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The Name: Audi

The Place: Very selected showrooms: Piccadilly in London and also Beijing and Berlin.

The Story: So the thing with selling cars is this – they’re big and you can’t get many into a small showroom and the rents on a large city showroom would be astronomical. And then, oh dear, you can’t sell many cars can you? Hmmm.

 

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Sounds unproductive: Indeed, add to that in 1987 there were 20 different Audi models, now there are 40. No showroom can hold them all. So Audi’s new innovation is that all you need is one car upstairs and one car downstairs and you can still raise the sales figures by 70%.

Well, that just sounds unlikely: No, listen. Bring in just two models of your most popular selling designs to the showroom. Then ta da – you bring in the software that allows people to design their own vehicles.

And that sounds downright dangerous: I don’t mean design from scratch obviously. I mean wholly customize that big selling model sitting in the showroom.

Stop. Surely people need to see the exact car they’re going to buy first: Only partly and there are several cars to open and close the doors of (or whatever people like to do in car showrooms) but chances are even in a normal showroom it won’t be the colour and upholstery you had in mind for example.

Yes, but how many variables apart from colour can there be in the average car for goodness sake? Stand back – in the newest Audi Q3 model there are 3.5 million possible configurations.

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Actually I’ve sat down: This is according to sales operations manager James Allitt anyway. And he is also the man with the eye on two rising trends in car purchasing.

I feel a bit dizzy: Number one – digitalisation. And number two – ‘simplexity’.

You just made that second one up: No, Audi UK made it up. And it refers to the fact that customers demand complex personalised designs but they want very simple processes to be able to do it.

They’re terribly demanding aren’t they? Oh yes. But importantly they are very online savvy. Audi research indicates that a third of them would buy a car purely online, and nine out of 10 customers do all the initial research online. Add to that the fact that not all consumers expect or even wanted to do test drive and Audi spotted the gap in the market for a showroom centred on a digital concept.

OK enough theory. How does it work? The customer, along with the sales person, uses the software to look at all the fabrics/design permutations possible on the model – this is done on large touch screens and tablets. The final design can then be viewed on large screens located around the showroom wall. The image is viewable as a 3D version that can be spun around to make visible from every angle. It’s all very premium.

Cool: The customer then leaves with a personalised code and brochure which is used to order the car. This code can be used on the customers’ own computer to edit their car profile at home until the absolute final design is ready. It’s all compatible with social media platforms and the software provides you with a running shopping basket total so you don’t get carried away with those leather trim enhancements. Audi is constantly refining the software which Allitt claims is nonetheless very easy to use.

Pimp my car. I like it: It’s very now. It’s very James Bond. It’s very successful. And only Audi are doing it to this extent.

 

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But why so few showrooms? Audi are showcasing the concept right now but they will look to introduce it to other Audi City showrooms globally. The company also runs 115 franchised showrooms (via 28 business partners) in the UK and parts of the tech will certainly work within these outlets although Allitt says different parts of the UK have differing needs.

Some people will always want to test the plush right? Right. But Audi will always be researching how to put the most popular configurations on display in showroom in order to make the most customers happy at any one time. Having said that the point of offering personalisation is not to pre-judge tastes.

Well, I’m just wondering if this kind of thing might have any other retail applications: I couldn’t say I’m sure but people from M&S and John Lewis have certainly called in at the Piccadilly showroom for a peek around.

It certainly seems like, how can I best put it, advancement through technology. What’s that in German? Vorsprung durch Technik.

They should use that in their marketing. Catchy.

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