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James Baggott: Customers want to buy things their way – and we must let them

Time 10:06 am, December 21, 2018

WE want things delivered differently these days. We’re all time-poor; minutes and hours consumed by work, family and every other part of life that seemingly snatches seconds from the clock right in front of our eyes.

In these changing times, the way we want to be entertained, shop and consume media has transformed too.

No longer do we make a pilgrimage on a Friday night to a popcorn-infused video store to pick up a VHS of the latest movie release, instead choosing from thousands of films streamed in seconds to your TV from the comfort of your sofa.

Our takeaways are now ordered on an app – doing away with the battle of trying to get through on a constantly engaged curry house’s landline. You even know when they’re going to be delivered, with live updates flashed up on that ultra-bright screen that sits in the palm of your hand.

Even these minor changes to a once-normal weekend routine have saved us precious minutes and seconds to do things we’d much rather be doing, like drinking wine or reading the kids a bedtime story. These waves of change are washing over every part of our lives – each improvement giving us back precious seconds to spend doing something else.

Just a few days ago, I needed a padlock and within 30 seconds of a conversation with a friend about which to buy, I’d found one on Amazon, bought and paid for it. Half a day later it was on my desk.

That really is incredible – a process that would have once required a drive to a hardware shop, finding a parking space, walking in and looking for what you need and paying with cash was completed in less time than it’s taken to write this sentence.

And for those of you thinking this won’t come to car buying, think again. It’s only a matter of time before these industry-shifting changes come to dealerships.

Many are trying, a few have failed, but the desire to buy cars in a way consumers want – not the way you or your manufacturer dictate – is very real indeed.

Over a terrible American lager and what I didn’t realise was a vegetarian burger until I’d finished it, I chatted to Mazda UK’s boss Jeremy Thomson about how his brand was changing the face of selling cars.

Product specialists

Thomson is a forward-thinking manufacturer boss and three years ago introduced a new sales concept called ‘Mazda MyWay’. With property in central London prohibitively expensive, Thomson ruled out a physical dealership and flipped some marketing money into employing a team of product specialists instead.

Visitors to the Mazda website from the central London area were actively targeted and offered a home visit, at a time and date that suited them, to test-drive any Mazda they desired. Mazda UK held a fleet of demonstrators and took them directly to the customer’s door.

The product experts weren’t salesmen either – something that Thomson said would ‘ruin’ the concept. Instead, they were salaried positions and purely there to help guide the customer through the decision-making process.

Once the customer has decided to buy, Mazda UK offers the sale to a network of dealers who can bid, Carwow-style, for the custom. The customer then chooses the best offer and completes the purchase at the dealership.

OK, so the last bit is the strange point for many – why would you make the customer visit a dealership still when they probably just want to get it all done at home?

Mazda argues that it’s taking the hassle out of the choosing, introducing customers who might not necessarily buy a Mazda to the brand, and helping guide them along the way outside the confines of a dealership.

It’s also keen on protecting its dealers’ interests – knowing they’ve invested heavily in nice showrooms and property.

But Thomson is confident it’s a concept that works. So far, MyWay has been responsible for 400 sales in central London and he’s keen to see this success repeated elsewhere.

A Tunbridge Wells trial has just started, while RRG Group is managing another in the north. These are slightly different – the dealerships employ the staff, with a little bit of help from Mazda’s marketing budget, and they then get exclusivity over the deals.

But the home visit concept is the same, as is the product expert not pushy sales approach.

Thomson says he plans to roll these pilots out in other areas too.

Let’s face it, you don’t buy things the way you used to, so why should you force your customers?

If this industry doesn’t move with the times, could dealers go the way of Blockbuster or Kodak? Let’s hope not.

James Baggott is the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and chief executive officer of parent company @BaizeGroup, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.

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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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