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Shopping Mall versus Retail Store. Which dealership will deliver the better experience?

Recently I visited a car brand exhibiting in a well-known mall, and a dealership across the road. For the sake of this article, we won't mention the brands, as this blog is not really a brand story, but it is a customer experience story.

Working with a client we've been setting up monthly automotive display's at malls around the Auckland area. The displays now are frankly speaking, the best mall display's that we've ever been involved in setting up in the retail environment. Of course, some brand backed displays are better; they have bigger pockets, can create a better brand environment and care less about budgets.

KPIs at these malls should be very easy to measure - they are easy on paper at least. However, what to measure is always a discussion point, although we have a very clear view of what our recommendations are. Let's get these KPIs on paper now, but before we do that, let's talk about the objectives of a mall display.

Let's deal with the elephant in the room. You don't sell cars today at the mall. Why not? Because the path to purchase is well documented. Customers do their research, they look online, read reviews talk to friends, compare specs, and probably email a dealer before they set foot in a showroom (generally having worked out what they want to spend or what they can afford). But people go to malls to have family time, time with friends, have some food, browse some nice clothes or electronics or whatever is on their list. But not cars.

So, the purpose of a mall display is to disrupt the buying cycle and disrupt the research by presenting a product really well, especially when that product is one that a customer might not have previously considered. Our display's say, "Look at this great new / amazing / well priced / stylish car you probably have never considered." "Please put me on your new shortlist."

We know that car comparisons and research are now done on the sofa, not in dealerships. This is the way it has been for a while, and most customers, so used to buying everything online probably question why they can't transact online with their preferred brand (spoiler, only three brands allow you to buy a vehicle online).

Your mall display has to be about engaging a customer, creating interest, presenting the product in a compelling way and capturing leads.

Which brings us to the KPIs.

  1. Customer engagement

  2. Product presentations (volume)

  3. Capture leads (volume)

The order of these is not an accident. Regardless of how well set up a display is, having good staff, who are motivated to talk to prospects and customers is the key to success. It is no different from entering a store and thinking that the staff are bored or disinterested.

Your staff have to want to be at the event, and need to be present when they are there. Often dealers will say it is expensive to have staff at these events. It is more expensive not to, or worse, it is expensive to be there and not present. It is not unusual for dealer sales staff to push back against their mall time. That is in part because they feel that the mall is a waste of time, because (in their words), they won't sell a car from it. You can see right here, there is a disconnect between what your objectives should be as a DP and what sales staff expect. Which in turn raises the perennial discussion about what is the primary trait or quality you look for in a sales person. This is of course another topic, but in short, in our view a sales consultant should deliver an excellent customer experience (while following a sales process). In other words, you want people who deliver an excellent service first, rather than 'people who sell cars'.

Not every event will be successful, and when they are not, you'll need to look long and hard to understand why. But here's a clue, it is almost always not lack of foot traffic.

Back to the mall activation in question, in the opening paragraph. Basically I got an old school sales pitch, which was both confronting and unwelcome. Yet the environment was excellent. The brand in question had brought their brand to life, but the style of the store was not matched by the customer experience.

I then crossed the road to a new brand (let's just say they are a new Chinese brand). The DP had mentioned that they had struggled to get salespeople, and so they had made a conscious decision to employ sales consultants, with a decent base and small commissions. They'd never tried this route before, but as it was a new brand in a standalone site, they felt the conditions were right to take the plunge. The difference in experience was marked.

The purpose of this comparison is to highlight that it is nearly always the people that make the difference. Of course there are many things you can do to make a mall activation more successful, but it starts with great people delivering a good experience.


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