Ferrari were the innovators in this space back in 2007, led by their Head of Sales, Marketing and Communications at the time – Dany Bahar. The Ferrari Store was then joined by Ferrari Artelier – providing an area within flagship stores where customers could feel and experience its products and the type of customisations on offer.

After Bahar joined Lotus in 2009, he set to work on replicating the Ferrari experience for the Norfolk sportscar maker. Lotus Originals opened its first retail store at the Hethel factory last December, and is due to launch its prestigious flagship store on London’s Regent Street during the next few months.

However, Ferrari and Lotus are not the only car maker to embrace the brand retail concept – L’Atelier Renault situated on the legendary Champs-Elysees in Paris, welcomes over two million visitors each year and there are numerous ‘brand experience’ centres off the high street including Mercedes-Benz World at the site of the famous Brooklands racing circuit in England.

Automotive brand retailing is now transforming from its humble origins as a catalogue business (tucked away in an official dealer’s parts and service department), to an independent service provided by car makers in ever-more prominent locations.

Now it’s BMW’s turn to show what it can do.

Earlier today Ian Robertson, Head of Sales and Marketing at BMW AG, opened the car maker’s first ‘BMW Brand Store’ on Avenue George V, one of the most luxurious areas in metropolitan Paris.

The store was designed by the well-known, luxury retail architect, Eric Carlson and his team from Carbondale Architects and Version Architects.

Ian Robertson said at the launch, “The world of retail has changed significantly – customer behaviour, needs and expectations have changed, as well as communication technology. As part of our corporate Strategy Number ONE, we critically reviewed our processes and customer feedback. We will now build upon our strengths and implement a comprehensive programme named Future Retail. This will entail a whole range of initiatives and tools designed to enhance the customer experience and to set new standards for retail in the automotive industry and beyond.”

With Future Retail, the BMW Group has three objectives – first, to increase the number of possible contact points with customers and prospects, second, to increase the services and benefits offered in its retail channels, and third, to enhance the retail experience at all touch points.

* * *

For those of you unfamiliar with the attributes of multi-channel marketing, the phrase ‘touch point’ is management-speak for any physical or virtual contact between the customer and a brand. During the past decade consumer product retailers have been grappling with the issues created by the diversity of these contact opportunities (telephone, internet, retail stores, temporary exhibition centres) where a customer either acquires information about the brand or provides information about themselves to the brand.

Either way, the challenge for the brand is to ensure the information they provide (or collect) is the same (across all touch points) and that contact with the customer builds a memory that informs future contact (through whichever contact point the customer then chooses to use) so that the contact can be personalised and the experience enhanced to make customers more likely to buy and remain loyal.

It’s tricky, but quite fun to crack and often a brand’s retail presence is the best point to use when bringing all these elements together. It’s also usually the only point where the entire customer experience can be delivered in a consistent and controlled manner.

* * *

In the future you will see a number of BMW and MINI retail centres, together with other initiatives to help deliver BMW’s Future Retail goals.

According to BMW’s statement today, Stage One seems to be these branded retail centres, but Robertson still sees its dealer network as being a critical part of the customer experience offered by the brand.

To this end, they have created a new dealer-based role, dubiously called ‘Product Genius’, which will be mobile rather than office-based. These product management gurus will be equipped with a state of the art Information Management System on a tablet device, allowing, for example, product configuration and in-depth explanation of features supported by visuals and films.

Robertson’s ambitions are considerable, “We aim to be the benchmark in automotive retail”, but they’ll start their move towards world-domination initially in just four countries – France, UK, China and the Netherlands.

Presumably America’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ culture was a bit too much to swallow in the first stage, but then Rome wasn’t built in a day and there’s a lot of work to do before Robertson’s vision of a single customer experience can become a reality.

Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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