To properly say goodbye to the hard sell and haggling, you need a change of name. “Even the word ‘dealership’ tells you a deal is going to take place,” says Matthew Warrener, founder of automotive retail consultancy Auto Atai. “It tells you how to behave.”
Instead, dealerships are being rebranded as stores, but to earn that name change they’ll need to think like stores too, argues Warrener. He paints a fairly grim picture of the average showroom with its hard tile floors, understaffed parts desk, sad little ‘shop’ with branded mugs, and eager sales staff at a customers’ side within the mandated 63-second timeframe lest they escape.
Instead, car showrooms should behave more like shops, and Apple stores in particular. “They need that department store model, where customers can just walk in and browse,” Warrener says. “Service departments need to be seen like Apple Genius Bars. They solve problems, they’re knowledgeable, they create superfans.” You go for software updates that improve your car, but you’ll be told about chargeable upgrades if you ask.
Rather than the dealer ensnaring you at the end of a sales funnel, the store becomes “just another touchpoint”, says Francois de Bodinat, chief product officer for ZeroLight, a UK software firm that’s overhauling car maker websites and configurators to make them more user-friendly. “The idea is to say the customer is free to decide. They have the freedom to start at the dealer or online or Facebook or wherever,” he adds.