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Updated 24 Sep 2020

How AutoTrader SA managed a shift from print to digital

AutoTrader successfully moved from print to digital by finding a measurable KPI that could be used to dependably track the migration. 

GG van Rooyen, 07 February 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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By the mid-2000s, it had become clear to AutoTrader SA that digital mediums would place increasing pressure on traditional print. If AutoTrader magazine wanted to survive, it needed to embrace the digital revolution.

It quickly became clear that, in order to manage this changeover successfully, the company would need a way of measuring the change. AutoTrader needed to keep track of the migration from magazine readers to website users.

Related: Elon Musk’s secrets to mega growth


In order to successfully manage change, a company needs to identify a measurable KPI that can be used to track that specific change. AutoTrader did this effectively – and grew its reach 20-fold in the process.   

It did this by coming up with an ingenious solution. It created a system called Call Tracker, which assigned every dealer listed both in the magazine and on the website, with a unique telephone number.

A reader or website user would actually be calling an AutoTrader number, which would then be rerouted to the dealer. Importantly, the number for any given dealer would differ between the magazine and the website, making it clear where a caller had found that number.

“The system allowed us to keep careful track of the migration of magazine readers to the website. We could see exactly when the watershed took place and the website became the dominant force,” says AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

As demand for the website grew, AutoTrader could now scale its digital operations. Also, the digital sphere was not limited by the same realities as the print world.

There was a physical limit to the number of pages that could be printed, bound and distributed to shops on a weekly basis. These limitations did not exist online. AutoTrader could now list 10 times the number of vehicles it could in the magazine, which has also resulted in its reach increasing 20-fold.  

Related: Nic Haralambous on why real growth still happens in the ‘real’ world 


  • Don’t let change sneak up on you. Inevitable change can be spotted early on, provided you’re paying attention.
  • When managing change, find a measurable KPI that will allow you to measure change in a meaningful way.
  • Don’t be afraid of technology – it could help scale your business successfully. 
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GG van Rooyen

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