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ZipCar user-led design

Challenge

Develop a new mobility service solution.

Problem

Drivers treasure the freedom and mobility owning a car gives them and are loathe to surrender these benefits. With mass car ownership comes serious inefficiencies alongside a huge problem in environmental damage from fossil fuel combustion. In the UK over 98% of licensed car seats are unused at any one time. Clearly there is scope for improvement without compromising the benefits users hold dear.

Radical new solutions to existing problems take time to catch on. Users don’t always realise immediately that the product or service is what they want or need. Henry Ford famously dismissed customers as wanting ‘a faster horse’. Many innovations fail because of a lack of user centred design.

Solution

ZipCar started in 2003 and key to its success is the empathy it has built with users. The company provides the facility of using a car on demand without the hassle of car ownership. Users pay an annual fee and can book to use cars and pay by the mile. The service is targeted at city dwellers and cars are located, booked and even unlocked using mobile phone applications. Building trust in the user base that cars will be available when and where they want them was vital.

The entrepreneurs who set up the business were part of its target market; they understood how to position the service, and could see potential innovations not obvious to non-users.

Benefits

Profitable business model - ZipCar was sold to Avis in 2013 for US$500 million
In 2012 ZipCar had 400,000 users

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