Manchester, England - Consumers are using the internet to inform their mobility decisions, increasingly foregoing face-to-face interaction with automotive dealers. So, just how are carmakers going to sell cars in the future?

Motorists are changing the way they choose their cars. According to Chrissy Totty, head of innovation planning at BMW’s media agency, Vizeum, the internet has a major part to play in this. “We researched the consumer decision-making process and it is very different from even five years ago. It has become more complex and a lot shorter,” she says.

In the past, automotive marketers had it, arguably, easy in that they used radio, TV or print to drum up interest in a new car. Now, thanks to the internet, it’s harder to grab the interest of their target audience through those traditional channels. Added to this, where the car dealership served as a consumer’s first port of call – to collect brochures, see the car in the metal and talk to someone about buying it, the internet’s taken over.

New ways to get bums in seats

Ford in the UK has launched a new retail experience in a refurbished flagship Next store in Manchester. Next is one of the UK’s largest fashion retailers, and now this store’s patrons will be able to shop for the latest in fashion and cars (from Ford only, for now).

Ford claims the concept to be the first of its kind, providing an alternative environment for consumers to browse, finance and order vehicles directly from Ford Motor Company - outside of the traditional dealer network.

Called ‘FordStore’, it opened with five vehicles on display, including the Ford Mustang and all-new Ford Fiesta ST. FordStore offers customers a relaxed environment to explore the Ford range and find the car of their choice together with finance options. Fully interactive displays instantly visualise the colour, trim and specification of a chosen vehicle, while the store also offers mobile phone charging stations and free Wi-Fi too.

A leaf out of Apple’s playbook

Like the Genius representatives you’ll find in Apple’s retail outlets, Ford will offer ‘hosts’; on hand to guide customers and assist them with test-drive booking or, vehicle configurations. An online sales platform will be used to book test drives and customers will be able to complete their new car order in-store (or from anywhere they have online access).

Andy Barratt, Ford of Britain chairman and managing director, says Ford recognises a growing appetite to browse for cars in other retail environments and online: “We are excited to be able respond, through the partnership with Next, to the changing way consumers want to shop and interact with our brand. We have the most extensive dealership network, which will remain to serve the many consumers wanting to visit a dealer and for specialist retail, van and service assistance.”

For now, there’s no plans to sell Mustangs out of your local Woolworths or Foschini, but in the near future you might be able to buy your clothing (or groceries) and a new car in the same shop at the same time.

Drive360