They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. When it comes to the remarkable journey your Carvana vehicle takes from the moment it is acquired by us, to the moment it is delivered to your door, the points that plot its incredible course are both numerous and meticulously executed. At Carvana, transparency lies at the heart of everything we do, and we believe you deserve an up close and personal view of the important steps that lead to the completion of a Carvana purchase.
Our multi-part series called “The Carvana Odyssey” serves to reveal just how much energy, effort, and passion goes in to providing you with your Carvana purchase by offering an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the processes and people that make the new way to buy a car possible. The Carvana Odyssey continues with us taking a deeper look at Carvana’s spinner technology, which enables customers to take a 360-degree virtual tour of vehicles online. To help bring clarity to this unique and original Carvana asset, we spoke with Brian and David, two of the architects behind Carvana’s interactive spinner and its technology.
PART IV: GOING FOR A VIRTUAL SPIN
The technology behind Carvana’s 360-degree photo studio is undoubtedly one of the things that truly separates Carvana from its competition. When a customer visits Carvana.com  and begins browsing inventory, the “spinner” allows a person to take the closest thing they can get to a real-life tour of the vehicle. With the ability to experience multiple vehicles inside and out (both with a vehicle’s doors open and closed) and closely examine any imperfections that are present on the vehicle (customers can zoom in 12x to see imperfections in high definition), buying a car online becomes much less of a mystery and much less time consuming thanks to this proprietary technology.
For Brian, the spinner – generally speaking – is a tool that helps make car buying and the technology behind it easy for the customer to engage with without coming off as overcomplicated or “high-tech.”
“We’ve got this candy-coated veneer to make things look easy and simple and clean, but it’s all driven by powerful technology,” says Brian. “If we do our jobs right as technologists, [the spinner] doesn’t look like it’s high-tech. It doesn’t look like it’s difficult, or for power users, or anything like that…the goal is for an end result that provides an easy and simple user experience.
“We’re not trying to make technology the focus, we’re trying to make the car the focus.”
However, some may be surprised to learn that the task of managing the spinner and its powerful technology predominantly falls on the shoulders of two people: Brian, and David, who serves as one of the spinner’s architects. Specifically, David oversees the spinner on a daily basis and ensures that information sent over from Carvana’s Annotation team is properly integrated and maintained on the Carvana website. According to him, the flow of information coming from the Annotation team to the spinner itself is largely automated.
“We first created and built the spinner technology,” said David. “Then, with that in place, we had our Annotation team load it with vehicle data. In a way, they kind of put coordinates on a map for us. Afterwards, we take the pictures that were originally taken at the inspection center and chop them up into smaller sizes to make it much more digestible and user-friendly in terms of viewing when zooming in and out.
“The transfer of information actually fits into a nice process flow that we don’t mess around with,” David continued. “The spinner just works with our output from annotation, and the only time we really get involved is usually when we have issues with a browser which prevents the spinner from working optimally. We may go as long as six months without ever touching the spinner since it’s all automated from the photos all the way to the website.”
In terms of ensuring all of the information provided from the annotation team is correctly displayed within the spinner itself, David describes the process as vaguely similar to putting together a puzzle.
“When you look at a picture of the vehicle in the spinner and begin seeing it from multiple different angles, it more or less acts like an old fashioned flipbook,” says David. “When you ‘flip the book,’ it brings up a new image, almost like an old-time movie, so you can kind of get that feeling like you’re spinning in a circle.
“When you fly into the interior, it’s different,” David continued. “The interior is a 3D model. The best way to think of this is like one of those old style maps where they would be split apart before wrapping them around a globe and having everything fit together.”
OFTEN IMITATED, NEVER DUPLICATED
Though the machinations that provide customers with the ability to virtually tour the vehicle from practically any vantage point are detailed and complicated, it all merges together to create an asset that has become a true cornerstone of the Carvana brand.
“All of the comparable experiences (to the Carvana spinner) that exist are all pretty recent,” says Brian. “One thing that sets [Carvana] apart is that we’ve been doing this for six years now. None of the others in existence are anywhere near our caliber of experience. They’re all brand new.
“What I think is remarkable about Carvana, and the Carvana spinner specifically, is how pretty much every aspect of it is designed around taking the best possible photos and providing the best possible tools to create a top of class experience for thousands, and thousands of cars. What I’ve seen some competitors do is show a very robust experience but only for an example of a car, but not the car.”
David similarly acknowledges that there are other companies that utilize some form of Carvana’s spinner technology, but the difference from his perspective is the additional care that’s taken to provide a sense of comfort for those looking to buy a vehicle online.
“It’s truly a virtual test drive for our customers,” says David. “It’s a differentiator, it’s part of the Carvana culture of giving you full transparency when you go to buy a vehicle. You can look at it inside and out, you can zoom in on it, we incorporate handheld pictures so you can see that exact imperfection if it exists…this is especially true for the interior, as many other companies don’t offer that level of detail.
“It’s all about offering that level of honesty that we try to pride ourselves on, and I believe we offer an amazingly complete virtual shopping experience for our customers.”