Auto Trader opens up on reservations tool testing after anger among some car dealers

  • Auto Trader is currently testing a new reservations tool
  • Feature allows buyers to reserve, get part-exchange price and complete finance
  • But some car dealers are angry at new function

Time 7:05 am, November 12, 2023

Auto Trader is deep in testing a new reservations tool to make online car buying easier and insists it wants to work with dealers to improve the product despite recent criticism.

Users of Auto Trader’s platform can currently see a ‘Reserve with Auto Trader’ checkbox which filters cars available that can be reserved online.

The function is currently in ‘Beta’ testing and is one of more than a dozen new features being tried out by the marketplace giant.

Some dealers have contacted Car Dealer expressing anger that they feel they are being short-changed.

One dealer told us that the reservations function is wiping thousands of cars off search pages, despite dealers paying for advertising packages with the firm.

They added that part-exchange values were being ‘dictated’ by Auto Trader, and thanks to the reservations features there is ‘no opportunity’ for dealers to ‘pre-qualify’ customers.

At the time of writing, 467,516 cars were listed on the platform.

However, when the ‘Reserve with Auto Trader’ checkbox was ticked, that number plummeted to 31,090.

The checkbox is available after the first page of results has been served up to the customer.

When the customer ticks the reservations box and chooses the car listing that they are interested in, the user sees a ‘Reserve for £99’ button beneath the advertised price and Auto Trader’s market price label tracker.

Pressing this takes customers to a separate page allowing them to reserve the car, but also get a price for their part-exchange, apply for finance and decide how to receive their new used car.

Car Dealer put our readers’ concerns to Auto Trader, which insisted the function is in ‘beta’ testing and urged dealers to come forward to be a part of the testing programme.

‘We’ve had reservations on Auto Trader in different forms for a number of years now, and this latest test of this product is reservations in a slightly different form,’ Auto Trader chief operating officer Catherine Faiers told us.

‘We are running multiple beta tests on our website and we talk to retailers about them, communicate why we are running them and then we measure the tests.

‘We understand the impact on retailers, but also importantly we measure and understand how car buyers react to the changes we make.

‘We’ll run this new reservations feature for a few weeks, look at the data and then decide on what to do next.’

Faiers explained that the new tool is part of a wider programme to help customers who want to buy a car online or at least perform part of the buying process digitally.

‘It’s all part of that journey to hep car buyers complete more of the [buying] journey online, and to connect more qualified buyers who are ready to transact with retailers.

‘So, we’re always handing over the consumer to the retailer, it’s just at what point of the journey do we hand them over?

‘Are we handing them over as a lead? Are we handing them over with a reservation? Are we handing them over with a finance application? Or with an indicated part-exchange?’

One dealer who contacted Car Dealer alleged that the £99 reservation fee is held by Auto Trader and is only paid to the dealer once the customer decides how they want to proceed.

However, Auto Trader insisted that the £99 fee is fully refundable and is only used as a ‘mechanic to hold the car for a short period of time’.

When asked if the checkbox function was putting dealers who haven’t signed up for the reservations tool at a disadvantage, Faiers said: ‘We’re trying to get the consumer to the right car for them from the right retailer as quickly as possible.

‘If this filter doesn’t help with that it’ll be removed. But if it does and we think it is a job [online purchasing] that customers are coming to market wanting to do, then we will work to make that happen.

‘Whatever decision we make we’ll be open about it and why we’ve made that decision.’

Faiers added that Auto Trader is looking to get as many dealers as possible and all lenders on board with the reservations function, and encouraged dealers to do so.

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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