What Penske Learned While Rebuilding Its E-Commerce Site

Penske Truck Leasing, the No. 4 company in the IW 500 ranking, needed a used truck site that appeals to customers and search engines.

Shane O'Neill, Managing Editor, InformationWeek

September 5, 2013

5 Min Read

2013 InformationWeek 500

2013 InformationWeek 500

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Throughout 2009 and 2010, used trucks grew more appealing to businesses because the economy was in the dumps. Penske Truck Leasing, which has a steady supply of used trucks coming off leases, realized it was missing out on revenue by selling those trucks to wholesalers and not directly to would-be buyers.

Penske had relied on a bare-bones website used mostly by wholesale buyers, as well as by local Penske used-truck coordinators who used the site as reference material when assisting wholesalers.What Penske needed was a website good enough to sell to wholesalers as well as directly to the end customer, like the owner of a flower shop or hardware store who needed a cargo van or box truck.

The result -- PenskeUsedTrucks.com, launched in mid-2011 -- shows how various business units must work together to pull off a major e-commerce project. "Our vehicle remarketing group was the first to recognize the value of used trucks and that we were leaving money on the table with our current model," says Bill Stobbart, Penske's senior VP of IT. "They brought in our marketing staff to evaluate how we could use a new website to attract more buyers, who then tapped IT to build the site."

The resulting site looks a lot closer to CarMax.com than an old Web-based catalog. Every type of Penske vehicle, from a standard cargo van to a refrigerated 18-wheel trailer truck, is searchable on the site. The number of vehicles for sale can vary from 3,500 to 5,000 units, and Penske updates the inventory every day. A vehicle comparison tool lets a buyer select up to five trucks side by side to compare price, mileage, weight, horsepower and other specs. Maintenance reports show a vehicle's repair and maintenance history for the last three years. Buyers can close the sale on one or a fleet of trucks by phone via Penske's call center.

Penske used staff programmers, search-engine optimization analysts and Web designers, plus input from designers and usability experts from an outside firm. But creating the new site brought its share of challenges.

Trouble With Keywords And Photos

Stobbart didn't want to leave money on the table

Stobbart didn't want to leave money on the table

Stobbart didn't want to leave money on the table

The Penske team knew it needed the right terminology and keywords to get the attention of shoppers and search engines, so IT and marketing did customer interviews to get it right. "We say 'cargo van,' but some people refer to it as a high cube or a box truck," says Stobbart. After the added keywords and cross-referencing, "we went from having a keyword base of about 100 vehicle names to 2,200," he says.

Another problem was something Stobbart says he and the team took for granted in the planning stages: collecting and organizing photos. "Getting images on the site wouldn't seem like a challenge," he says, "but we don't have a centralized truck lot. Our total fleet runs out of 2,500 locations nationwide."

The fix required reengineering Penske's fleet management system and requiring that whenever the company lists a new vehicle for sale on the site, five images must come with it.

The Search And Social Push

Having a good product and building a useful website are table stakes these days. Attracting customers takes an aggressive search engine optimization and social media strategy.

The Penske marketing team follows Google's SEO advice to spread across the site keywords that customers use when searching. For website traffic analytics, Penske uses Omniture software to examine what keywords drive visitors to the site, where buyers are coming from, how long they stay on the site, what pages they visit and how long before they drop off.

Penske also fine-tuned its site architecture and code so that Google search results include rich details such as the price and availability of a vehicle right within the result. All the optimization helped drive a 37% increase in Google natural search traffic in 2012 and a 39% increase in site visits compared with 2011.

For social media and blogging, Penske's marketing team uses a company blog called Move Ahead as a content hub where the team posts daily truck specials and directs traffic to the PenskeUsedTrucks.com site. The team also tweets about daily truck specials in the morning and evening. Penske has thriving company pages on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+. "We're still learning how to make social media work for us," says Randy Ryerson, Penske's director of corporate communications. "... It's not the same return as paid or organic search, but it reinforces our online presence."

In October, Penske's adding a mobile version of the site.

Stobbart advises any large company building or overhauling a retail website to be patient and determined, because a website is forever evolving. "Whatever you do, don't approach it as something that you'll get done quickly and go on to your next project."

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About the Author(s)

Shane O'Neill

Managing Editor, InformationWeek

Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. Shane's writing garnered an ASBPE Bronze Award in 2011 for his blog, "Eye on Microsoft", and he received an honorable mention at the 2010 min Editorial & Design Awards for "Online Single Article." Shane is a graduate of Providence College and he resides in Boston.

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