Consumers are spending more online, even splashing out on big-ticket items such as cars. This has led automakers to dive deeper into the new e-commerce reality by investing in the latest technological innovations to take advantage of online sales platforms. Customers can now take a virtual reality tour of their potential new wheels, inside and out, all from the comfort of their homes, offices, or even on the go, using their mobile devices.
What part does online shopping play in BMW's immersive retail experience?What we are really
doing is giving our customers flexibility in buying a vehicle in
whatever way they choose. With our online offering, it is not a hard
sell. The offer they get online and offline are the same, so it makes
us more transparent across our channels.
What we are doing is
enhancing the toolkit by giving customers a digital option. It really
makes it quite powerful. I would fully expect customers to become
loyal as we make it easy to do business with us, and that comes down
to our online and retailer network.
What is an example of how you are using online and the onsite dealership experience to complement each other?We developed a Genius
Concept about four years ago. We learned from companies like Apple
and their Genius Bar help desk, that getting away from the hard sell
was important and particularly relevant in the automotive sector,
which traditionally has a reputation for its hard sell.
With BMW Genius, we
set ourselves up in the showroom to allow customers to get
information without being sold to. We did this by hiring a group of
individuals who make up our Genius staff and putting them through a
huge amount of training. A customer can ask a Genius anything about
the product and know they will get a comprehensive answer.
Since BMW Genius has
worked so well in the showroom, we decided to offer this service
online as well. So if the customer wants to do a live chat and hasn't
select ed a dealership, they can chat online directly with a Genius.
If they have chosen a retailer and want to do a live chat in person,
then they can talk to a sales executive or Genius in the dealership
within the messaging tools and in real time.
How is BMW relying on key technologies to underpin its online platform, such as virtualisation, artificial intelligence, and data analysis?Online payments and
the online application for finance were key functions that we
Based on what's
out there now, I prefer the human interaction over artificial
intelligence for the time being. Self-learning systems still have a
way to go and I would not discount us using them in the future. But I
don't think I would be pushing for that to go live in the near
future. I prefer having real people behind it. But at the speed at
which artificial intelligence is growing, I definitely wouldn't
discount using it in the future.
Virtualisation is a
key part of our online showroom. It also complements our Geniuses who
have Encyclopaedia Britannica-like knowledge of the cars and videos
we can send customers. If a customer wants to see video of a Head-up
display after taking a virtual tour, then we integrate all of that
into the customer's digital journey when they need it.
What unique challenges specific to the automotive industry did BMW face when creating its online sales platform?The first challenge
was convincing retailers that we weren't replacing them. That was
the question the UK media asked when we launched the online product.
The answer was an obvious 'no' since our retailer network is such
a crucial part of our online offering.
The other big challenge at the digital
sales desk is that customers' expectations for response times have
increased. We initially said that if a customer didn't get an
answer in 15 minutes, then the retailer was dead. But 15 minutes
is beyond the expectations of an online shopper - 15 minutes is an
age - and we realised we needed to engage with them much quicker
than we initially imagined.
As customers buy more cars online, how will the services that dealerships offer change?We are really
enabling our retailers to reach out to online buyers and to do
business with them. When customers from Generation Y and X and
Millennials come to buy cars they may want to do it in a completely
different way to how previous generations did it.
When we look at our
research, 98% of our customers still want to visit a retailer, even
if its just sign the documents and pick up the car.
The role of the
retailer may be changing, but at some point during their digital
journey, we do ask our customers to select a retailer, then the
retailer takes over the transaction. The dealer and the online sales
platform complement each other for seamless transparency across the