying to get dealers to list their cars on carsales.com.au for a little while and the process was a difficult sell even though there was a seamless, automated inventory feed from the dealer’s computer system to carsales.com.au. So when the big media players and newspapers came looking for (exclusive) inventory data deals, the leaders at R&R realised that if it is so hard for us to get inventory with our setup and relationship with the dealers, just imagine how hard it is going to be for them. They realised they had something of real value to build on.

2. They were quick learners.
R&R US acquired DealerNet.com in 1995 and was one of the first automotive sites in the US list used cars (cars.com and Autotrader.com started in 1997). In 1997 R&R sold DealerNet.com to The Cobalt Group so that it could focus on it’s non-equity strategic partnership with Microsoft’s Carpoint.com which was launched in 1996 (an excerpt from Automotive News, 1 December 1997DealerNet was a pioneer in providing dealers with Web pages in the early 1990s. But Reynolds wanted to sell it to focus on its relationship with its new partner, Microsoft CarPoint. ‘With CarPoint, we’re better able to fulfill our mission of linking dealers to buyers,’ said Kevin Distelhorst, Reynolds director of online services).

Fast forward a year to 1998, R&R US knew they had given up something that was potentially huge and missed their first mover opportunity (imagine their grief now, 20 years on when they see carsales.com valued at ~$2.6b). Generally speaking the US market is 2-3 years ahead on the take-up of new technology and/or processes which gives us in Australia an opportunity to learn.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s easy to say now that the right reign was pulled when the wrong one could have been so easy had the media companies in Australia actually got their act together.

I take my hat off to the leaders of R&R who made it happen.

Note: All views are my own and not those of carsales.com Limited or Reynolds & Reynolds (now called Pentana Solutions)