In 1999, General Motors launched GM BuyPower with much fanfare. However, they soon realized that they didn't have their finger on the pulse of the average internet shopper. Instead of being a "revolutionary" shopping experience, the site turned out to be not much more than an online brochure. The customer was still largely left to his/her own devices when it came to negotiating a deal.
Fast-forward to 2001. GM was considering a joint venture on a new marketplace that not only promised online pricing, but actual inventory vehicles as well. The catch? Reeling from the failure of BuyPower, GM knew they needed some outside expertise. Enter Autobytel. Autobytel was the leader in the online automotive space, and the acknowledged expert in lead generation.
I worked with the team at GM to craft a proof-of-concept site for Chevrolet in the D.C. region called the "Chevy Showroom". My team was responsible for the architecture, technology, user experience and design. We built a system that would allow us to import every vehicle from every GM dealership in the US, every night. This included configuration information (options, packages, etc.) as well as dealer add-ons, and invoice and sticker pricing.
Using this data, we crafted a website that allowed the consumer to search for a car with the exact options they wanted, print a virtual window sticker, and reserve the vehicle at the dealer of their choice. This was the first time that a user could view the invoice, sticker and discounted actual price of a vehicle online.
It wasn't all smooth sailing. GM had some major misconceptions about how the site should function, and we had to educate them on the way consumers liked to shop online. With our guidance, we were ultimately able to lead them to a superior user experience that surpassed customer expectations.
In the first 24 hours, GM sold more vehicles on the Chevy Showroom than they did on GM BuyPower in its first month. GM BuyPower was launched nationally with thousands of dealerships across all GM brands, and was backed by a media blitz. Chevy Showroom, on the other hand, was test-marketed in Washington D.C. with only a handful of Chevrolet dealers and no advertising other than a link from Autobytel inviting users to give it a try. The trial was extended from 90 days to six months based on the success of the initial trial, and during those six months, the Showroom sold more vehicles than GM BuyPower had since inception. Though the trial was a success, GM ultimately decided not to pursue the model due to dealer backlash.