Fighting the online battle offline

  17 October 2016

It would appear that this online selling lark is catching on. News that Citroen has just joined a small but growing list of OEMs who have taken the digital plunge will no doubt prove encouraging for consumers but it will, naturally, prompt retailers to ask a few questions.

Unfortunately details appear to be lacking beyond the company’s headline-grabbing ‘no haggle’ pricing policy and the basic premise that everything – car configuration, finance, ordering – can be done without setting foot inside a traditional showroom. All that’s left for the retailer to do is assist with a test drive.

With no apparent opportunity to strike up a relationship with the prospective customer, it’s going to be hard to sell your aftersales services and, generally, send out the usual positive and welcoming vibes. Sales is all about making that human connection, after all. 

If this all sound like end-of-the-world stuff, consider this more uplifting observation from Hyundai UK CEO Tony Whitehorn regarding the OEM’s relationship with Rockar. The retailer’s innovative approach sees it located in areas of high footfall – for example a shopping centre – and take a ‘no pressure’ approach to selling. Customers wander in, they browse and seek information and are helped by retail advisors – not sales people.

Whitehorn observed that, contrary to the current trend for researching online and forming a purchase plan prior to a visit, the Hyundai customers actually started their journey at the bricks and mortar store. From there they where encouraged to sign up for a Rockar-Hyundai online account, which allowed consumers to go home and make the big decisions at their leisure. 

Granted, the Rockar experience is still the exception in this business, but it does beg the question: what can you do to make your business, retail site and overall sales proposition more attractive than the simple act of browsing a website? Is it time to revisit traditional local media advertising campaigns, or set up shop in your local shopping centre for a weekend? Is going old school and taking the product to the people the way to counter the online threat?

Iain Dooley

Editor, Agenda

Auto Retail Network

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