Normally, a car is a depreciating asset. The second you drive away from the dealership, the cash you just spent on a new or used vehicle is metaphorically passing right through the exhaust pipe, into thin air, never to be recouped again.
Right now, the new and used car industry isn’t normal. It’s booming due to shrunken inventory. According to Edmunds, an automotive resource that has empowered car shoppers since the ‘60s, the average transaction price for used vehicle prices will surpass the $30,000-mark for the first time in 2022.
“Traditionally, used cars only decline in value,” Anh Pham, Edmunds’ VP of Product and Program Management, said. “But this year, used cars have mirrored the housing market and values are skyrocketing.”
And now is a good time to sell — or simply see what your car is worth. Not sure how to do that? Pham and her colleagues developed an easy way.
It’s a free online tool on Edmunds, which provides car owners with their vehicle’s appraisal value, followed by a no-obligation competitive offer from CarMax to buy their car.
“Before we launched this instant offer appraisal program, the only way to get an appraisal from CarMax was to drive your car to a CarMax dealership and have somebody conduct a thorough inspection of your vehicle,” Pham said. “Our solution streamlines the process and makes it convenient for consumers to get an appraisal wherever they are. Give it a try and go online. It will take you minutes to get a firm, real offer on your car – an offer that CarMax will honor as long as the information that you provide is accurate.”
With the used car industry continuing to boom, this innovative appraisal tool that premiered in 2020 is solving real problems. It’s opened the door to many exciting opportunities for Edmunds, and the success of this tool has enabled CarMax and Edmunds to develop a similar tool for CarMax.com. Who were the brains behind this project, how did they collaborate to launch a new product, and what’s the next big solution up Edmunds’ sleeve?
Built In LA sat down with three team members to find out.
Tell me more about your role in building this appraisal tool.
Zhen Zhou, senior software engineer: I’m primarily in charge of the back-end development for the tools. My team incorporates APIs that are provided by CarMax and other partners into our systems. This way, the website and the product that we’re building can use those APIs to gather user information, and use it to obtain instant offers from CarMax on behalf of our customers.
Michelle Reuven, director of product management: I’m on the product side. I work closely with the CarMax team, and also with our development team, especially Zhen. We’ll look at our metrics and performance to see how users are engaging with the tool. We’re always testing different ideas and concepts to improve or optimize the product’s performance. Zhen and our dev team will come to us and say, “We have a ton of traffic, this product has been live for X amount of time, but the infrastructure needs to be matured or needs to be more scalable. Let's make these changes, and talk about how we need to make the tool stronger as we continue to build and test on it.”
Pham: Michelle and I work closely together. We were the original hands-on product managers defining the user experience. We define the features that we want to build and test. A lot of the work is having empathy for the user and understanding their pain points. Then, it’s building a hypothesis and testing and iterating on the site to improve the user experience. We work very closely with our design team to design that user experience, and then work closely with the development team to build and launch these iterations.
What has collaboration looked like on this project?
Zhou: Each of us heavily collaborated. The project kicked off just before the pandemic, so the majority of the time we’ve been fully remote. Prior to the pandemic, Edmunds was remote-friendly. We were accustomed to Zoom calls and collaborating online and offline. We relied on Google Docs, Slack and Jira. There were several developers working on this project, some of them offshore in Belarus. We balanced the challenge of collaborating with different time zones.
Edmunds has a very open and collaborative culture. All opinions are welcome. Different opinions and feedback make our product more functional, robust and maintainable.
Reuven: A good example of collaboration among the three of us was when CarMax came to us last year asking that we update all of our APIs and connections to their new system. We had to partner closely with Zhen and all of the developers to map out what that would look like. What were the new API endpoints? What did we have to do to accomplish that? Zhen did a lot of that heavy lifting. Once those endpoints were upgraded to use CarMax’s new system, we needed to test the new endpoints and see if they were performing the same as the previous one. It took all of us to make that happen.
Pham: Another key to our collaboration is flexibility and empathy. We have a lot of parents at Edmunds. My kids and Michelle’s kids make regular appearances on our Zoom calls. It’s common to see kids running around in the back of a video call. We’re all human. We’ve all been understanding about the challenges remote work brings.
Have any of you used this appraisal tool in your personal life?
Pham: Yes! Funny story, actually. In July 2020, my husband wanted to sell our Jeep and buy a minivan. He was at a dealership getting his car appraised for a trade-in and I told him, “Go online and get an offer for your car.” He did, and then texted me back a screenshot of the value of his car from Kelley Blue Book. I told him, “You know I work for Edmunds, right? Go online and try Edmunds!” Two minutes later, he texted a screenshot of the offer from CarMax that he obtained via the Edmunds website and our appraisal tool.
The offer that he got from CarMax was higher than the appraisal that he received from Kelley Blue Book. After he bought the minivan, we brought the Jeep into CarMax to sell it. He was skeptical. He wondered if the quote we received would be adjusted once the people at CarMax looked at the car. But the amount we received was the exact same as the quote. It was painless, and cool to see our product being used in real time.
Reuven: I used it, too. My husband and I wanted to sell one of our Honda Accords. I was pushing for going the Edmunds/CarMax route. My husband first wanted to try the private party route to see if we could get more money for the car. So we took pictures, cleaned the car, and posted it on various websites. Next, we had to go through all of the responses from interested buyers, answer questions and weed through the scams. There’s a ton of work in this process. We quickly realized that this was not the route we wanted to take.
We used the Edmunds appraisal tool, got our offer and sold our car the next day. It was eye-opening to remind myself how cumbersome the private party route is versus the instant offer experience on Edmunds.
Zhou: I used the tool in the early phase of the product when I tried to sell my brother’s car in July 2020. The car was very new, a 2020 Toyota Camry. At the time, our appraisal tool couldn’t provide an offer for very new cars. But that has since changed! We can now make instant offers on cars up to 2021 model years.
What’s an exciting project you’re working on right now?
Zhou: I’m still working on the appraisal team. We’re doing all kinds of API tests to better the product. Edmunds is on the cloud, so there’s a lot of infrastructure migration we still have to do. I love that stuff.
Pham: We’re working on a new product that will give our customers the ability to track their car’s value over time. We’ve launched a minimum viable product (MVP) that’s going out to a limited audience. Using this tool, you can enter your car information to see how the value changes each month, and use that information to decide whether it’s the right time to buy or sell. This idea is in its infancy, but it’s something that we’re really excited about.