Is the net closing in on car showrooms?

Some car dealers believe the internet is now so powerful that showrooms may become obsolete in years to come. With the constant improvement in technology and image quality, not to mention the comprehensive information which can be posted online, the only thing which won’t be covered is the test drive and I wouldn’t be surprised if the car manufacturers have assembled an army of geeks working in a secret laboratory on virtual 3d test drives and demonstrations.

Ironically in recent years franchised and independent dealers, in partnership with the manufacturers, have invested heavily in improving the facilities in their showrooms, to make them more inviting and comfortable for customers and improve the whole experience of car buying and ownership.

The question is with everyone raising the bar when it comes to customer care and branding, have profits raised in line with this extra investment? Not according to our contacts, many of whom expressed the opinion that when they operated out of facilities which were less than salubrious they were more pro-active in looking after their customers, more “people friendly”. Maybe it was down to a kind of sub-conscious embarrassment about working out of sub-standard facilities with leaky roofs, or the classic portokabin operation.

As amenities improved and surroundings became more glamorous, it was almost as if customers and sales people found the showrooms intimidating and unapproachable. Some sales people, on suddenly finding themselves in a comfy office in a great setting with heating that worked and pristine toilets became blasé and acted as if the new showrooms were going to be enough to attract customers on their own and used them as part of the selling technique.

Car buyers on the other hand often had the attitude that if the new showroom cost millions to upgrade or build then they must be paying a premium to help cover the cost of these shiny new facilities. Will the investment in new showrooms and larger floor spaces continue as it is at present? Or is the virtual world, where overheads and investment will be a fraction of what they are now really going to be the future? Will the car manufacturers and dealers of the future laugh at the folly of erecting expensive steel, chrome and glass monoliths just to sell cars?

I guess its watch this space, the net is closing in.

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