Imagine this: you walk into your local retail centre, aiming to pick-out an evening gown and shoes, grab a quick chef-prepared meal for lunch, and organise your grocery drop-off to your house. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot the plush lounge of a major auto brand. All right, so it wasn’t part of the plan, but why not have a look around and order your next car? Perhaps you live life on the edge and decide on a premier motorcycle plus riding gear before heading along to the movies to round off your Saturday excursion.
It’s common enough to see a car or two when you visit the mall, but we’re not talking about raffle-ticket prizes here, or the couple of Ford utes you find on the concourse of a weekend. Those cars are jammed into a setting where they’ve no real place to be; what we could be looking forward to here is the seamless integration of car dealerships into the leasing mix and overall retail experience. The old-school car showroom, reinvented.
Traditional retail is highly focused on current trends in areas such as food and beverages, and on addressing the lack of decent offerings in those particular retail sectors – and quite rightly so. Be that as it may, the result has been that retail has driven on oblivious to the changes in the automotive industry, changes that are often happening only a little way up the road. In an industry where energy and enthusiasm are necessities, might auto sales be the breath of fresh air the Australian retail landscape needs?
The average consumer is becoming increasingly time-poor, and as such walking around car yards has become all but impossible to squeeze in. Instead, many consumers simply hop online, do their research, check out the reviews and make a 90 per cent decisive call on what to buy. Only then do they head down to the car dealership to talk things over quickly and possibly go for a test drive. That excursions to dealerships are under threat has become clear to the automotive industry, which has already recognised that the traditional showroom is no longer relevant. Instead, most car brands have either tested the notion or have jumped at the opportunity to create experiential showrooms in places where many of their potential buyers spend so much of their time: regular shopping centres.
It’s something that has already been embraced in recent years in parts of North America, Europe, and even Africa; an “auto-lifestyle retail experience”, if you will. The likes of BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Harley Davidson, Ducati, Hyundai, Kia, Tesla, Ford, and Lincoln have already taken up real estate within retail centres around the world, with manufacturers displaying great variety in the modes of their showrooms. Some have opted for the full-blown experiential lounge, such as Lincoln (at Fashion Island, CA), Hyundai (at Blue Water, UK), and Tesla. Others are taking a more traditional approach, with limited stock on the floor and a full line-up in the car-park ready for test drives. There even exists the choice to have your current vehicle serviced at the shopping centre.
Some centres include motorcycle showrooms, generating greater exposure to people who may be curious about the product but wouldn’t otherwise go out of their way to see it. It will become more commonplace for auto dealers to vie for every opportunity to get new customers through the door – purchases of fashion products and other brands could soon be part of the automotive retail offering to consumers, even if they don’t intend to leave the showroom with a new car. Some auto showrooms in US centres have shown that turnover could match and even exceed that of an Apple Store in the same centre, depending on the populace.
Such shifts in showroom strategy have been tested all over the world in the last decade in many varying iterations, and it will be interesting to see how shopping-centre owners respond and combine it into their current offerings. And with the most recent international study tours and research on the developments in electric vehicle technology suggesting an automotive revolution is building, it’s entirely possible magnificent opportunities will be created to diversify and intensify retail mixes within centres across the country.