In August last year, retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley purchased the failing House of Fraser business with a promise to turn the business around by making the stores retailing ‘destinations.’ His mantra was very clear; the traditional retailing model was broken, unable to compete with the online competition with its lower overheads and ease of 24x7 access. House of Fraser stores have to become an exciting, experience, if they are to compete with online – they have to be different and distinctive.

In an increasingly digital car retailing environment, dealers could benefit from a similar ‘destination’ ethos.  The starting point is where the customer invariably starts their car buying journey and that is online.

What is a Destination Dealer?

Taking the lead from ‘destination retailing’ a destination dealer will be one that people are drawn to because it offers a superior, relaxed and distinctive buying experience. Taking the lead from High Street retailers developing this approach this will include:

  1. A ‘service is everything’ ethos;
  2. Every step visually, physically and emotionally reinforces that this is a caring, enjoyable experience;
  3. Customers trust the expertise and people; they will recommend it and travel a distance to reach it;
  4. Offering good value - that does not mean being cheapest;
  5. Staff are helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and professional;
  6. All the services customers need to buy and run their car are there; as are some surprises – an on-site barber is one we liked;
  7. Customers choose to buy rather than be sold to.

Many car retailers may feel that these factors are already in place; if so they should challenge themselves by checking out real destination retailers and having their own business mystery shopped.

Online is where the destination experience begins

Establishing a destination retail environment that customers want to visit is not just about the store; the experience starts online because this is where the promise of the experience is first made.

For the dealer, the first challenge is selecting their online channels; some channels will be competing with the dealer in promoting products and services, an approach that may not be compatible with the dealers. At the same time, as with the showroom experience, dealers should give very careful consideration to their online persona, this will include; images, tone and content. Success in marketing is not an accident, it requires careful thought and while it is easy to focus upon price, this should not be the only, or arguably even first thought.

If price were the only consideration to car buyers, then premium cars would not be selling in ever larger volumes. Many customers want a premium product and experience and will pay a premium to receive it. This is the central principle of destination retailing.

The reality is that customers typically value more than just the car. They want a range of outcomes; an easy, comfortable and enjoyable buying experience, caring knowledgeable people, fantastic aftersales, a sense of belonging and that they matter being some of them, please note these are all emotional cues, rather than pricing; albeit naturally, customers want a fair price.

By Barry McDermott