Digital decisions: The futuristic dealership with NO salesmen


Time 10:21 am, October 30, 2014

Hyundai is opening a car dealership in a store in Bluewater that will have no salesmen and transactions will all take place digitally. James Baggott reports on this remarkable project

rockar4HYUNDAI is claiming that its new digital dealership will be a ‘global first’ in motor retailing when it opens in the Bluewater shopping centre – without a salesman in sight.

Customers will be able to buy their cars purely on iPads dotted around the store, completing the entire transaction – from part-exchange price to finance application – using the Apple devices and not once interacting with a salesman.

‘Product Angels’ will instead be on hand in the store to help if they get stuck, but they will categorically not be selling to the walk-in customers.

‘This is all about the customer,’ explained Hyundai UK president and CEO Tony Whitehorn in an exclusive chat with Car Dealer magazine. ‘This is not to do with a salesman – this is driven by what customers want.

‘There are lots of people who will never go into a shop or buy online because they want to go to a dealership, and that’s fine, but this new offering is for those who want an alternative.’

The store has been opened by Rockar, which was founded by Simon Dixon. He was the man behind Dixon Motor Holdings and previously Jam Jar Cars, and Whitehorn explained that he approached the car firm two years ago with a ‘kernel of an idea’ that the two have been working on ever since.

‘Simon came to us wanting to sell our cars online but we said no to that – if we were going to do it then it had to be clicks and bricks,’ said Whitehorn.

‘This is not a pop-up store. Simon has taken out a nine-year lease at Bluewater and that is hugely expensive, but this is completely revolutionary. It is a whole new way of buying a car.’

Whitehorn thinks it is extremely important for the industry to develop the way that cars are retailed and believes this could be the perfect solution for buyers who fear walking into a traditional dealership because they think they’ll be sold to.

rockar2‘Will everybody buy a car in 50 years’ time the same way they buy a car today? The answer is probably no,’ Whitehorn said. ‘There will be some people who will want to buy online, there will be some who want to buy their cars in shopping centres, and there will be some who want a traditional relationship with a traditional dealer.

‘What we have to do in this industry is offer a blended approach. We need to offer alternatives. At the moment, all we offer is dealerships and we have to listen to the customer.

‘We are quite happy to offer customers a variety of methods of propulsion for their car but then only offer them one way to buy it. That has to change. This is not about a panacea, it is about an alternative. It really is a step into the unknown, but I see it as a milestone and watershed moment in our industry.’

The Bluewater store will allow customers to walk in, input the details of their part-exchange into the iPad and then be given an instant price for it. Prices of cars are displayed as a cost-per-month figure, and as they opt for extras, such as alloy wheels or service plans, the monthly price is adjusted.

Once they are happy with the monthly price, they simply input their details for the finance proposal and hit Send – and it then immediately tells them whether they’ve been accepted. Their new car can even be delivered to their home or they can pick it up from Bluewater. In addition, Rockar can offer potential customers the chance to test-drive cars from a fully-branded area of the shopping centre.

‘The test-drive facility is all Hyundai-branded and it is permanent,’ explained Whitehorn. ‘Customers can simply turn up and try the cars. Every year, 27 million people go to Bluewater, so if the wife wants to go off shopping and the husband wants to test-drive a new car then they can. The “Product Angel” doesn’t even have to go with them either. All the cars are fitted with trackers and the customer is left to their own devices. This is all about what the customer wants, not about what the salesman wants.’

But isn’t there the danger that without a salesman to close the deal customers might just get up and walk away?

Tony_Whitehorn‘What will happen for definite is people will walk in there, get a price for the car then take it to their local dealer and ask them to beat it – and there’s nothing to stop them,’ admitted Whitehorn. ‘There is no negotiation at this dealership either. This is a big risk.’

Buyers won’t even have to visit the Bluewater store if they don’t want to, as they’ll be able to purchase just as easily from Rockar’s website. Many will be wondering why Rockar needed the store in the first place if it can do it all online, but reading between the lines, the insistence for the flagship location sounds like the carrot that Dixon had to dangle in front of Hyundai to let him do it. It will also placate other dealers who may be worried their huge investments were misspent.

‘Any dealer can set up and sell online – we can’t stop that,’ said Whitehorn.

‘Do I think they should? Well, I can’t stop it, as that’s illegal, but if it is a seamless and great experience then that’s all I care about.

‘This store will be a great experience. We understand that there are some buyers who like haggling and the relationship part of buying a car from a normal dealership. This isn’t about that sort of relationship, this is about a transaction.’

Customers will be able to service their cars with Rockar too.

That aforementioned branded area of the car park will take delivery of customers’ cars for servicing, which then takes place in a facility just half a mile away. They really do seem to have thought of it all.

Whitehorn doesn’t yet know whether the model will be rolled out in other parts of the country, but it is clear he’s extremely excited about the proposition.

‘When you look at the details, there will be 27 million people walking into that shopping centre and walking past the word Hyundai,’ said Whitehorn. ‘That’s going to be incredible for a brand that suffers from poor awareness – in fact, awareness is our biggest issue at the moment.

‘We are in a position with this revolutionary store where we will be at the leading edge of doing something new across the world.

‘No one has ever done anything like this globally. It is a major risk, but my word is it an exciting one.’

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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