• New vehicle purchase process being explored by Nissan Europe
  • The New Retail Concept seeks to remove purchase barriers, anxiety and improve experience
  • U.S. Dealer Advisory Board would have to review prior to any elements being implemented

Purchasing a new or used vehicle from a dealership is regarded by consumers as one of their least favorite activities. So, what if you could walk into a dealership and see just Altimas, Maximas, Pathfinders, 370Zs and so forth without barriers such as a reception counter, rows of desks and a manager's office?

In Europe, Nissan is currently exploring that exact scenario through its "New Retail Concept." The experiment is currently underway at one of its London stores. The automaker indicates that the dealership has seen customer-satisfaction scores rise dramatically, along with increased sales and service, over the preceding three quarters.

Encouraged by the results, the automaker has elected to expand the concept into Russia and western Europe. The experiment comes at a crucial time as Nissan, through its Datsun brand and Alliance partner AVTOVAZ, is seeking sales of 100,000 units in Russia over the next 24 months. If initial success continues, the New Retail Concept would likely see elements incorporated into Datsun stores. Following Russia and western Europe, the next phase would transition it to additional countries.

Nissan's goal, like that of all manufacturers, is to increase sales per store and dealer profitability while boosting market share and improving customer-satisfaction scores and brand awareness. The automaker insists that it is not a means to reduce personnel. Creating a modern retail environment by combining approaches that integrate technology and reduce buyer anxiety and purchasing barriers will match up well with shifting car-buyer behavior.

Over the past decade or more, car-buying has changed dramatically, thanks largely to the Internet. U.S. and overseas buyers call, email and stride confidently into a dealership armed with a new car's invoice price, current used-car trade-in values, dealership inventory, competing dealer quotes and manufacturer's rebate information. Smartphones provide up-to-the-minute reviews on dealerships and even individual sales personnel. This program would likely appeal to consumers, as it eliminates the hard-sell experience, increases vehicle knowledge and reduces anxiety. The new concept streamlines and customizes the process, thus helping buyers find the right vehicle for their needs.

While European car-buying, customers and dealerships are different than in the U.S., some of the program elements could transition to U.S. stores. Under the New Retail Concept, buyers at the London store are greeted by sales associates who can use the entire facility as an office. These associates carry electronic/mobile devices to call up vehicle information, conduct sales and even introduce service options and technicians to customers. Imagine being able to experience a sales transaction inside or outside the actual vehicle or see a video of your vehicle being serviced.

The immediate impact on U.S. dealers will be minimal. Erik Gottfried, director of Nissan Customer Quality and Dealer Network Development, states: "Nissan and our dealers are always looking for ways to improve the purchase and ownership experience for our customers. Any changes made to Nissan's approach to sales and service in the U.S. is made in collaboration with Nissan's Dealer Advisory Board. At this time, there is currently no specific plan or time line for U.S. implementation of the global retail pilot." The key word here is "global."

What it means to you: Operations at the automaker's 1,100 U.S. stores will remain the same, for now. If the New Retail Concept proves successful in Europe and other foreign markets, however, expect elements to be reviewed by Nissan's U.S. Dealer Advisory Board. A modern retail environment that removes anxiety, incorporates current technology and opens up and customizes the buying experience could be coming to a Nissan dealership near you.

author photo

Jeff Taylor is an automotive writer with Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. In addition to late model vehicles, Jeff reports on technology issues/products, green initiatives, NASCAR and IndyCar series on a freelance basis. Unique experience includes communications director for a conversion van specialty vehicle manufacturer and professional certifications in automotive repair and refinishing. He resides in the Chicago, IL area.

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