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Guest opinion: in the year of retail revolution, can the automotive sector keep up?

Nick Edwards

The automotive retail sector is experiencing something of a paradigm shift, with global brands such as Ernst & Young, for example, defining the transition as one of increasingly customer-centric rather than transactional or product-driven focus.

The evolution is representative of a changing retail landscape on the whole.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy in their research and purchase of goods, in a large part due to them being empowered by technology. Knowing their acquisition and retention is crucial, consumers are naturally demanding more from retailers too, before they buy from or remain loyal to any particular brand. And the criteria they look for in a retailer are also evolving, with a somewhat more emotive quality of ‘experience’ influencing their decision making process.

For some automotive retailers, this insight will appear nothing new.

For others, it may represent a stark contrast to the way they approach the customer relationship. But rather than fear the ever-changing retail trends, dealerships should in fact focus on how they can deliver what customers are looking for.

In 2015, Auto Trader revealed that an improved buying process would encourage 72% of consumers to visit a dealership more often.

This implies that everything must be considered, from the minute a customer steps inside and throughout the lifecycle of a customer relationship too. First impressions count, of course, but lasting impressions really matter.

Technology has been identified as playing a key part in improving the customer experience – in fact I recall AM research last year which revealed that 60% of car dealers believe tech will be a big driver for change.

From providing a truly multichannel retail model to offering state-of-the-art virtual reality devices, there are numerous opportunities to deliver a greater ‘wow factor’.

But to deliver a high quality, personalised customer experience, that will build customer loyalty, recommendations and, ultimately, stronger profit margins, the finer details matter too.

Dealer principals must therefore think about everything from the warmth and professionalism of the greeting extended to customers upon arrival, through to the ambience of the dealership itself. Décor, furniture and interior planting, for instance, can have a considerable impact upon the look and feel of a space.

Consumers should also be made to feel relaxed, valued and satisfied – a VIP rather than a number or an inconvenience, even if they’re only browsing. This means everything, down to the quality of the refreshments offered, has a role to play.

Over 70 million cups of coffee are enjoyed in the UK every day, for instance, so capitalise on this taste trend, and serve authentic hot drinks in high quality branded crockery, and maybe even a piece of cake!

With customers becoming increasingly discerning, everything must genuinely align seamlessly with the values of automotive brand, if true memorability is to be achieved. But, with a little thought, what seems like a tremendous challenge can actually be a significant opportunity for the sector.

Author: Nick Edwards (pictured), client services director, Vantage


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