The future and past of the UK automotive retail giant – Auto Trader’s story told by the COO Catherine Faiers

By October 25, 2019 News

Auto Trader is the UK and Ireland’s largest automotive marketplace. Auto Trader sits at the heart of consumers car buying journey and supports retailers to compete effectively on the marketplace in order to sell more vehicles, faster. Auto Trader listed on the London Stock Exchange in March 2015 and is now a member of the FTSE 100.

Auto Trader has over 90% prompted brand awareness and attracts circa 55 million monthly cross platform visits each month, with over 80% of visits coming through mobile devices. The marketplace also has the largest pool of vehicle sellers (listing around 480,000 cars each day). Around 80% of UK automotive retailers advertise on autotrader.co.uk.

We had a chat with the company COO Catherine Faiers in preparation for her upcoming presentation at NOAH London

 —  The company has started in 1977 as a car magazine. What do you think is Auto Traders’ key to such a long life (42 years!) in such a competitive market as e-Commerce?

The business has never been afraid to disrupt itself and constant change remains at the heart of how we operate. We were one of the first traditional print media companies to fully embrace digital and this has been one of the key factors as to why we have successfully grown. We set up a separate digital business to compete directly with and cannibalise the print business. We continue to evolve and our strategy today is to apply our data and technology into new markets in the automotive sector.

—  In your opinion, how will people be buying cars in 15 years?

We think consumers will demand exclusive access to cars in the future but will gain this by subscribing, leasing or financing vehicles. It is likely that only a small segment of consumers will ‘own’ a vehicle in the traditional sense through outright purchase and many more will ‘use’ a car. Today, 88% of new and 30% of used cars are bought on finance and we expect these numbers to grow in the coming years.

We also expect more of the car buying journey to be completed online. The vast majority of the research phase is conducted online by consumers today, but transactions are nearly always completed on a physical forecourt by a retailer. The growth of finance removes many of the barriers for consumers to transact online.

—  What are you biggest milestones and expansion plans for the next 5 years?

The next five years is all about improving the car buying process for consumers, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. Automotive retail is one of the few industries that has yet to be radically changed by digital, but we expect this to change in the coming years, with Auto Trader hopefully at the heart of this change. Our goal is to simplify or remove the elements of the car buying process that consumers find frustrating, such as haggling and working through finance options, by bringing as much of the process as possible onto online platforms. We are already working towards this – we have price flags for consumers and advertise new vehicles with pre-haggled prices. There is still a huge amount to do working with our industry partners to truly change the car buying process and bring the entire process, from research to purchase, online.

 —  Auto Trader seems to put a lot of effort in educating its employees and fostering its company culture. What are the most crucial topics and milestones here for you at the moment?

We firmly believe that it is our people that make our business as strong as it is today and that is why we continually invest our workplace environment. Key to this are our company values which are lived throughout our business each day. These values, which we actively promote to every member of the Auto Trader team, exemplify the fact that we are a people first business. These values incorporate how we work with our partners so that our values are demonstrated both within the business and projected to the wider industry. We continually review our culture and values with input from every level of the business to ensure that they best represent us as a values-oriented, customer-centric, data-driven organisation with a focus on an agile approach to change – underpinned by a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Our people have a strong sense of community which makes everybody proud to work with us. Learning from each other and making a difference to the local communities and our industries is not something that you do at the side of your desk; but it is an important part of everybody’s job. We have dedicated internal coaches and mentors, a team of colleagues are qualified Mental Health First Aiders and our Family Network support new parents and those with caring responsibilities. More than 50% of our people have volunteered at least a day a year to support local causes from redistributing food supplies and teaching English to gardening and taking pensioners Christmas shopping. We have made our charity AT-sponsorship initiative available to our customers as well so we can support their efforts and through our Community Funds we have supported more than 200 grass roots projects. 

— Are there any diversity policies in place at Auto Trader? What in your opinion are the main challenges in implementing such policies?

Diversity and inclusion is a huge area of focus for us as a business. We are part of the automotive industry which has traditionally struggled when it comes to a diversity in the workforce. We aim to spearhead a change in this both from within our organisation and by partnering with others, such as the automotive 30% club and Inclusive Companies, we can help to affect change throughout the industry. Internally, we have a number of strategies to promote diversity and inclusion within our workforce. These range from specific training programmes for all staff to raise awareness to actively promoting an inclusive culture through a range of events and community-minded activities.

We do not limit ourselves with just having diversity policies; we put our passion and energy into inclusive initiatives. Our educational outreach activities focus on schools where students from various socio-economic backgrounds have limited connections with businesses, for the past 4 years through the Change 100 programme we have hosted summer internships for disabled students and our STEM Ambassadors have supported Digital HER to inspire the next generation of women in digital careers. We are the first company in the world to be awarded the Autism Friendly Award by the National Autistic Society following a comprehensive audit and changes to our offices, a review of our people policies and education of our colleagues. Our LGBT+ Network are leading our relationship with Stonewall and Manchester Pride and this year concentrated on bi-visibility with a series of activities including blogs and a social media campaign that sparked important debate amongst our audience. Our BAME Network partnered with Inclusive Companies and hosted an event for black history month to explore the BAME Experience and the importance of allies with representatives from more than 100 businesses attending.

 —  Auto Trader has already participated in 5 NOAH events in London! You are a true NOAH veteran! Why do you keep coming back to us and how has NOAH impacted your business through these years? 

For us, NOAH provides a fantastic opportunity to see the next generation of tech companies and to understand the themes that will impact our business in the future. We are keen to share our experiences, and to learn from others, we certainly don’t have all the answers! It’s key for us to be at events like NOAH where we can hear from the most exciting digital businesses in Europe.

Book your ticket now to watch Auto Trader’s presentation live on 30 October at NOAH London 19 (see the details in our program).