Development of Portal Strategy & Positioning: UsedCars.com

The Situation: UsedCars.com was a first generation portal with good organic site traffic. Site conversion was good, but not great. Competitors included AutoTrader and Cars.com- both had more consumer users and dealer customers. UsedCars.com monetizes leads that they sell to dealers.

The Problem: UsedCars.com lacked a market position both with dealers and consumers; it did not stand for anything with either group that could not be obtained from competitors. We needed a unique value proposition for both consumers and dealers, the main source of growth for the pay per lead model.

The Solution: Based on research, I developed the portal positioning:

 “Used Cars.com:  the right car,  for the right price, from the right dealer.” This addressed the three common problems shared by all used car shoppers: ” Can I find the right car?”, ” Am I getting a good deal?” and ” Is this a dealer I can trust?” .

The value proposition was delivered by improving the search paths to find “the right car”.  You can see UsedCars.com home page strategy and search path details here outlining how vehicle search was created to address the two kinds of shoppers and reinforce “the right car” consumer value proposition.

All shoppers want a good price, but most don’t know if the price on the car is a good price or not. I suggested we highlight every retail listing on the site that had a price that was lower than Kelley Blue Book’s suggested retail price. Put the three best examples on the home page and use those to draw people into a new area of UsedCars.com called “Best Values”. This supported “the Right Price” value proposition. My original UsedCars.com “Best Values” concept sketch is posted here.

The third element of positioning was designed to address the universal fear of having a really bad dealership buying experience. This part of the solution is not yet released, so I have to be purposely vague as to protect confidentiality. This element of the solution and value proposition will leverage social networking trends of dealership ratings by consumers.

The Results:  Version 2.0 of UsedCars.com was released in January of 2009. Site traffic and conversion increased by over 25%. Dealers and consumers alike were delighted with the new look, feel and functionality. Dealer enrollment is increasing and the relaunch was deemed successful by all. This was a wonderful example of teamwork by many talented people.

My original UsedCars.com “key pages” schematic is posted here. It was used early on to help the team visualize the key pages and more importantly to help keep the focus on the paths to the lead submission forms.

UsedCars.com Home Page Strategy – Finding “The Right Car”

Our new portal strategy was based on market research indicating that there were two types of vehicle shoppers: those who know what make and model they wanted, and those who knew they want something, but don’t know what. Those who know what they want were named “Fast Trackers.” The homepage was designed to funnel those folks into the vehicle search quickly.

The second group of shoppers, those who want to browse, were not served well from competitor sites. Two- thirds of the home page was devoted to this group and multiple entry points to the search funnel were developed for the “browsers.”

Understanding the needs and existing gaps in the marketplace helped to support the new value proposition and set the stage for the portal home page strategy as well as the product launch strategy.

The homepage also highlighted a new feature called “Best Values” . Any vehicle priced below Kelley Blue Book suggested retail would be showcased in a new section. The three vehicles with the greatest savings in the shoppers area would be presented on the home page.

The UsedCars.com “Best Values” Feature – Supports “The Right Price” Value Proposition 

The UsedCars.com product launch strategy included a unique feature. Any retail vehicle listing that had a listing price below Kelley Blue Book suggested retail was automatically showcased  in a new site section called “Best Values”. This was done at no charge to the dealers, was a well-received value-add and was unique feature in the market. Knowing this would become one of the high traffic areas, I suggested we further monetize the page by selling paid placement listings to the dealers (side bar).

This paid placement feature was originally called “Dealer Specials” and was unique in that it helped to solve the dealer’s problem of aged inventory. By default, subscribing dealers would have their ten oldest vehicles placed into this geo -location specific side bar, highlighting the cars they most wanted to sell. This side bar would allow for users to scroll through ten vehicle thumbnails and lead them to the vehicle detail page when selected.

UsedCars.com “Best Values” Original Concept Sketch

This humble drawing illustrated my original product vision for what would become one of the signature elements and unique product differentiators for the UsedCars.com v2.0 product launch. The concept was designed to create a new, high traffic section of the website that would automatically showcase vehicles with savings below Kelley Blue Book suggested retail pricing. Then to monetize that additional traffic by creating a new pay for placement product for dealers to showcase their aged inventory.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an artist, but the drawing was enough to help the designers understand the vision!

The Original UsedCars.com “Key Pages” Schematic 

I used this rough illustration to help the team visualize the key pages of the UsedCars.com v2.0 product release and more importantly to see the emphasis on the paths that led to the lead submission forms. The objective was to generate more leads and higher conversion rates, so keeping this in mind during the design process was a key success driver.