Unexpected item in the bagging area

  27 March 2017

In this rapidly evolving age of Internet shopping, auto retailers often have a choice; mirror the competition or work hard to carve out a distinctive and value-added proposition that hopefully distances you from the inevitable race to the bottom.

I recently stumbled across the story of a car supermarket promoting its new USP: a supermarket-style ‘express lane’ where buyers can pay for their car as they drive out of the showroom. It’s as simple as swiping your credit or debit card and waiting for the predictable ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ gag as you give the sales person a cheery wave on the way out.

It does have its limitations though, and would appear to only really be for those making an outright purchase – I can’t see this working for a finance or lease deal. Sure, we all accept that this business comes under the ‘retail’ umbrella, but surely anyone purchasing a car at this level should be made to feel a bit more special than queuing in the local Tesco on a Friday night?

Okay, this experience is centred on a car supermarket – there’s zero chance of this happening at an Audi retailer – but it does appear to put some distance between the retailer and the customer. Granted, the ‘click and collect’ culture is now firmly engrained in consumer mindset, but that’s okay for toasters, televisions and clothes. 

Sometimes it’s best not to ape your nearest competitor; convenience is one thing but building trust with a customer is key when large sums of money or a binding financial agreement is involved, plus you’d quite like to see them again for aftersales work. Standing out from the crowd for the right reasons – not by offering a faceless transaction opportunity – helps to build trust. 

Naysayers might proclaim that the human touch is overrated and will eventually be crushed by online giants such as Amazon and, even, OEMs with their own online operations. I’m not so sure, especially as cars become more complex and a human-centric handover will become even more important. Plus, does anyone really enjoy battling with those self service supermarket checkouts?

Iain Dooley

Editor, Agenda

Auto Retail Network

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