The Crunch: There’s more to the car-buying process than picking the color of your new ride. Makes and models abound, deals and incentives change frequently, and comparing metrics like true market value and total cost of ownership can be a challenge. For more than 50 years, Edmunds has made car-buying easier. Started as a printed automotive pricing guide in 1966 and moving onto the web in 1995, the site has become a trusted source of unbiased reviews, industry data, and buying tools that give consumers the insights they need to make purchasing decisions with greater certainty. And as more of the purchasing journey moves online, Edmunds is working directly with dealers to reduce friction and make the car buying more straightforward, productive, and enjoyable for everyone.
As the American automotive industry took shape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, consumers could buy a car in many different ways. Manufacturers mostly sold directly to consumers, but they also marketed their vehicles through department stores and mail order catalogs, and even hired traveling salesmen to go door to door.
But, by the time the famous Model T entered its heyday in the 1910s and 1920s, major automakers had begun building networks of franchised dealerships. The dealership system gave manufacturers more control over their brands and enabled them to provide customers with a consistent purchasing and ownership experience based on personal sales consultation and service.
Dealers still perform those functions today — millions of new and used vehicles are sold through dealers every year. But as the internet puts more and more car-buying information and analytical power in the hands of consumers, the traditional balance between manufacturers, dealers, and buyers is being disrupted. And Edmunds is at the forefront of that transformation.
After nearly 30 years as a print publisher of automotive pricing guides, Edmunds moved onto the web in 1995. Today it continues to build out its portfolio of consumer-facing information and car-buying tools.
At Edmunds, writers and vehicle testers with backgrounds in automotive journalism and automotive engineering create engaging vehicle reviews and other industry-related content. “We spend a lot of seat time in vehicles, putting them through their paces as any normal car owner would,” said Edmunds Chief Product Officer Eugene Park.
Working alongside the content team are statisticians and analysts who collect data from a variety of sources to ascertain economic and industry trends. “All that data informs our content and gets translated into tools on the site,” Eugene said.
The result is an information destination built with the car buyer in mind. “We have a long history in the auto industry and a great team that understands the ins and outs of the market,” Eugene said. “Our mission is to put those resources to work for consumers — and make car buying easy.”
Guiding Car Buyers Through an Evolving Purchasing Journey
The site’s primary purpose is to help consumers understand the complexities of car buying and apply that understanding to the purchasing process. “Car buying isn’t an everyday activity — in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to overlook key factors,” Eugene said. “Informed automotive consumers are more comfortable with the purchasing decisions they make and more likely to regard the car-buying experience positively.”
Edmunds guides buyers through important details such as make and model selection, price and monthly payment evaluation, and negotiation of current vehicle trade-in value.
“When consumers go out to the dealership to have a conversation with a salesperson, we want them to have all the information they need at their fingertips,” Eugene said. And that’s where the disruption comes in. Thanks to Edmunds, consumers are entering the dealership better equipped than ever before.
“Ultimately, the automotive industry is a retail industry, and, as in other areas of retail, today’s automotive consumers take a lot of different paths to purchase,” Eugene said. “And that’s changing the role of the dealer.”
Consumer empowerment extends beyond web browsing at home as more people use mobile devices to shop for cars. “More than half of our site visitors reach us through mobile,” Eugene said. “And those phones travel to the dealership as well — Edmunds users are walking around the lot, comparing numbers, calculating and recalculating costs, making sure the deal they’re being offered is competitive.”
Consequently, Edmunds has invested heavily in apps for iOS and Android. “At home, on the go, and even at the dealership, mobile is an important part of how people buy cars today, so we’re trying to be where people want us to be in every way that we can,” Eugene said.
A Trusted Source of Unbiased Information and Decisioning Tools
No matter how buyers access Edmunds, they can be sure the information they receive is the real deal. Indeed, the site’s value depends on its total impartiality.
“We tell consumers the truth,” Eugene said. “We’re outspoken about the things we like about cars and the things we don’t like. We’re completely transparent about our data. We want people to know what they’re getting themselves into when they purchase a car.”
With numbers, there’s no wiggle room. The Edmunds True Cost to Own® tool, for example, enables buyers to assess the total five-year cost of buying and owning a vehicle — and compare totals for different vehicles to make a more informed choice.
Other tools let buyers compare specific metrics between vehicles, calculate loan and lease payments against a personal budget, appraise vehicles for trade-in purposes, compare incentives and rebates at area dealerships, and compute monthly payments based on a combination of sticker price, trade-in value, and down payment.
In the pre-owned space, Edmunds works with leading third-party services to bring buyers peace of mind about a vehicle’s history. In considering a used car, buyers can discover if it has experienced any accidents and how many people have owned it. “In bringing third-party vehicle-history information under our umbrella, we’ve made it easier for our users to make the decision to purchase a used car,” Eugene said.
Edmunds also offers a 30-day protection plan on pre-owned vehicles purchased through its site.
“That’s a key value-add designed to address the emotional uncertainty people sometimes experience when they contemplate buying a used car. We want to help people get through that, and into their car, without any worries,” Eugene said.
Digitizing Automotive Purchasing to Help Consumers and Dealers
What all of this means for dealers is that some of the traditional tools of the automotive sales trade are falling by the wayside. At Edmunds, independent content creators, not car-company employees, tell the sales stories, and transparent, web-based, tools provide a deeper analysis.
But Edmunds isn’t stopping there. It’s working to move the entire purchasing process online.
“Our history of providing unbiased information, data, and decisioning tools has brought us to where we are today and helped us gain consumers’ trust,” Eugene said. “We see the digitization of the entire process — which means purchasing a car like you would purchase anything else online — as the next phase.”
That doesn’t mean Edmunds wants to replace dealerships. On the contrary, it sees the dealer’s role as vital over the long term. In fact, Edmunds is currently working with several dealers in testing approaches to online purchasing.
“We see the dealerships of the future as customer-experience showcases,” Eugene said. “Especially with a purchase as important as a vehicle, the in-store experience can be really helpful. Customers are always going to want to test drive the vehicles they’re considering. It’s essential.”
What isn’t essential, Eugene said, are the more formalized parts of the process: pre-approval, financing, price and payment negotiations, and so on. “We want to bring those components online to make the process easier for consumers while giving dealers room to build the kind of excitement about a new car that leads to a sale.”
Viewing the store as a showroom is an increasingly common purchasing scenario in retail today, and Edmunds is working hard to make it happen for car buyers.