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Zipcar: Influencing Customer Behavior



In Brookline Sal Fishman glanced nervously at his Iron Man-branded “expedition” watch as 3:30 pm approached. He was confident that the watch had helped him communicate vitality and focus during his two-hour interview with representatives of the Simon Property Group, owner of the Chestnut Hill Mall. Fishman had been advised that the introductory interview would last no more than an hour. But to his considerable surprise he had been asked to stay beyond the one-hour time frame. The interview was going well and everyone, himself included, seemed to be having a good time. Fishman had hedged his bets when he reserved the Zipcar for this interview. He had picked up the Jetta at 1:00 pm for the 2:00 pm interview and expected to return it by 3:30 pm. But with the interview progressing well beyond the designated time Fishman found himself in a difficult position regarding the car.


Professor Frances X. Frei and Research Associate Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar prepared this case. This case was developed from published sources and certain details have been disguised. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management.

Copyright © 2005 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.

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Living in Cambridge a car hadn’t been necessary; most of the places she needed to visit on a daily basis were within walking distance of Karr’s Valentine Street apartment. To visit her sister across the river, grocery shop, and run errands Karr relied on Zipcar, which she had signed up for a year ago rather than continue to pay for parking, car insurance, and gas. For tonight’s trip she had reserved weeks ago, using Zipcar’s convenient online reservation system, a VW Jetta Jericho. It was 3:30 pm. Karr was scheduled to pick up the Jetta at 4:00 pm, her sister by 4:30 pm, and arrive at Lupo’s by 6:00 pm. Both she and her sister had figured that this was more than enough time to get to Boston from Cambridge, load the drums, and make Providence by the appointed hour. Karr made one final sweep of her belongings—she couldn’t find Javier’s Best of Bob Dylan CD, which she had conveniently forgotten to return—then gathered her bags and headed for the Charles Hotel where she expected the Jetta Jericho to be gassed up and ready to go.

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Anita Karr frantically gathered everything she needed for her road trip: water, her favorite “mix” CD from Javier (the ex-boyfriend), ear plugs. After years as a struggling musician her sister was making her debut as the new drummer for No Bags to Check, a performance art/hard rock band that was gaining momentum on the East Coast college circuit. The venue for this breakthrough in her sister’s career was Lupo’s in Providence, Rhode Island and Karr had to be there.

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REV: JUNE 30, 2005


Zipcar: Influencing Customer Behavior

Zipcar Service

Zipcar was a car-sharing service. Members, who paid annual fees to participate and were assessed usage fees, based on time and mileage, monthly, were provided common use of the service’s vehicles independently of one...
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