BMcar: How we built a digital platform that sold 500 cars during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Orlando Rocha & Ricardo Landolt
25 de March, 2021

Miew was responsible for creating the new digital platform that came to completely redefine the vehicle buying process in Portugal. Today we decided to share with you all the creation process phases of this digital product.

About a year ago, one of the largest BMW and Mini dealers in Portugal — BMcar — contacts us to help them build the platform software.

🚨 Spoiler alert: We launched BMcar digital platform during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the first week of launch, 65 cars were sold. And to this day: 500. Yes, this happened.

But let’s just point out we are not solo heroes. 🦸 Great projects are born from collaboration, and we built this digital platform with the support of Impacting Digital in marketing automation and Norma-Jean in the activation campaign.

digital platform

But back to our story…

BMcar had just launched a new dealership in Porto and intended to debut in the digital world. It all started with a call like so many others:

We know you are web development experts. That’s why we have an innovative challenge for you: We want to change the process of buying vehicles in Portugal.
– José Senra, BMcar

We are usually reluctant when someone gives us a brief with an “innovative” idea. As a design & development studio, we have inside a drawer the 10,000 times someone called us wanting to create ‘the new Airbnb for pets’ or the new ‘iTunes for karaoke videos’.

In fact, for us, one of the biggest challenges is the conceptualization of ideas via benchmark (a theme for another article 😉). But this wasn’t the case. We followed our normal process and held a meeting to understand what was at stake.

📝 Note: We had always been very interested in the mobility sector. We had just worked with a fantastic Portuguese mobility start-up and traveled to Luxembourg to do a consulting job with the largest Volkswagen dealer in the country.

Briefing 💡

It was an ambitious idea, yet simple.

We want to help people find their dream car according to their monthly budget. We want people to choose their financing, their vehicle, and to finish the entire purchase process digitally.
All of this in a single digital platform that can adjust to the needs of each client. Regardless of where you are. And we want you to be the ones to build that platform. From scratch.

– José Senra, BMcar

After hearing this, we were very excited. However, we were aware of the challenge that would be facing the automotive digital transformation, as the process of buying a car involves several decision steps:

How much do I want to spend? Will I pay promptly? With funding? What funding? And besides that, we still have to exchange all the car documentation and deal with a bureaucratic process that seems endless.

Well, it’s not easy to put great ideas into practice. For that, we needed good bases, and fortunately, the work done by José Senra and Jorge Jorge from BMcar was already extensive and very well done. 👏

Alignment and workshops

Several workshop sessions (shout out to Impacting Digital team) were held to define what we wanted to build — us and the client. Most of the time, the biggest problem was the need to have something working in a “fast and furious” mode 💨.

So, the alignment between the different departments of the different teams was fundamental to the product definition, to create close links between Business, UX, and Architecture and to align the future — this is continuous product discovery.

All in all, the alignment between user needs, business needs, and technology was essential at this stage of the process.

Finding this sweet spot is determined by the communication skills of the different multidisciplinary teams.

Source: Alexander Hipp article about continuous product discovery

After an intensive analysis of the model that already existed (as is), we designed the model we wanted for the future (to be). This analysis was critical to understand how we could expand and consolidate the project.

Subsequently, we entered into a phase of auditing systems, processes, and documentation. For this, we needed to bootstrap the project.

As we work in Agile, we also had to define consecutive sprints where several teams worked at the same time, and where we validated concepts always in line with business needs. These were the two project phases:

1st phase: Product bootstrap:

  • Design thinking e high-fidelity prototyping
  • Software build documentation
  • Benchmarking
  • UX research

2nd phase: Continuous development (CI/CD):

  • Architecture (business needs)
  • Back-end development
  • Front-end development and testing
  • Design requirements and needs
  • Testing & QA
  • Updating documentation

Integration of business operations in the back office

“It was a challenge to integrate the platform with all the systems related to BMcar’s daily operations, such as ERPs, CRMs, BMW systems, customer communication, payments, return assessments, and after-sales services.”

Nelson Carvalho and Diogo Teixeira, Miew

So, we focused on developing a back office that would solve all these business needs, and that would allow the total administration of the platform since a car purchase can be B2B or B2C.

The back office needed to:

  • Manage orders and reservations and exchange all customer documentation.
  • Define the financial products (renting, leasing, credit), the entry values, and month numbers. This whole process depends on rate definitions for calculations such as Euribor, spread, and depreciation.
  • Configure the system, such as the order signal value, the number of reservations per customer, or values that appear by default in the filtering.
  • Create a videoconference area where salespeople make calls related to a specific vehicle. For this, a personalized service list was created.
  • Create a customer management area where it is possible to view the simulations and surveys historic, saved proposals, and wish list. This area is crucial to better understanding customers and, consequently, offer a better service.

Target definition & marketing objectives 🎯

After a series of surveys carried out by BMcar, we determined that the target audience for this new business model would be entrepreneurs or professionals with the financial capacity to request monthly financing.

This idea allowed us to see the business differently:

“How much am I willing to pay each month to ensure my mobility?”
José Augusto — Buyer Persona

To stand out from the competition, we needed to ensure the best digital customer experience. So, our product had the following characteristics:

  • Sale of new and used vehicles: giving consumers the possibility to choose, at the same level, new and used cars.
  • Subscription model: pay a monthly fee and have access to a package of vehicles available for purchase or order.
  • Access to BMcar payment models: prompt payment or financing (leasing, credit, or renting).
  • Possibility of recovery: give an expectation of value, even if it is a reference value (also present in the physical).
  • Transparency: ensure customer safety and give visibility to the various stages of the purchase process (workflow).

Then, we determined the main areas of our website:

  • Find — Combines the user’s needs with the financing or payment methods intended to show customized results: the best vehicle according to the selected indications.

  • Explore — View the vehicle catalog available and filter according to the payment method.

  • Schedule —Test-drives and visits for overhauls, repairs, and minor touch-ups..

  • BMcar Events — Allows you to create events based on special conditions for customers.
  • Videoconferences Area for specialized consultants who answer questions about vehicle details, purchasing processes, among others.
  • Client area — Ensures people registration on the website and guarantees access to documents associated with the profile. It also allows viewing of the vehicle history, scheduled appointments, and test drives, wish list, and the timeline of the purchase status. All in all, it carries out all the purchase processes, from the exchange of legal documentation to the vehicle delivery.

One of our biggest challenges was to create a simple customer experience. Therefore, we conducted several UX studies so that the vehicle purchase was made with just four clicks.

It was also essential to determine which communication channels were able to ensure fast, effective, and human communication. So, we created an eCommerce platform, implement a marketing automation tool in all stages, and secure a robust call center, with more information for interaction with customers.

What we learned and the future 📚

Developing a digital product involves a great involvement and dedication of all people involved in the project. Digital transformation is based on people and is for people too. Although each project has different needs, all require a multidisciplinary team that ensures the necessary ownership and commitment to guarantee a return on investment.

Besides that, products are always in constant evolution. So, we must be in constant learning and abreast of sector new trends if we want to be competitive.

That’s why we rely on tools (Hotjar, Google Analytics, UX research, back-office data, feedback from existing customers) that provided us with the necessary insights to fully understand our target and understand how we could reach it in the best possible way.

Other challenges included the definition of priorities, actions, and a roadmap. It was necessary to know how to reach commitments, manage customer expectations, and have the discipline to make difficult decisions to move forward with the project.

Even though the automotive sector was one of the most affected with Covid-19, we believe the digital platform launch was a success as it allowed customers to buy a car from home, during a time when social distancing was imperative. 🏡

However, this is a dynamic process that doesn’t end when we launch a product on the market.

As the automotive sector is highly competitive, it is crucial to remain aware of new technologies and trends. For this reason, we need to continue to improve the relationship with customers and to update the platform daily to guarantee its superior performance.

Regarding the future, we are aware of the importance of Machine Learning and AI to improve business operations and digital products. It is also important to understand how people can move efficiently and healthily and continue to study our target audience — what their needs are, their pains — to have more insights on user experience.

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