BMW is promising that customers will be able to buy a new car online in only 10 minutes, after announcing that the UK will be the first market globally to get the company’s next generation of internet retailing.
Introduced with the co-operation of 137 dealers in the BMW UK network, the new system combines BMW’s existing configurator and ‘car suggestion tool’ with online Genius chat operators and a tie-in with used car valuations specialist Glass’s. Nine dealers have piloted the system in the UK, selling around 50 cars.
Car manufacturers have been experimenting with increasingly diverse ways of interacting with their customers - including more retail-focused experiences at shopping centres and ‘virtual showrooms’ that don’t feature any vehicles.
BMW believes it is the first to offer the full ordering and finance process as part of the system, though. The company’s global boss of sales and marketing Ian Robertson said: “Ten years ago the customer went to the dealership an average of 4.5 times before buying the car; now it’s 1.5 times. So we already know there’s an enormous amount of research being done online - more than 90% of buyers do preparation there before going anywhere near a showroom.”
He admitted the new experience was a challenge to BMW’s existing sales network. “There was clear nervousness to start with,” he said, “but during the pilot the dealers have been seeing customers they’ve never seen before, and sold cars in the middle of the night. It was enough to persuade 137 dealers in the UK to sign up to it. We have to reflect the fact that the sales process is becoming more transactional than experiential.”
At present the system is exclusively for BMW vehicles. However, high-level sources admit that a roll-out to the Mini brand is likely.
Six steps - how BMW's E-Tailer works
1. The system asks questions about your needs - typical journey, number of family members etc - and then suggests a few possible choices from the 280 models in the BMW range.
2. Configure a car from scratch or adapt the model suggested by the system. ‘Genius’ advisors are online to offer any advice between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week.
3. Check the delivery time of the car and spec you want - and see if near-matches to it are available more quickly.
4. Choose the dealer you want to handle your sale - and then open a dialogue with them. BMW says that you can ‘haggle’ at this point.
5. If you’ve got a car to trade in, you give its registration plate and mileage and the system gives you a rough idea of what it’s worth. You can then feed this figure into the system for the final step.