A car showroom Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: A couple of new car models and lots of computer touchscreens — are the UAE auto showrooms ready to make that kind of transition?

“For the human element, all that may be needed will be one sales person and another who is well versed in everything technological,” said Michel Ayat, CEO of AWR Automotive. “That may take some time in the UAE — but car buyers are already doing everything online.

“We believe that in new car sales, 100 per cent of the decisions are made online even before buyers reach the showrooms. In used cars, that percentage could be 80 per cent in favour of online. UAE dealers need to live with the fact that walk-ins are going to get fewer in numbers.”

If so, the mega-sized showrooms filled with cars placed end-to-end could become passe. “There will be more screens and technology than cars,” said Ayat. “In the next five years, we will see more changes than the industry saw in the last 50. Many distributors will not be able to sustain market share if they don’t adapt to the trends.

“I’m giving it 10 years for the full scale of change to be seen — that will happen along with Dubai’s plans to have 25 per cent of cars being electric or driverless by 2030.”

Even now, showrooms are undergoing some sort of transformation … and they aren’t necessarily the subtle kind. AGMC has integrated aspects of VR (virtual reality) that allow showroom visitors to bring up three-dimensional images of a BMW or MINI model on a smartphone or tablet. “They can walk around them, open doors, and even “step into” the vehicles,” said Ayhan Olcer, CEO of AGMC. “For over three years we have been implanting the BMW Group’s Future Retail Strategy, with the main aim of intensifying customer relations at our showrooms. We’ve introduced a “product genius” at each showroom, who is a non-commissioned expert whose role is to guide shoppers through their journey purchasing a car. Their motivation is not to sell the customer a car, but to increase their satisfaction on their customer journey.”

Many industry sources had hoped that digital disruption will take its own time to influence car purchase decisions here. And that buyers would want to touch-and-feel the models they want to sign up for rather than let online browsing make the decisions for them.

But that process is already taking place, and dealerships do not want to miss out on any opportunity. AGMC recently had a campaign where one of 20 limited edition MINIs could “only” be purchased through reserving online by making a deposit. “This is the first time we offered customers the opportunity to purchase a car online and has proved successful so far,” said Olcer.

“Our new showroom in Motor City — currently under construction — will have even more customer engagement features, including a mobile customizer and an iPad app enabling live car configuration and demonstration during consultations. Even though the car purchasing journey starts today online, we still believe signature showrooms are an essential part of this journey to conclude the process.”

Arriving at that perfect mix between physical and online presence will be the next journey UAE dealerships will be starting on ... if they haven’t already.

Going online is more than about checking the specs

1 According to the latest J.D. Power report on UAE car buying trends, vehicle pricing, followed by specs, warranty, sale promotions and dealer information were the most-cited information that was searched online. Nearly one-fifth of potential buyers visit their purchasing dealer website.

2 Sixty-eight per cent of new-vehicle buyers who shopped online contacted their purchasing dealership over the phone, email or text before their visit, primarily to confirm the dealership location and operating hours, vehicle pricing, features, dealership stock and available finance options. All of this information should have been there on the dealership website, according to the report.

3 Buyers who shop online report lower satisfaction scores than those who do not.