I was wrong. I'll admit it. When I learned last year that Craigslist was going to a paid listing model for car dealers, I thought that dealers and vendors would jump on the opportunity to really get the exposure they needed from the 10th most visited website in the United States. Unfortunately, most didn't see it the way that I did.
Here is where I messed up in my thinking:
- If it's free, it's probably not worth it.
- Dealers are spending thousands of dollars monthly to get listed on sites like Autotrader and Cars.com.
- Making it "premium" (in quotes because $5 really isn't a whole lot of money per car, especially when compared to the other sites) would filter out the spammers and weaker dealers, leaving only legitimate dealers willing to spend a few hundred bucks a month.
- There are services that make it super-easy to post to Craigslist.
Did you see where I messed up on my thinking? What's missing from the equation? I had underestimated the price increase factor. Going from (technically) $0 to $5 per car was a lethal blow. It's not that it's expensive. It's that it went from being a non-expense to an expense and I didn't take into account the transition barrier.
The reality is that Craigslist posting has never been free. It's not easy, which means that it takes time. Time is money. The alternative is to take advantage of a service to save the time, but then there's still money being spent. Either way, free wasn't really free. It never was.
The best thing that happened for car dealers on Craigslist is the change to a paid model. It made each individual listing much more visible than it ever was in the paid model when every dealer, individual seller, and spammer hit the site in hopes of taking advantage of all this free exposure. Now, dealers who fell off of or never looked into Craigslist should give it a serious look.
Perhaps I'm biased. My family, a relatively tech-savvy bunch, has purchased every used car for the last several years from listings on Craigslist. That's not just my immediate family, either. It's my cousins. It's my nephews and nieces. It has to be double digits at this point, considering we all use Craigslist to find used cars (and one new car, now that I think about it).
I know this for sure: if I opened a car dealership today, the first place I would put my inventory is Craigslist. The ROI is so much better than anything that the other 3rd-party sites have to offer. I would work with a posting tool, most likely LotVantage, and get my cars in front of car shoppers around the local area. I would do this because I know that the $5 charge has, for some reason, thinned out the herd. My cars will be more visible than they ever were before and the conversion potential on these listings is very high.
If you're out of Craigslist, it's probably time to take another look. Look at your advertising budget. Surely there's something you can cut that's less effective than Craigslist.