Marketing in the Marketplace: Cars.com Adds Chatbot on Facebook

The Facebook Marketplace might soon be able to give Amazon and eBay a run for their money. That is, if the enhancements being made to the Marketplace can tell us anything about Facebook’s future plans.

Cars.com is one of the latest companies to push a more robust integration with Facebook Marketplace, debuting a solution in July called ‘”Social Sales Drive” — a proprietary AI chatbot that engages users during off-hours. Beta testing showed more than 50 percent of car buyers on Facebook Marketplace wanted to interact after business hours, per Cars.com, so the AI-powered chatbot was designed to capitalize on off-peak shopping.

“Social is a must-have for automotive dealers, with the increasing amount of time people spend on social media and their desire for a shopping experience that meets them where they are,” said Alex Vetter, CEO, Cars.com. “The combination of powerful Cars.com advertising and targeting with the efficiency of social as a selling channel is a win-win for dealers and manufacturers.”

Vetter is absolutely right, and Facebook’s June rollout of Marketplace advertising falls under the category of: Why didn’t they do this sooner? Facebook re-released Marketplace in 2016, but only recently allowed businesses to target customers who were already shopping.

Businesses appear to be seeing results already. Thread Wallets, an accessories company, generated more than 300 purchases, while increasing its year-over-year return on ad spend by 41 percent, after placing ads. FabFitFun, a women’s lifestyle subscription box, and media company, increased its subscription base using ads on Facebook, with Marketplace ads more than doubled return on ad spend.

“Marketplace is the perfect place to drive membership for our subscription boxes,” said Alyssa Perry, Acquisition Marketing Director, FabFitFun. “We’ve seen lower cost-per-acquisition for campaigns that include Marketplace, and have opted into this placement for all of our campaigns.”

Not only is this a logical addition to online ad inventory, but it’s especially symbiotic for the automotive industry. 

Here’s how Social Sales Drive works. It automatically uploads participating dealers’ used-car inventory to the Marketplace and connects those listings via Facebook Messenger to the dealers’ websites. The chatbot then closes the customer experience gap during off-hours — 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. — by offering consumers “real-time answers to their vehicle inquiries.” Dealers “do not miss an opportunity to connect with consumers after hours to sell more cars.” 

Related: Do Chatbots And Humans Work Better Together?

Integrating these kinds of solutions can also help build auto brands, while getting their products in front of shoppers at the bottom of the buying cycle. That last detail is what fashions Facebook Marketplace as a real competitor to the likes of Amazon and eBay — and there is obviously the potential for more enhancements, and applications of AI in the marketplace.

Chad Bockius, CPO, CarStory, wrote for DMN in January of how AI and automotive solutions were a logical combination.

How will customer service change? All we have to do is look at how some of the big brands are using AI to handle customer requests or deliver customizable shopping experiences.

For automotive retail, these same practices can be used to predict car shopping preferences, from model type to color or feature recommendations. Automotive shoppers engage dealers throughout the day and they expect an immediate response. AI can automate and enhance these experiences, which helps improve loyalty, customer satisfaction, and sales.

The integration of the Cars.com solution caught the attention of dealerships for precisely the reasons Bockius observed.

Kevin Jamiel, a sales manager at Chuck Nicholson Mazda in Dover, Ohio, described his experience in beta testing the solution as “amazing.” 

“I’ve wanted to take advantage of Facebook Marketplace for some time, so when Cars.com offered to get all our inventory up and manage chats on our behalf, I was very interested,” Jamiel said in a news release. “The managed chat functionality does an amazing job of getting shoppers’ basic information, and then handing them off to us, so we don’t have to sit in front of a computer answering Facebook messages all day. We sold 10 cars in the first six weeks using this product.” 

Maybe Cars.com is onto something. What do you think? Could the Facebook Marketplace position itself as a substantive competitor to Amazon and eBay in the coming months? Or is the chatbot messenger not all it’s cracked up to be? We want to know what you think! Weigh in on the discussion in the comments below.

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