I recently helped my father sell his used car at Pondicherry (my home town). It was a good experience and produced some useful insights (both as a consumer of a service and as a product manager) that I wish to capture through this post for posterity.
As a risk-averse persona, my first thought was to sell it to the used cars section of the same dealer where it was brought from, so that there is no fear of it being used for unlawful purposes later – we would after all have proper documents done. Thanks to a friend of mine, I realized that there could be a difference of tens of thousands between selling to a company versus selling to an individual. It was indeed true! Articles like this in Team BHP as well helped me in knowing that the buyer has more work to do at the RTO than the seller.
I visited Pondicherry during the Christmas week and wanted to finish the sale during that time. Not being a car (used or otherwise) aficionado, I checked with friends and I was suggested CarWale, CarDekho, CarTrade and the like. CarWale, in particular had good brand recall among people (thanks to their recent TV ads I believe).
A week before I left for Pondicherry, I decided to put the ads: Took photographs of the car in multiple angles, wrote good descriptions of the car and created the ad in CarWale. Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search for ‘used cars’ and it showed a bunch: CarWale, CarDekho, CarTrade were on top (so it is not just TV ads, their SEO too is good) followed by horizontals like Quikr & OLX and then by more niche sites like Zigwheels, Gaadi.com etc. I decided to put the ad in all the sites that appeared in Google’s first results page.
Experience of posting
As the brand recall suggests, CarWale proved that it is one site that has spent enough time thinking through the process. The process to enter was comprehensive and as a seller, I did not have to think much. I just had to answer their questions and a good profile was ready. I was fortunate to have gone through CarWale first. It helped in putting description in other sites.
CarDekho, CarTrade, ZigWheels and Gaadi’s user experience was not satisfactory – As I was posting, there were issues in photo upload, descriptions not getting saved, details of the city not appearing properly (like the locality within Pondicherry that my father lives) and so on. I was doing it from my PC on Wi Fi connectivity at home – so there were no issues with respect to those. Overall, I did not get that confidence that these sites would help me in selling the car. When such sites have ‘Google Text/Image Ads’ appearing in them, it straightaway gives a negative feeling. I think many of them had it, including CarWale.
If such is the experience at niche portals, I did not expect much from the horizontals. However, I was pleasantly surprised with OLX – the process was so smooth. They of course did not ask me as many questions as CarWale did (there were too few question actually, but this being a horizontal, they probably cannot afford to go deep) but since I had done CarWale first, it was easy for me to add necessary details.
Quikr actually turned out to be the one with the worst experience that day. But for the good experience with them selling my old TV in Bangalore 2 years back, I would have given up. I struggled to enter ‘Nellithope’, the locality in Pondicherry where my father lives. For some reason, the area name would barely appear in the Combo Box and then vanish – this happened across browsers. I thought I would submit without the area name but then it was a mandatory field and caused an error. When I tried with IE chose the name within the few seconds for which it appeared. So I continued with IE for the rest of the process. Uploading photos was such a pain in IE but I still did a few (thanks to the goodwill I had by selling my TV long back).
An aside about Nellithope: It is another story that he actually lives a few Kms away from there in another locality but this is probably based on the post offices. Most sites showed only Nellithope so I had to pick that. In some sites, it was the pin code that mattered.After I entered the name of the place, the pincode would appear. It would have been better to directly ask for pin code so all issues are resolved.
Finally, Quikr was the only one that had figured a way to charge me during the upload process – Though CarWale& others had an option to go ‘Premium’, nothing was as seamless and tempting as Quikr (may be the earlier goodwill still continued so I was biased). It also helped that Quikr asked me only around 200 bucks while CarWale asked for Rs. 1500. So I paid Quikr. There was a problem in IE in selecting the credit card so I redid the whole exercise in Chrome (I knew what to do to select Nellithope by now) and made the payment as well. So the goodwill I had by an earlier sale continued all the way.
Unfortunately, I do not think it exists anymore, with the responses through Quikr this time around. More so, with the way I was made to feel even after becoming a ‘paid’ customer. Note to all site owners – Test your site in all browsers please, including IE! One thing I did not try is to use their mobile sites or apps. May be the focus is all there so they do not bother about the desktop site?
(Update: Just for kicks, I tried this again in Chrome today as I post this – The defect of choosing Nellithope does not exist and I can easily choose that. It has either been fixed since then or it was just a temporary issue that happened due to my bad karma that day)
Quikr had one more Quirk(!) – With one login, I got a feeling that I cannot sell different things in different cities. Since I had chosen Pondicherry for my car, the URL becomes pondicherry.quikr.com automatically once I login. May be I can choose Bangalore while posting another ad. Got to see what happens to the URL then with one listing for Pondicherry and one for Bangalore.
I had spent enough time taking good photographs, adding a few negatives explicitly and setting the price of the car at a x,y9,000 instead of x,(y+1)0,000. I did this to ensure the ad appears in search results of “less than x(y+1)0000” but also wanted to try what happens with such ‘charm pricing’. I believe the details, photos, the negatives and the pricing that I had given provided enough authenticity to the post. But in the end, all that mattered seemed to be the phone number only. People who called up always asked for all details again.
Post posting & pre selling Used Car
As mentioned before, I put the post a full week in advance. And boy, I was overwhelmed with the number of calls I got. Within a few hours of posting, I started getting calls. Over the week, I got as many as 28 interested buyers who called. There were a lot more who had ‘expressed interest’ on the sites, sent SMS etc. I had to tell everyone to wait till the next Sunday for me to reach Pondicherry. All thanks to the internet and the number of sites that exist now. Could we have imagined such a thing 5 years back?
Most people that called said they saw the ad in OLX. At one stage, I wondered if OLX had become a generic like ‘Xerox’, ‘Dalda’ etc. that if people found it online (any site), they considered it OLX. I also suspect that there is a sort of cross-listing done by the horizontal versus vertical sites (for example: OLX picking up from Cartradeor vice versa).
I realized the power of brand OLX while I was in Pondicherry as well. It could simply be the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon but I overheard references to OLX in at least 5 conversations over the week – in the RTO office, photo-copy shop and so on. I saw a person at an Internet cafe specifically searching for a second hand house in Pondicherry in, where else, but OLX website. Hats off to the brand equity OLX has achieved!! I wonder what has made them more popular than Quikr though both of them seem to have done similar amount of TV ads. May be it is the result of their performance or network effect.May be it simply is a geographical thing. Other parts of India may have Quikr remembered more.
Coming to the part of what the portals did after I posted,
- OLX is the winner again. It was the one that kept on reminding me about my ad – Asked me how the ad was doing, gave me hints on what I could do to get better responses & so on. There was an email once in 2 days giving me a sense of confidence
- Quikr was simply silent (in spite of taking my money!!). There was only 1 lead from Quikr in all. There was one more from a person who said he provides loans to buy cars. Wonder why it was sent to a seller – May be to lure me to get a loan to buy a new car
- CarTrade started slow but then it gave me a lot of numbers with ‘Expressed Interest’. I did not bother to call any of them since I already had about 25 people waiting in the line. It would be better if CarTrade nudges the buyer to make the call, since it seems to be a seller’s market now.
- CarWale too did a decent job of giving me updates – But just 4 people had expressed interest through that.
- I got 2 leads from CarDekho after I sold my car – While I removed the ad from other sites, I forgot to remove from CarDekho since it made no efforts to talk to me after the posting.
- Gaadi sent one email asking me to add more photos but that was about it. The message the next day after I posted was – If your car is sold, do x-y-z to remove it. Come on, would you please first check if I managed to get buyers? Funnily, when I checked out how the post looked, Gaadi sent me a message that I was interested in buying my own car.
Though I have been singing praises of OLX, it was not that it was great all through. One of the links from an OLX email was broken. It had the “colon” missing after the http. The URL read http// and the browser threw an error – No non-tech savvy user is going to find out and add a colon. There was another ‘Action Required’ email which said I need to click a link or copy-paste the link etc. but then there was no link at all in it.
While OLX did not send me any lead at all, a lot of callers mentioned they saw it in OLX (hence my suspicion about it becoming a generic). There was just one email whichwas a ‘message’ from an interested buyer as ‘Tell me final price’. May be that is the way the site has been designed – to put the onus of calling on the ‘buyer’. If I had had a not-so-popular car in this market (or worse some other product that is a buyers-market), OLX may have not worked at all for me.
After reaching Pondicherry:
The first thing I did was to go to a car wash guy and had the car cleaned up inside out. Just for 250 bucks, all the dust that had gathered went away – right from inside the bonnet to under the wheels. After all, I did not want to succumb to the‘broken windows’ theory and potential buyers pricing it lower than what it should or worse, attracting the wrong kind of buyers.
3 of the suitors of our princess came visiting the same evening. 2 of them offered 70% of my list price& the other person waiting for my final price. I gave a standard “I need to discuss with my father” reply to all of them. I did not want to take any decision when I was tired and worn out after a long drive. The next day morning, 1 more person visited with a mechanic and quoted 80% of my list price. I was thoroughly confused by what I should now ask as final price. I gave the standard “Got to discuss with my father” reply to him as well – there was one crucial input still missing.
Before the next set of suitors came in, I wanted to check the offer from the organizational buyers. I went to the dealer where the car had been bought 10 years back – He checked and offered 45% of my list price. Then I went to Mahindra First Choice. They checked the car and said they needed to check with their supervisor who was away. They would call me back later in the day. They did not even call back. No wonder open C2C market is thriving, even for high value purchases.
The options I had were very clear now. 2 more suitors came in that afternoon – I said I had an offer of the 80% of list price already so they better not offer anything lesser. One was a dealer and said he cannot offer any more than the 80% price. The other fellow tried some psychological tricks – He had a bad comment about every part of the car: The steering wheel was devil’s tool, tyres were in their worst condition, bonnet’s colour had changed, A/C was not good and so on. He did not realize that he was talking to someone who refers to Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow often. Bragging apart, I should consider myself lucky that this one did not visit the previous day. In spite of the learnings from Kahneman, I may have gotten a bit depressed with his comments. I simply gave a smile to every one of his comments and asked him to consider buying some other car.
I could have tried a few more people, bargained a bit more and made a few more thousands. But I had had enough and wanted a peaceful vacation for the rest of the week. So I called up the 80% person and confirmed it to him. It also helped that he was a retired pharmacist from a Government hospital in Pondicherry – It gave a sense of relief to my father that the transfer would be done properly. On that note, of the 10 people that I spoke with before selling, 4 were retired Government employees and were buying it from their savings. There exists a huge market of retired people in Tier-2 towns, I believe for such goods.
After confirming to the final buyer, I went to the RTO and collected the forms needed (I knew it all, thanks to Team BHP article). I did not find such detailed documentation in any of the sites – It would be good to provide such info to the buyers/sellers right there. After all, how many people will Google and locate Team BHP.
The next day morning, the person came in, paid the money, finished the documentation, took the car and went away! Done!
I removed the ad from all the sites I had put the ad in (at least the ones I remembered). OLX &CarWale asked for feedback and details. OLX had in fact for feedback even before I removed. Quikrjust asked if I sold through Quikr or elsewhere and then simply said the ad will be removed in a few hours. No update if it was removed. My 200 bucks seemed a complete waste – I will just think of it as their commission for my TV sale 2 years back!
Cardekho asked me to give a missed call to remove. I did that. But then there was an email too later with a new lead. From my mobile, I clicked on ‘Remove my ad’ screen button in the mail. It opened a page, asked me to fill up a form with details of what price I sold etc. That was it. When I accessed email next from PC, I tried the ‘Remove ad’ button again – It faithfully went to the site, asked me to fill up a form! Wonder when the ad will be removed at all. (For kicks, I tried now again on the link and it faithfully asked the same set of questions again)
Before I forget, if you wondered about it – The final buyer had seen it in CarWale! While there were only 4 leads, the final buyer was from there.
A subjective table of ratings:
This has been my subjective rating about 2 weeks after posting the ad and 5 days after removing the ad. Remember this is only for CAR sale in PONDICHERRY (Tier-2 city). It could be different for another product in another city!
|Post Posting Touchpoints||3/5||2/5||0/5||5/5||3/5||5/5||1/5|
|Quantity of leads||2/5||2/5||0/5||5/5||3/5||5/5||1/5|
|Quality of leads||4/5||3/5||NA||3/5||2/5||4/5||3/5|
I am kind of feeling bad for Quikr’s ratings here – I am sure they would score better in another geography. (Confirmation bias may be, since I paid them).
These sites have competition from specific Facebook groups like Second-To-None that have become popular. Though as a seller, for a high value item like a car, I think I would first list in C2C sites and then provide link in the FB group.
Insights for a seller:
- The table above notwithstanding, put ad in as many sites – It is worth the effort. You never know which product category for which geography works well in which site
- Do enough homework around the process of transfer etc. (if it involves such things)
- Ensure your product is well cleaned and does not look as kept unkempt
- Call / SMS / Email all leads you receive. Keep all potential buyers informed of your status & decision – You never know when it is a seller’s market and when it is buyer’s
- Do not take any decision when you are not in your best mood
Insights for a buyer:
- Do not fall for it if the product simply looks clean(!). Check for other stuff as well
- Search in all sites – You never know where a good find is.
- Do not simply express interest and keep quiet – Pro-actively call the seller. If the seller receives as many leads I did, he may not bother to call you at all
- Do not take any decision when you are not in your best mood (A friend recently lost some money by paying some advance for a car without checking enough – The seller smartly retained some part of the advance as penalty)
Insights for someone running the service:
- Desktop sites are still important. Keep them working and do not focus on mobile alone. (By the way, it is just that I did not try the mobile sites/apps. I am sure they have the same if not more issues than the desktop sites)
- Carry details around the transfer process if they are involved for the product being sold. It would give enough authenticity to your site
- Do not have Google text / banner ads ever
- Brand recall is very important – OLX seems to have conquered it already
- Do not make the seller / buyer think – It should be a breeze to put the listings. You should have thought of all things the seller wants to put in
- At the end of the upload, gently nudge the user to pay – You never know when someone is interested in it (your past karma may have generated enough good will)
- Touchpoints after the posting is critical – Keep providing tips, updates and the like. They are very essential, definitely for a high-involvement sale
- Start questions around ‘Do you want to remove’ only after a few days. Do not ask it the immediate next day after it is posted.
- Do not concentrate only on sellers or only on buyers. Different products in different geographies would have different dynamics. Always try to connect buyer & seller, whoever comes to you. If possible, make phone calls on their behalf
- Do enough testing of your automated emails for broken links, no links etc.
- Empty nesters in Tier-2 cities form an important market – Do not ignore them
- Removal of an ad is as important as posting – It is not about you collecting information for your analytics alone (like: How much did you actually sell for).
PS:: Some factual errors could have crept in this article since it is all written from my memory & a quick search of my emails. I did not maintain specific notes. If you find any error, do let me know. I will re-check and correct it.
[About the author : When done with selling his car, Karthik Srinivasan is Senior Manager with a telecommunications company]
Image credit : shutterstock