Last week I bought a car completely online. That’s right, I skipped the dealership, didn’t test drive a car, escaped the dreadful dance of haggling with a salesperson, and got a great deal on a two-year-old Acura MDX for my wife. “That’s not possible,” I hear you saying to your screen as you read this. Well, I’m here to share with you that not only is it possible, there are lessons we can all learn from my car online buying experience.
Before I get to the meat of this blog, let me back up a bit. As it relates to automobiles and their purchase, the Petrie family has several philosophies that we strictly adhere to:
1. We recognize we will always have one car payment – our goal is to never have two
2. We drive our cars until the wheels are about to fall off. After all, it’s just a mode of transportation between two points.
3. We NEVER buy new cars – it’s far better to let some other chump take the depreciation hit as soon as it leaves the lot
Up until last week, my bride had driven a minivan – 2007 Honda Odyssey to be exact. Affectionally referred to as “the Love Machine”, that van has served our family well for over a decade as we’ve shuttled our twin boys to countless youth sporting events, birthday parties, and vacations all over this great country. As the odometer hit 145,000 miles this past summer, however, the Love Machine clearly started to show its age: the latch stopped working on the liftgate, the power door on the left-hand side lost power, and, most recently, the air conditioner stopped working for the second time in 10 weeks. It didn’t take Nostradamus to realize that the time to acquire a new vehicle was at hand.
Given all of that – and knowing how much of a negative calorie burn the traditional car buying process is – we opted to go a different route: the company that has a car vending machine.
You’ve never heard of the car vending machine? Carvana is the fastest growing used car “dealership” in the United States with over 75 markets served and more than 12,000 used cars for sale. The most unique value proposition is a car vending machine that is attached to each facility. Standing over five stories tall, each vending machine holds 20 cars as opposed to giant bags of Funyuns and 200-pound Snickers bars. When you buy a car, you have the option to have the vehicle brought to your home or you can pick up the vehicle by dropping an oversized coin into the vending machine and watch as the car is magically delivered. You can see how it works by watching this video:
While the giant vending machine is a bit of a marketing gimmick, it’s a marketing gimmick that has allowed Carvana to stand out in a very competitive industry. Going further, Carvana is experiencing wild success because they understand how the needs and expectations of their audience has shifted as it relates to the car buying experience. By looking at the hassle of the traditional process of buying a car, they focused on one thing Americans prize more than anything else: convenience.
The doctrine of convenience Carvana employs is applicable to any business looking to stand out in a crowded marketplace, including promotional products:
1. Always Seek to Reduce Friction – Carvana’s goal is to provide and easy, hassle-free experience from initial browsing to delivery. As a customer, every single potential area of friction (finding the right car, comparing vehicles, uploading documents for the loan, scheduling delivery, etc.) has been eliminated because they have clearly looked at the transaction completely from the perspective of the customer. When was the last time you studied every single touch point of the purchasing journey from their perspective to make it as easy as possible?
2.Leverage Technology– Everything with Carvana starts online, beginning with an incredibly easy-to-navigate website. Utilizing a 360-degree view, every car has detailed photos of the inside, outside, and any potential cosmetic issues so there are no surprises when the vehicle is delivered. They even have an app that allows a customer to track the delivery of their new vehicle. Carvana understands that their website is the single most valuable piece of real estate and they use it to their advantage. Leveraging technology goes far beyond setting up a website that is essentially a product search engine with your name/logo at the top; it’s using that technology to tell your story (the why) and making it easy for clients and prospects to get what they want (the how).
3.Self-Service– In 2018, customers expect more control than ever over the purchasing mechanism than ever before. In an industry where consumers traditionally had VERY little control, Carvana has completely flipped the script: right up until the time the car is delivered, the customer has complete command of the process which, in turn, creates a sense of empowerment and a high degree of transparency. By yielding control of the buying process, you develop a trust bond with the client that is very difficult to break.
In reviewing these convenience rules, I would argue that Carvana isn’t a used car company that has great customer service. Instead, they are a great customer service company that happens to sell used cars. By looking at their business completely from the perspective of the client, they found a recipe that has clearly resonated with an audience that is exhausted of the “traditional” ways to purchase a car.
This foundation of convenience isn’t only applicable for the car business – or even the promotional products industry. It truly doesn’t matter what industry you’re in: when technology meets marketing creativity, the opportunity to successfully challenge your competitors increases tenfold. Over the next 30 days, I challenge you to work ON your business, not in it. Make a detailed inspection of the client experience from inception to delivery from the customer perspective, being brutally candid as you do it.
By aspiring to be a fantastic customer service organization that happens to sell branded merchandise rather than a promotional products company with great customer service, you begin to truly create a loyal relationship based on the foundation of making as easy as possible for people to get what they want.