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Mercedes showroom of the future is coming soon

But are Koreans really interested in tech from the high-end car brand

July 29,2019
A product expert uses an iPad in his hand to help a customer looking to buy a Mercedes-Benz at the German luxury automaker’s newest dealership in The Hague that opened its doors three months ago. [DAIMLER AG]
THE HAGUE - As digitalization comes to the auto industry, dealerships must change, Mercedes-Benz says.

In introducing its Best Customer Experience 4.0 initiative on July 18, the German luxury automaker invited reporters to experience the future of car sales and marketing.

The company offered as the model a two-story dealership opened three months ago in The Hague, which is equipped with latest digital gadgets and a myriad of customer-centered features.

It screams modernity and personalized experience.

While the automaker has said that it wants to take 25 percent of its sales online, it still believes in the value of offline sales, as 80 percent of its customers still like to physically meet dealers and take test drives when buying a Mercedes.

And for that reason, they opened a brand new, luxurious showroom in The Hague. The lobby is fitted with comfy couches and designer chairs, and “Star Assistant” employees wait with iPads for their next customer. The walls are flashy and reflective, and a welcoming carpet offers a degree of warmth.

Unlike at a classic dealership, offices are nowhere to be seen. Spaces for paperwork are hidden away elsewhere.

Bold, flashy and confident perhaps, but Mercedes-Benz is not sure whether the format will be introduced in Korea. It has yet to make agreements with local dealers on the sales and marketing initiative.

As one might expect in this connected age, the experience is integrated.

If a customer already made an appointment with the Mercedes me ID, a Star Assistant will be there waiting, ready for their arrival and ready with their preferences preloaded into the system.

The automaker considers pre-interaction done online a critical asset in matching customer needs, as 97 percent of its customers search its vehicles online before making retail visits.

With the Mercedes me ID, customers can let the dealership employees know in advance their preferences in terms of models and accessories to help them prepare. Almost everything can be done before the customer steps into the store. The digital profile is central to everything that comes next, when buying, driving and even getting service on Mercedes-Benz products.

“The customer journey with Mercedes-Benz starts online but ends with physically looking at and riding in our products,” said Andreas Hiller, head of customer management and retail network development at Daimler while presenting a workshop on the topic of a “Seamless Customer Journey” on July 18.

“Information that customers provide with the Mercedes me ID is a personal profile that assists our staff in individually supporting them quickly and efficiently.”

The Star Assistant introduces each customer to specialized product experts whose job it is to explain special features and technologies of all models available at the dealership.

Upon entering the Mercedes-Benz building at The Hague, I was faced with dozens of new and used Mercedes-Benz vehicles, some of which are not yet available in the Korean market.

The models are always unlocked for customers to sit in and test for themselves.

Most of the people won’t choose their next car by simply looking at a digital screen, and Mercedes-Benz knows that. It says the vast majority of customers still physically drive their potential purchases before making a decision.

From classic models from the 1980s to the newest Mercedes-Benz EQC all-electric SUV, expected to hit Korea later this year or early next year, the brand new dealership seemed ready to meet any customer needs.

Each vehicle has a digital screen panel at the left front. Users can use the touchpad to explore each model’s specifications, add-on features and pricing options.

As a part of the “Best Customer Experience 4.0” initiative, the German automaker said customers will be able to make appointments for test drives online. They can choose accessories, colors, trims and more online through the Mercedes me service to find the specifically configured models near them and request an appointment.

If satisfied with the drive, and if they decide to open their wallets, customers at Mercedes-Benz The Hague will then be guided to one of several consultation rooms within the building.

Sales consultants use the digital screens built into the walls of the rooms and go over the options each customer wishes to include in their purchase. Add-ons and added features are instantly shown on the wall next to the customers, and they are allowed to take their time until the final moment.

Once they have decided to sign, a customer can ask for a contract, but it’s not going to be on paper. Rather, he or she is going to digitally sign the purchase and payment agreements through Mercedes-Benz’s online server with a Mercedes me ID.

As the automaker tries to go as digital as possible, Mercedes-Benz is striving to remove paper as much as it can every step of the way. Instead of carrying around and storing stacks of signed and stamped documents, customers can access their relevant materials online through the Mercedes me service.

Sometime later, the customers who made the purchase will be led to one of The Hague dealership’s three handover areas inside the building. It’s a formal, somewhat dramatic, presentation in the room with glass doors, digital screens and colorful curtains.

“The handover area is the end of customer’s buying experience, and we make it special,” said Sander van Kouwen, owner and CEO of Mercedes-Benz The Hague, while touring reporters around the showroom.

“In this room, we hand over the key to customers and welcome them to the Mercedes-Benz family, and they drive their new cars out to the streets. A very, very special place.”

The customer journey does not end there. While buying a vehicle is one thing, connecting and caring for the car is another, and Mercedes-Benz is upgrading its Mercedes me service to support that.

It’s no surprise that the Mercedes me vehicle activation rate is more than 90 percent, and there are now more than three million Mercedes me users. It already provides a wide range of services for users, and the automaker promises to introduce more by the end of this year.

As a member of the Mercedes-Benz family, new customers paired with the Mercedes me service can request service appointments anywhere, any time, and the online channel will once again do the job for them. With the Mercedes me app, users can request a pick-up and delivery for needed services and receive real-time notifications on the maintenance progress from the app.

If they decide to drive to the dealership themselves, customers will be recognized with their Mercedes me account linked with their license plate numbers. They will receive the same sort of personalized service as they received when purchasing their Mercedes.

Even when driving their Mercedes, customers can enjoy the digital benefits Mercedes me will bring to them. Mercedes-Benz is working to ink partnerships with many third-party online services and expand the range of services for drivers to use when on the road.

For example, with the next-generation Mercedes me app, drivers can locate nearby gas stations and pay for gas beforehand, find local restaurants and even arrange their trip plans by setting routes to nearest tourist attractions.

“We already have extended partnerships with Yelp and TripAdvisor to upgrade the Mercedes me service, and more are coming,” said Marc-Oliver Nandy, head of digitalization sales and Mercedes me.

“With Mercedes me, we are trying to give our customers a modern luxury experience, and with Mercedes me, we will be where our customers are.”

In terms of Mercedes dealerships, Korea is way behind.

In Cheongdam, southern Seoul, a Mercedes-Benz showroom gets close to The Hague model, and the German automaker is scheduled to develop 450 of its retail outlets around the world to match the interior and tech features of The Hague outlet.

But it’s not clear whether such a radical change in the sales process will be accepted, as many might feel they are being ignored by being referred to screens and apps.

The traditional car purchasing experience is alive and well in Korea, and consumers are still unfamiliar with engaging with dealerships and brands online, even though they may come across advertisements from them on the internet.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]


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