Mercedes starts web store for its high volume models

Mercedes CLAPremium car manufacturer Mercedes will start selling new cars directly online this year. The web shop will be called “Mercedes-Benz Online Connection”. The starting date is still to be announced, but it is clear that the models that will be offered are pre-configured versions of the A,B and CLA. According to Automobilwoche a niche model, such as the CLS Shooting Brake could be added later on. The aim is not to offer some special cars, but cars that are attracting a large target group. The online store will start in Germany. The automotive industry has not been a front runner when it comes to selling its product online successfully. There have been numerous online selling portals. Some aim at selling over stock at a discount, such as Autohaus.de, autokopen.nl or the Peugeot France locator of cars in stock. Others have tried to sell special models and versions. An example is the Kia eCollection. In total there may have been thousands of initiatives all over the world to sell cars online. In spite of all these efforts consumers are not buying cars digitally in huge numbers. The automotive industry just cannot put forward it has digitized its sales processes in such a disruptive way as occurred in for instance the computer hardware or entertainment industry.
The explanation for this is both complex and simple at the same time. Buying a car is a multi-step process in a consumer’s mind. The process is about specifying your needs, discovering possibilities, checking your financials, making sure it appeals to your taste (and that of family and friends) and so on. It is a constant interaction between tasks, or better mental efforts, that are sometimes done online and sometimes offline. The process might take a couple of months for one person, while for somebody else it may take half a year or even longer to come to a decision. Of course there is a small group that buys cars on impulse. When buying a car some people prefer a more digital approach while investigating alternatives, others feel more comfortable visiting showrooms or talking to friends.
The initial efforts to sell cars online did not do justice to this complex process. The designs of the digital showrooms just did not fit perfectly to the process of the consumer. They either were too rigid or could not fulfill all steps needed to come to a decision. Today we see in many industries that it is not either bricks-and-mortar stores or just web shops, but that it is “bricks-and-clicks” that makes the most successful sales organization. This is exactly the strategy that Mercedes is about to follow according to author Matthias Krust of Automobilwoche.
Mercedes has the ambition to outsell BMW and Audi as premium car manufacturer by 2020. To achieve this, the brand from Stuttgart needs to increase its sales volume drastically and has to attract many new buyers from other brands. To attract these new buyers, they rethought their retail strategy. The outcome is a twofold approach, in which existing and more traditional customers that are just comfortable with the dealership can still buy cars in the way they have done for ages. The new elements in the retail strategy are strictly aimed at attracting a new target group.
To do so, Mercedes will double the number of innercity shops. These shops, which can currently be found in for instance Tokio and Osaka Japan, attract a high proportion of female buyers. The innercity locations focus on selling cars and there are no after sales service facilities. Events and gastronomy should be key drivers for a new audience to come. And if that will not do the job, the sales staff will take the events and cars from the innercity to the premises of the potential buyer. For instance with testdrives at the office of a new client. This option was tested by Mercedes in Poland. If you are the person who does not need these encounters with the brand, you can order your new Mercedes straight away through the internet.
The digital part in the new retail strategy is the online orientation and even selling cars online. The possibility to make 3D configurations of the car of your choice is one of the building bricks. Another one is an extensive lease and financing module.
Will Mercedes be the brand that cracks the cookie, that is called selling cars online? Their objective to outsell other manufacturers by a mutli channel sales approach by the year 2020 gives their retail business development team six years to deliver the answer. In this digital age six years seems light years away. Let’s see if their strategy will put them that far ahead.

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