Seat has just opened its second retail space in the UK that isn’t a dealership.
It’s a unit in the enormous Westfield shopping centre in west London; it’s got test drives available, demonstrator cars on the shop floor, lifestyle products and merchandise on display, and product experts to explain every detail of the car to you.
As retail solutions go, it’s one of the less out-there ones; in essence, it’s a smaller version of a dealership in a shopping centre.
Not long ago, I wrote a story on the future of BMW’s retail, after an executive was bold in saying that retail would be unrecognisable in years to come. This resulted in a flood of phone calls to BMW HQ from dealers worried they'd be out of a job, and a call from BMW to us asking if we might make the story sound a little less dramatic.
But are dealerships realistic in the future of the car? The same BMW executive said that with such a large and ever-growing product portfolio, showing every product in each dealership is untenable. So what to do?
These small retail spaces are an idea. Dealership alternatives like virtual reality dealerships and ‘brand experiences’ are firmly the cringeworthy scale, and range from fairly optimistic oddities to the downright bizarre. So what’s the alternative?
Well, online, of course. A growing trend in the car industry is turning real dealerships into online ones, where you buy cars in the same way that you’d buy any other large item; specifying your wants and desires, and waiting for delivery. Takeaways have gone online, as have clothing shops, mobile phone shops and pretty much anything else you can buy. The car industry is not immune to the internet.
These smaller retail spaces like the one Seat is showing could well be the future, but it is far more likely to be a human-light, online experience, rather than optimistically hoping someone will take a break from buying a £50 pair of shoes to commit to buying a car.