May 20, 2013, 3:34 PM

Big data helps Cars.com prove its worth to dealers

The auto classifieds site mines data about its visitors with Teradata technology.

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Consumers younger than 30 rarely contact a car dealership before walking into the lot, says Kevin C. Wyderka, director of data warehouse and business intelligence at auto classifieds site Cars.com. Instead, they do most of their research online until they are nearly ready to buy, he says. That makes an argument for more advertising to those consumers online versus on TV, Wyderka says.

Additionally, shoppers sometimes read about cars online from within a mile of a dealer’s showroom, perhaps while sitting in a parking lot down the road and looking up dealer inventories and locations from smartphones, he says. That’s important information for the 20,000 car dealers that advertise on Cars.com.

The automotive site knows about these consumer behaviors based on a deep analysis of the data it has collected on its visitors. It wasn’t able to conduct that kind of report until last year, when it began using data warehousing and processing technology from Teradata Corp., Wyderka says. Teradata can sift through terabytes or larger amounts of data to answer business questions within hours, he says.

A byte is the amount of data needed to encode one letter of the alphabet; a terabyte is equal to about 1.099 trillion bytes, or the amount of data on roughly 1,500 standard CD-ROMs. Quantities of data of this size—and the technology needed to make sense of them—are often referred to as “big data.” The term describes the massive growth in the amount of consumer data available to companies from shoppers who create many digital footprints as they research, buy and express their opinions online through a growing variety of devices.

Cars.com collects data about all the behaviors of its site visitors. Just a single data set about one type of customer interaction with the site, such as product views, exceeds one terabyte and is growing at a rate of about 10 gigabytes per day, Wyderka says. A gigabyte is about 1.074 billion bytes. One terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.

The ability to use that data to figure out how consumers respond to each part of Cars.com is crucial to the company’s survival, he says. Cars.com sells advertising to auto dealers nationwide and competes mainly with vendors that sell software to help dealers improve their web sites and online marketing. Increasingly, those vendors are turning to big data  analytics to improve their products and services.

In response, Cars.com switched from an Oracle Corp. data warehousing and analytics system to Teradata, Wyderka says. The Oracle’s technology Cars.com was using could not handle a database larger than 350 gigabytes, and it required significant engineering work to set up the data before running reports—which then took around eight hours to produce results, he says.

While Oracle does offer a big data product, the Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Cars.com decided Teradata’s system was more cost-effective, he says. The company paid Teradata about $32,000 per terabyte of data storage, a one-time fee that the vendor adjusts individually for clients as they add storage volume over time, it says. Other Teradata services and support typically cost about $10,000 annually. 

Internet Retailer will further examines big data and how e-retailers and other web site operators are using it to improve results in the June issue of Internet Retailer magazine. Read it online or sign up to receive a free copy by mail here.

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