With digital channels becoming more and more important, we're beginning to see a number of automotive brands adopting reviews. 

Kia has been a prime mover here, while other brands such as Volvo and Peugeot are adopting reviews. 

In this article, I'll look at how automotive brands are using reviews, and why others should think about following suit. 

Why use consumer reviews? 

Car buyers are increasingly using the web to research their purchases, and to help them make a decision on the car they would like. 

The vast majority of purchases still take offline, and this will continue to be the case for a while yet, but he web is now the number one source 

While car buyers can find plenty of reviews written by journalists from magazines and sites like Autocar and Top Gear magazine, they can lack the authenticity of reviews from customers who are using the same car every day.

Here's the stats: 

  • New car buyers spend 10 out of 13¾ hours (73%) researching online, and used car buyers spend 11¾ hours online out of 15¼ hours (77%). 

 

  • The internet is also the most influential source by far: 

 

This means that auto brands need to do what they can to help customers in this research phase, as well as putting their brand front of mind. 

Customers will want details on features and prices, and things like comparison tables and car configurators come in handy for this.

However, they also want to know what these cars are like to live with - are they reliable? do they live up to the boasts made by marketing departments? And so on... 

This is where customer reviews can help. 

Why do they work? 

Here are some stats from Kia: 

  • 2.9% of people visiting an automotive manufacturer's website will click on a review badge to see more content.
  • There is an average 2x uplift in sales conversion for people who read reviews.
  • People who read auto reviews online spend 5.5x longer on the site and view up to 4x more pages.
  • 49% of Reevoo reviewers opt in to answer questions from people. 

There are a number of factors at play. 

They are useful

Reviews can tell customers what the automotive sites cannot - how the cars perform in the real world for real people. 

Are they reliable? Good to drive day to day? Are they thirsty? Consumer reviews can answer these questions in a way most other sources cannot. 

Trust

Reviews from peers are the most trusted source of information online, more so than professional reviews or anything the brands might say about their models. 

They cut through the marketing hyperbole and get to the heart of the matter for potential buyers. 

People want them and will look for them anyway 

Reviews are now a well established part of the online purchase journey.

While automotive and some other sectors have been slow to adopt reviews, they are commonplace on most ecommerce sites, to the extent that sites having no reviews now seems odd. 

This means that, if customers don't find reviews on-site, they'll head elsewhere to find them, such as Google: 

Reviews keep people on site longer

The statistic above, relating to Kia, is very revealing, and should convince other auto brands to use reviews.

People reading reviews spend five times longer on the website. 

Reviews can keep dealers on their toes

Without wishing to tar all car salespeople with the same brush, I think there are a lot of people who have had a bad experience with one, myself included (I've also had some great service). 

Now that they can be reviewed (see below), it should serve to keep them on their toes. This is good for consumers and automotive brands. 

How automotive sites are using reviews 

Just a couple of years ago, you wouldn't have found any reviews on car manufacturer's websites, but now brands are beginning to see their use.

Volvo, Vauxhall, Hyundai and Peugeot are among the brands using reviews in the UK, and more are likely to follow.  

Kia was one of the first brands to use consumer reviews, and actually made them the basis of a recent TV and print ad campaign

For a brand with cars that are perhaps not as 'sexy' as some others, selling their models in this way was a smart move. 

It seems to have worked too, with web traffic and new car registrations all rising in the months following the campaign launch. 

There are different ways of using reviews: 

Car reviews on site

Volvo has a section showing reviews of each of its models, though it doesn't display them as clearly throughout the site. 

For example, you'd be hard pressed to spot a review link on individual car pages, when they should be displayed prominently. 

Look at the page for the Volvo v70 and all you'll see is a small link on the left and another at the foot of the page. 

Reviews can be a real sales driver, but you have to make the visible or the effect is lost.

The same can be said of Vauxhall and Peugeot. While the reviews are there if you look for them, you get the feeling the brands aren't making as much effort as they should to use them. 

Kia, by contrast, makes reviews one of the main features of its individual car pages. Perhaps, having used them for a while, it knows something the other brands don't. 

Dealer reviews

This is an excellent idea as, once the internet phase of research has finished, customers are in the hands of dealerships. 

If they know that the dealership and after sales service is good, then they can buy a car with more confidence. 

Kia isn't afraid to show negative reviews either. This will give credence to the more positive reviews left by buyers. 

It should also help dealerships to improve on their customer service skills. 

Presentation of reviews

Presenting the facts of reviews clearly can make a big difference. Simply collecting reviews and presenting them in a list isn't enough. 

Organising reviews, showing average scores and extracting key points can make reviews much more useful. 

Here, visitors to the Peugeot site can see average scores for different features - economy, performance etc - which help to tell them which car is right for them.

The detail of individual reviews is very useful too, with the type of driver identified, a commuter in this case, and some valuable insight on the car's day to day performance. 

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0005/9181/Volvo_negative_reviews.png

Ask an owner

This is a more direct way of gathering feedback from car owners. 

Here, on the Peugeot site, potential customers can ask car owners specific questions: 

 Nissan has taken a similar approach, with Q&A pages for its Nissan leaf model, using existing customers to explain the benefits of the car: 

It's a great way for customers to have their key questions answered, and the fact that it comes from existing owners gives the information more credibility.  

Using reviews offline 

Reviews don't have to be used just on automotive websites, they can be used as a way of attracting customers elsewhere. 

For example, a Kia TV ad from last year used the airtime to display the number of positive reviews it had received about its cars. 

They can be used in showrooms too. 

Kia has been using reviews in much of its offline advertising, from print ads to digital billboards like this one at a petrol station: 

In summary

While reviews have been used in ecommerce for some time, to the extent that they have been proven to work well, this is a relatively new move for automotive brands. 

The fact that online research will generally end in offline purchases can make it more difficult to prove the exact value of reviews is one issue, and I can understand the reluctance of some brands to change their traditional marketing models and put their faith into reviews. 

After all, reviews mean that auto brands lose control over the messaging around their cars, with buyers free to leave negative as well as positive comments. Overcoming this reluctance and taking the step to use reviews as Kia and others have is therefore a brave step. 

However, I do think this is necessary for automotive brands, as consumers now expect reviews, and will look for them whether a particular manufacturer provides them or not. 

Moreover, the initial results from Kia's use of reviews shows that reviews can work in this sector. 

I think, as the results filter through, we'll see more automotive brands adopting this strategy, and using reviews on site and across their marketing channels. 

Graham Charlton

Published 10 February, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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