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Digital will not displace dealerships as vital part of sales process, says VW boss

The retail network will continue to be the most vital component in Volkswagen’s newly developed, seamless online to offline culture, according to Ian Plummer, head of sales operations at Volkswagen UK.

Plummer (pictured) will trace the manufacturer’s journey which has seen its business model transform to a ‘clicks, bricks  and people’ approach and has been two years in the making, when he speaks at this year’s Digital Dealer Conference, which takes place on September 4 at The Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwickshire.

“There is typically a disconnect between the online experience and the physical showroom,” said Plummer.

“There were too many stops and starts with customers having either to re-key information or provide details to retailers which had already been entered online.”

Now, for example, if a customer configures a car online on the company’s website ( or via the configurator app and then visits a dealership, the sales executive can easily retrieve the information including all the customer’s details avoiding duplication.

Plummer said: “Blending the digital and physical means we have created a much more joined up process which has strengthened the relationship between the customer, the retailer and the brand. The customer walks into the showroom and simply picks up from where they left off online. The link is unbroken.”

Sophisticated digital processes are now at work at every stage of the car buying process, for example enabling customers to track the whereabouts of their new Volkswagen online.

“The onset of digital can be seen as a threat to the traditional retail model but we have tried to learn from other retailers such as HMV and adapt to ensure we keep up with today’s consumer,” said Plummer.

“Generation Y and millennials may not be buying vehicles in large numbers just yet but they are a very different type of consumer and we have to be ready to meet their demands, but we cannot do this by changing everything and alienating our more established customer base.

“We view the changing retail landscape as a new opportunity and we are evolving our network accordingly. Clicks and bricks are an essential part of our strategy but we recognise the magic ingredient is still the people in the showrooms. Done well, digital can help blend with the physical retail environment and deliver the theatre that our customers are looking for when completing such an important purchase.”

Response to the new digital culture is already encouraging; Volkswagen’s initial figures show sales executives who are using the iPads to their full extent as part of the sales process are scoring an average of 2.9 percentage points higher for engagement than those who do not in a network where the average percentage score is already well into the 90s.

In addition, customers who have been engaged fully with the iPad technology typically choose 40% more options and are 40% more likely to opt for finance.

Said Plummer: “Our goal is for one in ten cars driven on our roads to be a Volkswagen and we see the role of technology and digital as fundamental in helping us achieve that target as well as our ambitions to lead the market in terms of customer service.

"Inevitably, our strategy has led to questions about our plans for our network. Whilst it is true we have reduced the number of retailers from around 250 to 200, partly due to the investment required in facilities, our retailers are absolutely crucial if we are to achieve our ambition. We want to create destination retailers who deliver the wow factor – and we are confident that our customers will continue to want to visit them. Critically, we’ve been working hard on change leadership programmes with our network so that all our retailers can seize the initiative in their local market, change the culture of their own teams and continue to deliver what a new breed of customers is looking for.”

Tickets are available to dealers and manufacturers, to book, please contact Emma-Louise Kinnaird on 01733 395133 or email or visit

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  • Jack - 06/08/2014 16:33

    Agree about gen Y and digital but there is a sense of arrogance that customers will use the VW website or an app. AutoTrader, Motors, dealers websites will generate the enquiries far in excess of