reinventing the car buying experience

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ECHOPARK, A SONIC AUTOMOTIVE COMPANY

The current used car buying industry has an existing reputation for being tedious, lacking transparency, and instilling distrust between all the parties involved. For most, the car buying experience is one of the most complex purchases a person can make. It’s easy to quickly become inundated with information, confused, and overwhelmed. But what if there was another way?  A way that leveraged the power and convenience of the digital channel and simplified the whole process from end to end. A way that puts the customer in control to sell and purchase whenever, wherever, and however they like. Welcome to EchoPark.

EXPERIENCE TRANSFORMATION | STRATEGY | SITECORE | ECOMMERCE | OMNI-CHANNEL

PATIENT CARE

COST REDUCTION

IMPROVED EXPERIENCE

30 percent

30% MORE CARS SOLD THAN THE LEGACY WEBSITE

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33% INCREASE IN TIME ON SITE AND A 32% INCREASE IN PAGES PER SESSION

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REDUCED IN-PERSON PURCHASE TIME TO AS LITTLE AS 30 MINUTES

Sonic Automotive is a Fortune 500 company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the seventh largest automotive retailer in the United States. The company operates two segments, a franchised dealership business that represents over 25 different new vehicle brands and EchoPark Automotive, which offers a unique car buying experience through over 50 dealerships. EchoPark utilizes an ultra-low pricing strategy and simplified easy purchase experience that has contributed to their strong growth.

THE CHALLENGE

The current used car buying industry has an existing reputation for being tedious, lacking transparency, and instilling distrust between all the parties involved. For most, the car buying experience is one of the most complex purchases a person can make. It’s easy to quickly become inundated with information, confused, and overwhelmed. But what if there was another way? A way that leveraged the power and convenience of the digital channel and simplified the whole process from end to end. A way that puts the customer in control to sell and purchase whenever, wherever, and however they like. Welcome to EchoPark. (EchoPark is a division of Sonic Automotive.)

Simply put, the team at Sonic Automotive (Sonic) set out to create the best ecommerce solution the automotive industry has ever seen. Sonic had already made a significant commitment to change the car buying experience, and to create the best possible solution, the team knew they needed the best technology and the best partners to set the stage for long-term competitive advantage and sustainable growth. Sonic’s EchoPark brand had the perfect opportunity to disrupt the market and take what is normally a complex and confusing in-person process and turn it into a simple, online end-to-end process that makes car buying enjoyable. The goal was to shift the power and control to the customer, enabling them buy or sell a car, however, whenever, and wherever they wanted.

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As the world continues to turn to more digital interactions by preference, the time was perfect for EchoPark to move swiftly to market with a unique digital/hybrid car buying experience that only they could offer.

While many auto companies have gone digital, most are still lagging from a retail ecommerce perspective. This was partially due to the rigid nature of existing Automotive Marketing Systems in the industry that offered experiences that don’t match the lives of car-buyers. This “white space” was wide open and ready to be conquered, but the team at Sonic knew speed to market could make or break this business. The team knew that they needed to create a modern, fast, and flexible digital infrastructure that the brand could own and manage simply and easily going forward. They also knew it was imperative to keep the customer at the center of all decisions to truly create the customer-centric organization it desired.

OUR APPROACH

The solution began with an 8-week strategy deep dive into EchoPark’s user experience, technical architecture, and experience strategy. Stakeholder interviews were conducted, the current customer journey was mapped out, and in-depth competitive exploration into other non-automotive customer-centric experiences and digital solutions was conducted. Scalability and ongoing strategic conversations would become critical to meet the challenge. The team needed to determine the best way to “stand on top of” all of the existing technology while also building a custom experience that is not only differentiated for the automotive industry, but differentiated for ANY industry. 

Sonic Automotive, EcoPark screenshots

While there are benefits of industry-specific tools, the team found that many couldn’t meet the larger business goals that Sonic had for the EchoPark brand. Specifically, due to the complex nature of digital commerce, fraud protection, analytics, and the need for a flexible customer experience, it was determined that pure play technology, namely Sitecore, would be the best solution.

The team was inherently drawn to Sitecore’s direct value proposition and ability to adapt to fit the pre-owned vehicle purchase journey, as well as the future product roadmap considerations. Sitecore also offered a cloud-based approach that matched the enterprise architecture of Sonic Automotive at large and offered specialist support staff that could be leveraged throughout the development phase. In addition, Sitecore’s evolved commerce capabilities, solid infrastructure and an API-driven approach made it the right long-term platform choice.

The strategic work also included a usability study, behavioral insights, conceptual design work, future journey mapping, digital product blueprint and roadmap creation, MVP feature prioritization, and an OKR analytics framework.

Small family in car taking in the sights and a screenshot of the desktop experience

The team then embarked on a 10-month product execution phase – designing and developing our way through 20 Sprints, integrating with over 15 third parties, and launching one incredible product to a market by the end of 2021. The team not only focused on creating the digital product, but also immersing themselves with EchoPark store teams and the in-store experience to ensure a seamless and truly omni-channel guest experience. The solution netted a unique and differentiated experience for EchoPark, and also created a foundation that can grow at the speed of the business and keep EchoPark in the driver’s seat for their future.

After only five months in market, the new EchoPark.com website has already sold 30% more cars than the legacy website. The new site has also seen a 91% lower bounce rate, with a 33% increase in time on site and a 32% increase in pages per session.

Although customers have the option of completing the entire purchase online, we have seen that approximately 30% of our audience still prefers to start the process in the store. Our architecture enables a true omni-channel experience that supports whatever path the customer prefers. Also, if a customer chooses to complete the purchase in store, the optimized process can now take as little as 30 minutes.

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