Entrepreneurs, motor manufacturers and suppliers of motor dealers' stock control software have seized upon the potential of Internet technology for buying and selling used cars. There are approximately 1,500 new car models available on the UK market and this choice takes on extra dimensions as soon as the car leaves the forecourt, with service history, mileage, optional extras, price and other factors to consider - all well suited to interrogation using search engines carried on the Internet. Couple this with the seven million unit volume and #20 billion value of the used car market and the opportunity is clear.
It is also clear to owners of traditional media that classified ads which use printed media must be threatened by their Internet rivals. But rather than fighting the move, market leaders Auto Trader and Exchange & Mart decided to capitalise on their used car data resources and build on existing market presence with Web sites. Exchange & Mart publisher Link House was particularly well placed for the venture, with a centralised database and substantial IT resources well suited to the tasks involved.
Starting in October 1995, Link House spent 11 weeks developing a prototype service that used a database approach rather than the simple listing of classified ads which was first proposed. A relatively small investment of IT staff time produced a prototype strong enough to warrant the development of a cross-functional management group combining senior staff from finance, marketing and sales as well as IT.
With the business plan drawn up in January 1996, the existing resources were supplemented by a 140MHz Sun Sparc Ultra plus a Sybase Server 11 database. One software engineer concentrated on HTML development to facilitate a quick launch, while a second spent longer on Java elements.
Since the launch in early June, user feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive", says IT manager Craig Baxendale. Having defined the region within which they wish to search, car buyers choose the make and model required, together with maximum mileage, age and budget. Factors such as service history and anti-lock brakes can also be included. Cross-reference against the central database produces a shortlist of vehicles that meet the criteria. The process can take just 60 to 90 seconds.
From the search page, users can move to search 20,000 personalised registrations and apply for vehicle finance from Lloyds Bank/TSB or motor insurance from Churchill. Although all parties involved recognise that usage levels will take time to build up, they share the belief that the immediate delivery of high-value sales leads make these links increasingly valuable.
The Web site is promoted in the printed version of Exchange & Mart, together with advertisements in regional newspapers owned by parent company United News & Media. Tracking tools recorded 24,450 different visitors in the first 11 weeks of operation; the busiest time of day is lunchtime, when users access the site from their PCs at work. They have "added significant value to Exchange & Mart", says managing director Graham Ramsey, "in terms of status and increased sales of printed advertising".
In the future, sponsorship of satellite sites by motor dealer groups and other automotive services will join sales lead referrals as income sources. Display advertising placed exclusively on the Web site is expected to be even more valuable. Technical development is now concentrating on additional functions made possible by Java technology and facilities which allow tracking of usage patterns. Business development is focusing on the increased participation by motor dealers and dealer groups to ensure continued dominance of the sector. Ramsey adds: "Internet development is a key strategic objective of this company and adds significant value to existing products."
Exchange & Mart
Launched: June 1996
Designed: by Link House IT department [email protected]
Target Audience: UK car buyers
Setup cost: Can't separate from general IT costs
Hits per day: 17,200 after 11 weeks.
Facebook told by Brussels-based court to stop tracking non-users and to delete all data held on them
Supply chain and manufacturing experience could give Dyson an important edge
New VR Zone Portal arcades open in London and Tunbridge Wells
Systems-on-a-chip with integrated AI features could make voice and facial recognition