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There’s currently a lot of speculation and debate about the future of the automotive retail industry. The success of Rockar’s Hyundai and Jaguar Land Rover stores, located in Westfield Stratford shopping centre, has opened conversations about how vehicle retail might sit in the wider retail world. Other automotive brands, such as SEAT, are already following Rockar’s lead by launching their own take on a shopping-centre automotive showroom.

Volkswagen have also entered this space with a new retail format, which can be found in Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre. As long-term partners with the Volkswagen Group brands, we were interested to see their take on this new approach, so we recently took the train to Birmingham for a look.

Shop entrance

Our initial impression was how different Volkswagen’s approach was when compared to the Rockar formats. Whilst the latter focus on digital content on large format screens Volkswagen have gone for a more multi-sensory approach, which really allows the customer to immerse themselves in the environment, thereby creating a stronger connection to the brand's personality.

As soon as customers enter the store they can start interacting with displays that traverse the whole length of the showroom. Interacting with these informative displays means that, without realising it, 10 or 15 minutes have quickly passed! Interactive features show off the brand personality, as well as more technical information about various models and fun games and displays that connect with all ages.

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The opposite wall contains large light boxes with stretch graphics applied which gives a bright and crisp finish across the store. The advantage of the printed stretch fabrics is that they allow the store to be transformed overnight with new graphics to promote new car launches or a refresh to the car arrangement within the store. Of course, there are screens among the interactive touch points but these are subtler than we’ve seen in other stores. The table of iPads towards the back of the store allow you to configure your own car freely and comfortably, with or without a member of the sales team.

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When configuring your car with a member of the sales team there's a very large screen onto which the sales person can reflect their iPad content. Whilst it’s quite dramatic and exciting to see, some customers may prefer to move into one of the booths at the rear of the store for a more private conversation!

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Overall the look and feel of the store is relaxed and comfortable and the store finishes and staff uniforms play a big part in creating a very different experience and feel to a traditional car showroom.

We felt that this new store format was a great way to experience the brand and understand your range of options. If you’re a serious buye then a range of cars are available to test drive in the shopping centre car park, and it is genuinely possible to purchase a vehicle in the store. It will be interesting to see how this new approach succeeds in engaging with new and potential customers, as well as providing further brand reinforcement for existing Volkswagen fans. We’ll also be watching this space to see how sales figures hold up and whether they lead to a desire to roll out the new format to other shopping locations across the UK and Europe.

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