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Guest opinion: Tim Wickham, APS Group

Tim Wickham, business development manager at APS Group, writes about driving customer loyalty in the showroom:

"At over one hundred years old, the showroom is nearly as old as the automotive industry itself. While the car buying experience has remained largely unchanged over the years, consumers are now expecting more from their local dealership, with high street retailing leading the way in delivering a customer-driven experience. Buying a car is an investment purchase, with the average UK consumer purchasing nine new cars during their lifetime. Crucially, those that have a positive buying experience are more likely to remain brand loyal. With this in mind, we are seeing the industry move away from the ‘car salesman’ persona in favour of a more immersive and dynamic shopping experience. 

The path to purchase

Consider the various steps that the customer can take before buying a new car. They may carry out some research online or visit a trade show, as well as speaking to friends and family for example. These steps all indicate that the customer is in a buying frame of mind with 93% of all new car buyers carrying out research online before they decide that they are ready to enter the showroom and buy. It is only once they enter the showroom that the customer is given the opportunity to carry out further research – whether speaking to staff about functionality, receiving a one-to-one demo, or taking a test drive. The showroom is one of the only environments in which buyers can carry out this level of in-depth analysis and make an on-the-spot purchasing decision. In this respect, the showroom acts as a prime opportunity in which to create a positive in-store experience and potentially long-term brand ambassadors.

Customer journey

The typical consumer is more likely to make a purchase in the showroom than in any other environment. In fact, the average customer will visit a car dealership just 1.3 times before they purchase a car, so it’s key that their experience is a positive one. Some automotive retailers are now implementing dedicated ‘zones’ within the dealership that break up the customer journey step-by-step, including a ‘welcome area’ where customers can talk through some of the features that they’re looking for, an interactive zone where they can receive demonstrations, as well as a ‘thank you’ area in which customers are handed the keys as they drive away.

This level of sign-posting creates a more relaxed atmosphere that encourages customers to browse at their leisure – whether it’s a dedicated zone that serves to inspire customers through the use of digital displays, or simply a space where customers can enjoy a cup of tea and browse through the latest brochures.  

A digital approach   

Any retailer on today’s high street understands the importance of technology in connecting with shoppers, with most stores now housing iPads that allow consumers to browse and pay for items unavailable in the store, as well as being used by staff as a demonstration tool. This digital element is becoming more prominent in the showroom as staff look for ways to continually engage and inspire.

Within the showroom, an individual may enter and head over to a selection of iPads where they can scroll through specific features, which they can then ask a member of staff to ‘pull up’ onto a larger screen should they require a closer look. For the showroom manager, embracing a digital solution also helps them to keep pace with market changes and adopt a different approach as required; for example changing the displays on digital screens to reflect the latest marketing campaigns.

Much like traditional retail, the automotive industry remains a competitive industry with the purchasing of a car a highly selective process. Automotive retailers are increasingly recognising the showroom as a golden opportunity to differentiate and stay one step ahead of their competitors, with a customer driven experience key to engaging with a smarter, more informed consumer.

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