Q&A with Ryan Svaghi, Group GM – Product. Carsales.com.au
Q: Why did you decide to create the app for Windows 8 and now Windows Phone and what business opportunity did you identify?
A: It’s another platform that consumers will embrace so we want to make sure that carsales is consistent across all of these consumer platforms, so it doesn’t matter where you are or what device you’re using, you still get the carsales product experience. At carsales we are a digital company in terms of everything we do including our website, apps, broadening our digital reach, revenue and profitability. We did some internal projections on this app and we thought it was a good business test. A lot of consumers asked us, “when we were going to be on the Windows 8 and Windows Phone platforms” - the consumer is king, so we responded to our consumers and it worked out well for us.
Q: You have already launched an app for Windows 8, how successful has it been and how many downloads have you received?
A: We've received very positive feedback and downloads are much higher than expectation given Windows 8 is still building momentum. The Windows 8 app contributes to 6% of our new app downloads – excluding Windows Phone.
Q: How easy was it to put the Windows 8 app into the Windows Phone platform?
A: The content, search criteria, imagery and even some of the styling of the carsales Windows 8 app is driven via our APIs. The benefit of this, is that we could repurpose the backend for different screen sizes, so moving to Windows Phone wasn’t actually that difficult. It was important that we embraced the Windows Phone style guidelines to ensure we delivered an app that Windows users understood. This included the interaction differences between phone and tablet [larger screen].
When it came to testing the Phone platform, our testing platform and automation processes pretty much stayed the same. We did have to do a few small things with tracking tags and the way we actually tracked user behaviour, but that was due to the slightly different front-end and the importance of being able to track user behaviour differently to tablet. The carsales Windows 8 app has been out since the start of July and the official launch of the carsales Windows Phone app is today.
Q: What features of Windows Phone 8 have you leveraged to bring the app to life?
A: Well, at the moment the first release is going to include our most popular areas of the carsales product, search and enquiry of vehicles. There are drivers off to a sell area (Snap n’ Sell), though at this stage it does load the sell functionality within a web browser – with that said the experience is still quite seemless. A completely native version of ‘Snap n’ Sell’ is in the medium term roadmap.
With the first version of the carsales Windows Phone app, it was important that we appealed to majority of our consumers. We assessed what our consumer wanted and apart from search, they wanted performance and speed on most connections (including 3G or 4G), and we wanted to make sure it was going to be fast for them. Building the app from the ground up allowed us to really look at how we could ensure performance was paramount for our consumers.
Q: In comparison to other platforms, how does it differentiate from IOS and Android?
A: At this stage the key difference is the Windows 8 and Windows Phone interface. You can be a Windows 8 user on one device and another platform on another - so we’ve got to make sure the carsales product is consistent. When you pick up different devices, the user knows how to use them, but the carsales offering and brand needs to be consistent. If I’m using my phone, I know how to use my phone. If I’m using my tablet, I know how to use my tablet, so we’ve got to make sure that we’re actually embracing the platform behaviours and not necessarily change them for the carsales product.
Q: What about in terms of your own development - do you use Visual Studio?
A: We’re a very heavy user of Visual Studio. All of the carsales.com LTD websites are built on .Net and developers build these sites within Microsoft Visual Studio. The Windows 8 app was built using a very similar language, so to be honest it was quite easy for us to get up and running. The iOS and Android platforms are much harder to learn form scratch. The developers that have worked on the carsales Windows apps, came from our traditional .Net website development team, as they should interest in the platform and especially due to its similarities. .
Q: What is the product lifecycle? How often do you review the features of the app?
A: The way we look at this is we don’t maintain a product as a project. The key difference is products have a much longer life than a project. We understand that there’s a number of features that we need to add to our Windows apps. The consumers will keep giving us feedback and we will keep responding to that in person and within our app functionality. It’s a stream of work that we will continue to work on for the foreseeable future and we will release updates frequently. If we see a feature that’s highly requested and we can turn it around fast, we’ll release it as soon as it’s finished. Sometimes it's a couple of weeks between app releases and sometimes it’s months, but it certainly is not going to be a year before an update.
Q: Could you give us some more information on how the app uses and relies on Windows Azure?
A: Azure is our image serving platform, not just for Windows 8 but for all of carsales. Our image server is able to supply images across all platforms and devices. The Windows 8 and Windows apps are no different - all images are served via Azure. In terms of performance, it excels and is currently meeting all expectations. In the past when we’ve used physical infrastructures to serve our imagery and we release a new product or we changed an image size, we had to go through a massive process of commissioning more servers - otherwise we’d have an increased load and the servers couldn’t cope. Now, it’s simple and we have built an auto-scaler on top of Azure, which will automatically scale up if there is an increase in load on the Azure servers. With this level of performance, there is no hesitation in releasing more product or driving more traffic to the site. It’s simple and we know it will cope. We now serve over 3 billion images a week on our image platform that is powered by Windows Azure.
Q: Do you have any plans from a Windows Azure infrastructure perspective?
A: There is another platform we’re testing on Azure and that is our new search platform (http://www.ryvusiq.com.au) that powers all the carsales apps and websites. We’ve designed and built our own search platform on the Microsoft .Net platform. While designing this new platform, we catered for all the carsales needs, though we also considered how we could provide this powerful platform to other eCommerce companies. We want to port this search platform to Windows Azure, so a search can actually run out of Azure on request for both Carsales and our clients. So, effectively, Windows Azure allows us to offer search as a service.
Q: Is there a plan to update the app when Windows 8.1 is launched?
A: Yes, there is. We’ve already had discussions with Microsoft regarding the new Windows 8.1 functionality and how the carsales apps could embrace it. We are planning to release the 8.1 update later on in the year, probably within the fourth quarter [calendar year].