Case Study: How to Encourage More Car Sharing Among Women

If you have prospective customers who don’t think your service is for them, here’s how you can motivate them to give it a try.  

In this article, you’ll discover: 

  • Why women are more reluctant than men when it comes to car sharing;
  • What biases have a larger impact on their decision than on men’s;
  • How to eliminate barriers to trial and motivate both men and women; and
  • When not to focus on product features and zoom in on social benefits instead.
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Problem: Is car sharing for me?

It’s just your average Tuesday with a lot of bags to carry and no time to spare. Ildikó, a 28-year-old mother of two, is running errands all over Budapest. This involves a lot of hopping from place to place, aka chain trips. And she'll be tackling them all using public transportation, only occasionally getting a Bolt if the load becomes too heavy to bear. 

Car sharing would be the ideal solution for her, but she doesn’t know it yet. Ildikó is aware that car sharing is available in her area, but she doesn’t know of a single friend who uses it. And the very notion of driving an unfamiliar car makes her feel a bit uneasy. Not to mention her concerns about what would happen if she scratched it. Urgh, and having to pay the collateral? No thanks! Better stick to the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

But even if Ilidikó was willing to overcome her initial concerns caused by her much lower self-confidence in driving than her husband, the whole car sharing business just feels too extravagant. Paying by the minute feels almost wasteful! The last time she experienced that sinking feeling of money adding up fast was in a TAXI way before Bolt or UBER was even a thing. 

It's better to commit to a price before you take a ride. What a sweet relief! Or better yet, use her annual pass for public transport, which doesn’t make her aware of how much exactly each trip she takes costs. 

You see, all these things add up and discourage women like Ildikó from ever giving car sharing a try. And this is bad news for free-floating car sharing services. One of them — MOL Limo, the leading car sharing company in Hungary — decided to tackle the gender disparity of its users (approximately 65-75% of its users were men).

MOL Limo, the leading car sharing company in Hungary — decided to tackle the gender disparity of its users (approximately 65-75% of its users were men).

They approached Hungary-based behavioral consultancy BeHive to help them create an intervention to increase the adoption of car sharing services among women. The expert team led by BeHive’s co-founder, Rachel Altmann, proposed several solutions to bridge this gender gap and get more women to buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Rachel will walk you through the nuts and bolts of a unique behavioral approach designed to change how women perceive car sharing, a service that they don’t think is for them, but actually is. 

The challenge was to eliminate women’s perception of risk associated with car sharing and change their perception of its price (as women were less willing to spend money on it compared to men).

The challenge was to eliminate women’s perception of risk associated with car sharing and change their perception of its price.

This project was finalized a few weeks before COVID-19 and even though quantitative data for mobility was a bit messed up by unfortunate events (since mobility use dropped significantly during the worldwide lockdown), it’s still an amazing showcase of a slight step change that addresses the problem by taking away barriers rather than adding more incentives. 

And not to brag, but it’s received extremely positive feedback from MOL Limo.

Why are female drivers ideal prospective customers?  

Let’s begin with an audacious claim: “Car sharing is a great product for women, perhaps even more so than for men.” But is that the first thing that pops into your head when you hear of car sharing? Perhaps not. But actually, there are four good reasons why women and car sharing could be a match made in heaven: 

  • Female drivers typically have smaller annual mileage compared to men. Car sharing is recommended for mileage ranging between 15,000 and 18,000 km per year according to Statista. 
  • A higher need for ad hoc drives. Women’s trips are typically shorter but more numerous than men's, research says. They tend to include more stops on the way home from work (visiting more places) and involve carrying around more of their belongings than men. 
  • Based on research, women may not have equal access to cars in single-car families where men tend to drive it.
  • Evidence also shows that female drivers are more concerned with sustainability issues than men, which implies that they may be attracted to car sharing by the promise of lower pollution and more efficient use of vehicles.
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So why aren’t they using it? 

To answer this million dollar question, the BeHive team looked at the data points and prior research provided by MOL Limo and conducted their own primary research. This included a questionnaire on a representative sample about whether they’re using the service and if so, how often; what’s important; what are the barriers, etc. Then the team conducted secondary research - a literature review on how different biases affect both sexes differently, zooming in on those that might act as a deterrent to give car sharing a try. 

Based on this diligent digging, they found 4 main culprits that could lead to higher car sharing reluctance in women: 

1. Higher risk aversion

Women place more emphasis on risk and are more likely to avoid situations that involve it. This might include concerns about how difficult it is to unlock or drive an unfamiliar car in urban traffic (men actually don’t mind switching cars).

The way the service was structured was adding to the problem since MOL Limo had such a wide-ranging car fleet that even if someone tried out a certain type of car, it might not be available the next time he/she wanted to use the service.

2. Lower self-confidence with driving

While there are no significant differences in actual driving skills, women tend to be less confident with their driving. It’s no wonder many female drivers prefer to travel as passengers rather than drivers. Lower “overconfidence” compared to men leads women to avoid certain destinations, routes, or modes of transport or even avoid car sharing altogether.  

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3. Lower willingness to pay

Women have a smaller “mental account” (mental budget) for transportation and tech. Therefore, their willingness to pay, on average, is lower than men’s. 

And to add insult to injury, status quo bias (which also tends to be stronger in women) also leads women to overvalue their current transportation methods compared to the shared mobility alternatives. 

Status quo bias (which also tends to be stronger in women) also leads women to overvalue their current transportation methods compared to the shared mobility alternatives.

Here, again, the issue was part of the service. The payment system was set up making women even less likely to try it. They were asked to pay the registration fee upfront (without having the opportunity to try the service out first before committing to it). All of this creates a barrier to try out the service. 

4. A lack of visibility of female users 

Social Proof

Social proof is our tendency to be influenced by what others do, how they think and behave. Social proof works particularly well in situations of uncertainty.

When we're not sure what to do or how to behave, a critical source of information comes from the behavior of our peers. That’s why customers are more likely to engage in action if other people in their reference group are doing it (social proof). 

Women are even more likely to engage in herd behavior; therefore social proof is more effective for them. And the reverse was true in this case – the lack of visibility of female users may have hindered their willingness to use the service.

Since the reliance on social proof has a higher significance in decision-making among women. 

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How to encourage them? 

Rachel points out that solutions were created as a concept of different strategies to get women to try out the service. 

Show the personal and environmental impact 

Social aspects (like sustainability, for instance) are more important than functional benefits (using a car to get from point a to point b) for women than for men. That’s why the goal was to create the perception that it’s not only a functional tool but also has a social aspect. To emphasize the social benefits, customers weren’t only shown prices and riding options for different plans but also personal and environmental measures directly on the service page.

To emphasize the social benefits, customers weren’t only shown prices and riding options for different plans but also personal and environmental measures directly on the service page.

Add social proof 

To give a reference group approval and show women (among which car sharing was still a minority) that car sharing would be a great option for them, the team relied on dynamic social norms, which shows that a product or service is growing in popularity. 

An example of this, says Rachel, could be: "The number of people who use online banking apps increased by 60% from 2018-2021"

A similar trend was also found among female car sharing users, as the number of customers who were using the service was increasing, but the company was not communicating it. 

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Make it child-friendly and allow for a “change trip” option

In Hungary (and the majority of the world), women are still disproportionately taking care of children. But the service was not reflecting this. BeHive suggested adding a functional benefit that would be used to provide more cars with child seats and to communicate that the service was safe (which actually was a concern for both genders). 

Women tend to carry a lot of stuff and stop at different places, but as of now they can’t really do that unless they switch a car after 20 minutes have passed. 

BeHive suggested adding a functional benefit that would be used to provide more cars with child seats and to communicate that the service was safe.

Rachel says that to fix this, they proposed a new “chain trip” package that would reduce reservation costs per minute. They also proposed adding a discounted hourly rate during off-peak hours to get cars to move around more and to further enable the possibility of chain trips. 

Encourage self-conscious drivers to use Limo

To decrease the fear of the initial trial, BeHive suggested adding Limo days where customers could try out the service in a more relaxing environment since they would have a designated person to walk them through the whole process. It would clear away all those fears: how do I unlock the car, how do I upload pictures, how do I lock it.

The team suggested communicating the probability of a minor accident such as chipping a car while trying to park as extremely low.

The BeHive Team also found that women overestimated the possibility of smaller car accidents, such as car scratches. Customers suspected that insurance costs would be much higher than they actually were.

The team suggested communicating the probability of a minor accident such as chipping a car while trying to park as extremely low. On top of that, they proposed introducing slightly more expensive packages that would cover insurance in case of a scratch or accidental damage; a less-experienced driver could pay a higher fee but have adequate insurance coverage. 

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Increase price transparency to encourage price-sensitive customers

Despite the fact that MOL Limo is cheaper than its competitors, customers didn’t feel so great about it, especially when stuck in traffic. They experienced the pain of paying due to the price-by-the-minute system in which the final cost was adding up the longer the trip took. 

The problem is that the mental cost of the service is perceived as higher if we see the price by the minute adding up, rather than if we had paid the whole sum upfront and then enjoyed the service “for free.”

Think about it as ordering a cake, but each time you take a bite the price jumps up by 20 cents. If you had paid the same €4.99 EUR for it in advance (as we luckily do), you would have enjoyed it more. In both cases, you’ve paid the same, but if you’re charged for every bite, you feel much worse about it. 

To minimize perceived impact of losses, BeHive suggested adding a virtual wallet: pre-purchase minutes in form of discounted packages.

To minimize the perceived impact of losses, BeHive suggested adding a virtual wallet: pre-purchase minutes in form of discounted packages. Based on a specific persona, a customer could choose between different packages depending on whether they were a regular driver or an ad hoc one. 

Salience

Everything that stands out, is novel, or seems relevant, captures people’s attention, and makes it more likely to affect their thinking and actions.

Another idea the team had to reduce the pain of paying was to introduce the Limo calculator, a salient feature in the app that would provide a price range for select trips (based on past data and averages). This is a great way to eliminate uncertainty about how much the drive will cost, this is crucial as uncertainty can halter decisions entirely or even cause customers to leave

And lastly, the team also suggested increasing price transparency and frame car sharing service as a budget-friendly alternative to having a car (especially if one doesn't drive that often). Because, as Rachel says, women tend to overvalue current transportation methods compared to the shared mobility alternative more than men. Her team proposed communicating the “break-even point” for when switching to car sharing is more cost-efficient in a more salient way directly on the webpage.

As you can see, when it comes to persuasion there’s no magic bullet. But the first crucial step is to think about what concerns and barriers might be present and then make changes to help alleviate them. In this case, the price was better compared to competitors and yet MOL was not cashing in on it. Once they understood what might be preventing women from joining in, they could begin to mitigate those barriers.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Consider different biases that can impact your target customers. Do they have particular concerns or reservations? Before you try to convince them, nip those concerns in the bud. The easiest way to find out what concerns there are is talk to your staff or conduct a small sample research. 
  • Provide reassurance with social proof. Even if your product or service is just starting out, you can show the rising trend to provide a sense of dynamic social proof. 
  • Be mindful of the pain of paying. Provide pre-purchase options rather than pay-per-minute options. Look for ways to delay payment, split it up, and make sure to avoid any surprises at checkout (remember shipping costs are killer). 
  • Don’t just focus on the funcional benefits. Try out different ways to frame the same message and don’t worry about including more than just one of those messages in your social media posts or emails. People won’t be put off by irrelevant messages. Instead, they’ll focus on the one that pushes all their buttons the right way, and then it’s just one step away from them hitting the “buy now” button.


Introduction of an expert
  • Case study by
  • Rachel Altmann
  • Co-founder, BeHive Consulting