'Dealers will still play a big role in a digital world'

Steve Fowler thinks dealerships will remain a key factor in the process of selling new and used cars

With more and more people shopping online for cars, you might question the wisdom of spending £14.5million on a new dealership. But that’s exactly what PSA has done with its new ‘super-site’ in West London selling Citroen, Peugeot and DS models.

The site in Chiswick gets plenty of passers-by; it’s where London’s North and South Circular Roads meet and the A4 passes by overhead. No wonder Audi, Kia, Mercedes and VW have their own super-sites nearby.

But this dealership is much more than a marketing exercise; it has to work for a living and is tasked with selling more than 11,000 cars every year. 

So how do bricks and mortar sit in our new digital world? I went along to take a look shortly after the site opened and, even with strict social-distancing measures in place, it was busy with lots of new and used car buyers.

Also there was Alison Jones, the Groupe PSA UK managing director, who explained the thinking behind the substantial investment to me. 

“It’s about giving people options,” she said. “The number of customers doing research online has accelerated significantly; we’re all browsing even more and I don’t think that will change. 

“We know we have customers who come into a virtual showroom, but then they also want to touch and feel the cars and vans. Customers like to blend the physical and the digital – the buzzword is phygital!”

It’s certainly a slick operation; you enter from the covered parking (with EV charging – handy given the number of cars with plugs the three brands sell) into a central atrium with plush handover bays and separate entrances (and experiences) for each brand.

Jones is obsessive about customer service and we’ve seen improvements from her brands in our Driver Power survey. In spite of the increase in digital activity, physical dealers will always play a big part in the brand experience.

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