Launching an Immersive Car Buying Experience at CarMax

Image source: Adobe Stock / jamesteohart.

by Nicolas Wu

posted on 07-26-2018

When we asked Adobe Target users to submit their stories of excellence in optimization and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven personalization for the 2018 Experience Business Excellence (ExBE) contest, we received stories of account-based personalization for B2B at Grainger, Adobe Sensei AI-driven personalization at Swisscom and Sky UK, and many more. One of our favorite stories was submitted by Jake Mitchell, a senior product designer for the digital merchandising team of CarMax.

A Fortune 500 company and a well-known brand, CarMax is the largest used-car retailer in the United States, with more than 190 stores across the United States. Jake’s story highlights how he and a CarMax product manager, lead developer, and data scientist teamed up to create and optimize a component on the company’s website using Adobe Target. While many users use Adobe Target to optimize or personalize the customer experience, this is more of a user experience use case. In this instance, they were adding a component that gave car shoppers a 360-degree view of the interior of individual cars listed for sale.

Left to Right: Astron Liu and Jake Mitchell of CarMax with Nicolas Wu of Adobe at the 2018 ExBE Awards Gala in Las Vegas.

At the intersection of the digital and physical world

As a product designer, Jake needs to understand who CarMax shoppers are, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how digital design can help them do that. With a background in advertising and live production, he was familiar with creating impactful experiences in the physical world, but, as Jake says, “At CarMax, we’re at the intersection of the digital and physical world. Customers start the customer journey online, but finish it when they ‘meet the car in-person’ and decide if it’s the car for them.”

An opportunity along the CarMax customer journey

Jake notes that some life event typically triggers the CarMax customer journey — perhaps there’s a baby on the way so the person needs a bigger car, or someone is looking to upgrade their vehicle after a promotion. The person goes to the CarMax website and searches across the company’s nationwide inventory, filtering by price, mileage, and other car features. Clicking a car in the search results opens an individual car detail page. CarMax then makes it easy for the shopper to move from the online experience to the “on-lot” experience by allowing the shopper to reserve a car or transfer one to a nearby CarMax lot. The company even helps the shopper get pre-qualified for financing to simplify purchasing.

The car detail page is where Jake and the team saw an opportunity. This is the page on which the shopper tends to decide if a car is a good match. Jake says, “It’s important to tap into the emotional aspect of their need by showing them, through their digital experience on this page, that you understand that need.” For example, you could show them that a car has latch connections to install a baby seat, or that it has enough storage in the back for a set of golf clubs.

At the time, the site offered 25 to 30 photos that the shopper had to mentally stitch together to get a good overall sense of the car. Jake believed that using a camera that could capture a 360-degree view of the car would give shoppers the better sense they needed to decide if the car was a good fit. If so, they could take that next step to reserve it.

Test before committing wholesale

Jake explains that he and the team have a firm “test-and-learn” mindset. They don’t just build something and ship it, they try to figure out a quick and lean way to test an idea or solution to prove whether or not it’s worth further investment. In this instance, because they would need to have every CarMax store invest in the equipment and time to capture the 360-degree view of every single car, Jake and the team needed to first prove that shoppers would indeed engage with the experience.

First, the team did a lot of quantitative research. Jake says that they quickly set up a prototype of the 360 experience in Virginia. They then watched people as they engaged with the experience and asked them what they liked about it. Jake and the team also conducted remote interviews in which they showed people prototypes of the 360 experience and looked at their reaction. It turns out that responses and reactions were extremely positive — people felt like they were in the car and that it helped them figure out if it met their need. It was the next best thing to being on the lot.

Although Jake and the team were seeing the emotional response they hoped to see, they still needed to be smart about where they placed their bets — they needed to show that there was a real business case for the experience. That way, Jake says, they could answer in the affirmative when stakeholders asked, “This looks great, but is it selling more cars?” Jake says, “Adobe Target lets us prove that out.”

Jake and the team then consulted with one of the company’s data scientists to figure out how many cars they needed to add to the 360 inventory to get a good, strong signal that the experience was giving them conversion lift. The data scientist said that they could prove out the experience directionally if they tried out the experience in five stores.

A lean and mean team

Jake says that when people think of retail, they think that change and progress are inherently slow. “With the right tools and mindset, you can get quick learnings and move fast. Don’t be afraid to do the work yourself and watch the test yourself — it’s worth it because you can produce great outcomes.”

Jake, along with the product manager, developer, and data scientist went out and captured the 360 experiences on 100 percent of the cars on the five car lots, all located in Florida. They A/B tested showing the detail page with the 360 experience and without, using Adobe Analytics to get the store and user location to determine if the car had the experience. They also tested a variety of elements of the experience. For example, they tested the location of the call-to-action to launch the 360-viewer and tested “Look Inside” versus “Virtual Tour” for the call-to-action copy.

Results that speak for themselves

Suffice it to say, the results were so positive that stakeholders at CarMax soon switched from saying, “Prove that it sells more cars” to “How quickly can we scale this experience nationwide?” The experience was definitively and meaningfully contributing to more sales. As of late March, CarMax had added the experience to 90 percent of its inventory.

Jake says they’ll continue to use Target for optimization and innovation, testing both small things like the best wording to use when explaining how to reserve a car, to more powerful innovative efforts like the 360 experience that also involve significant changes in processes. We look forward to seeing the story they submit for the 2019 ExBE contest.

For more stories like these, subscribe to the Adobe Target Insider newsletter, where we highlight the work of an optimization and personalization professional almost every month. Consider submitting your own success story of using Adobe Target to the 2019 ExBE contest. Maybe you’ll have chance to present your story on stage in a session at Adobe Summit, win an award at the ExBE awards gala, and have a chance to be featured in the newsletter. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Acura’s journey into automotive UX.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Personalization

Products: Target