Mazda is among the first to use customer reviews to help sell cars, employ a digital showroom, and give dealers their own websites. Does it spell the end for the traditional showroom? Far from it argues Jeremy Thomson, Mazda UK managing director.
Isn’t the future of car sales online?
It’s true customers do a huge amount of research online prior to visiting the dealership. On average people visit just over one showroom per purchase compared with seven or more in the past. The casual browsing that people used to do is happening increasingly online and across many different channels. Dealers’ own websites are very important in this too: that may be the start of the relationship that the customer builds with our network.
Don’t you question whether you need dealerships at all?
I would, but all the evidence points to customers still wanting to complete their transaction face to face. Buying a car remains a significant purchase decision and there are many important elements to discuss before making the final choice, not least of which may be the finance agreement. As well as that the sales person can match the offers that Mazda promotes to the customer’s particular circumstances and agree a part-exchange price, which is still how people like to dispose of their current car.
Is it true that you use customers to sell your cars now?
You could say that. Some of our customers agree to answer questions from people about the car they’ve purchased. It’s part of Mazda becoming one of the first car makers to use Reevoo which gives genuine customer feedback. It’s 100 per cent independent: anything customers write ‑ good or bad ‑ is published. Our cars typically score nine out of 10 which sales people can demonstrate to prospective buyers.
So the sales person of old is redundant…
The role has changed but the showroom team still has a vital part to play. They can ensure customers are happy with the specific model they’ve chosen and that the options and accessories suit their needs, as well as managing the delivery process. And the pace of change in the car industry is so rapid that test drives are absolutely crucial. They reinforce just how sophisticated today’s cars are compared with those that are perhaps just two or three years old.
Does that make the digital showroom a gimmick then?
It may have been seen as a gimmick once. But now, along with car configurators that allow you to build the car you want, pick colours and accessories and so on, it’s absolutely crucial. And the same applies to areas such as online video reviews, live chat and finance calculators.
What about the real showroom?
We’re actually making a significant investment in bringing our UK showrooms bang up to date with our customers’ expectations by incorporating lessons learned outside the automotive retailing environment. But it is increasingly important to take cars out of the showroom, whether to events or as pop-up stores. We need to present cars to people where it is convenient for them, and sometimes surprise them. And we know from experience that our ‘KODO’ styling really captures people’s attention, so displaying cars in shopping centres can really drive awareness up and increase sales.