Car buying should be more like online dating and matchmaking, according to solutions — including the winning ones — presented by participants of Edmunds.com's two-day Hackomotive brainstorming contest held at the company's Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters last week.
Patterned after hackathons held by high-tech companies to solve internal problems, Edmunds.com flung open its doors to the automotive and non-automotive public to reimagine the car-buying and ownership experience. The company awarded a total of $28,000 to winners who presented to judges tangible, applicable solutions to a specific problem experienced by car shoppers.
About a half-dozen of the 19 teams suggested solutions consisted of some element of online dating and matchmaking. "Most of the ideas conveyed the theme that car shopping is not just about making a purchase, but about creating a trust-based relationship," said Edmunds.com CEO Avi Steinlauf.
In the end, two teams instead of one took home first prize of $10,000 each. Both winning teams recommended a process that, using social media and other input, matches a car salesperson to an individual car shopper by interest and expertise much as online dating services match couples.
Team "Tegrity said in its presentation to judges that its solution "demystifies and humanizes the salesperson, giving them a reputation and an identity," and stops the commoditization of service at the dealership and to create trust and loyalty.
Co-first-place winner, Team "My Motive," presented a service that matches a car shopper to a salesperson via attributes and expertise, such as truck specialist or green car specialist, to improve rapport and create higher customer satisfaction at the point of sale.
The second place team and winner of $5,000, "Grease Monkey," suggested that the car ownership experience would be greatly improved if drivers better understood their cars and could be presented with real-time information about their car's operation, any necessary diagnostics, relevant quick fixes, links to local service bays, and bids for repairs.
Third place winner "Cartell" presented a creative "safety in numbers" car shopping concept that relies on the power of group buying to get the best price. The team took home the $3,000 prize.
At least a half-dozen teams borrowed elements of online dating and matchmaking services for their proposed solutions to certain problems in the car buying and owning experience. The names said it all: Kar Match, eCarmony, Car Cupid and Car Match by Team Love-o-Matic.
The matchmaking love theme may have been instigated by the keynote address by speakers Ben Blank and Aaron Eden of Intuit, known for its QuickBooks accounting software, who encouraged participants to come up with solutions that make consumers love buying a car as much as they love driving.
"We're bringing in the love side," Blank told the participants. "Think about your own stories, and what got you excited about buying your first car." He added that the hackers will have succeeded if — without laughing — consumers can say such things as: "I wish the Apple store was more like an auto dealership." Or "I wish I could buy a car every month." And "My check engine light comes on and I smile."
Following the opening address, the 100-plus participants circulated through four stations led by Edmunds.com employees. On colorful notes, they wrote problems with car-shopping research, car shopping, the retail and the ownership experience. Facilitators boiled down the comments into five problem statements for each of the four categories. Problem statements were written across the tops large pieces of paper that were hung along the hallway. Participants then signed their name to the problem statement they were most interested in addressing. They divided into teams of six to eight individuals.
For instance, the problem statement that drew the most interest and led to the formation of multiple teams was: "For the amount of money I'm spending, the car retail experience is not on par with other retail experience."
Then it was off to the conference rooms to discuss the problem, brainstorm solutions and develop a solution and presentation to show to Hackomotive judges. Once they came with an idea and plan, teams had the opportunity to practice pitch the judges and seek their guidance in the lead up to the final three-minute presentations on day two.
Led by Edmunds.com Vice Chairman Jeremy Anwyl, automotive insiders on the judges' panel were: Michael Accavitti, vice president of Automobile Marketing for American Honda; Stacey Coopes, CEO of FordDirect, a joint venture between Ford and its dealers to focus on the buying and owning experience; Tamara Darvish, executive vice president of Washington, D.C.-based dealer group DARCARs and currently a board director at the National Automobile Dealers Association; and Carl Sewell, chairman and CEO of Sewell Automotive Companies, a privately-owned Texas based company with 14 dealerships that represent 15 franchises. Non-automotive judges were Michael Zimbalist, vice president of research and development operations for The New York Times Company who is a co-founder and former president of the Online Publishers Association (OPA), and Joseph Essas, chief technology officer of the online restaurant reservation service, OpenTable, and formerly vice president of engineering for Yahoo!
In most cases, judges advised teams to narrow their scope and focus on a very specific solution to one issue. Judges told them to forget about a justifying business model and monetization of their idea: come up with a solution and the money will follow, they were told.
Working into the night and finishing the following morning, teams then presented to the standing-room-only crowd of their peers, the judges, media in attendance to cover the event and their peers and Edmunds employees.
While more than a half-dozen of the solution presented involved online dating-style matching of people with cars, dealers and sales people, another half-dozen focused on easier ways to deal with car maintenance and the remaining few focused on bidding on cars or group car buying for better prices.