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Merc bets big on digital drive, eyes higher online sales

S Muralidhar | Updated on August 23, 2019 Published on August 23, 2019

Going the online way Mercedes-Benz ‘s new showcase dealership in The Hague, Netherlands. The company is looking at leveraging digital competencies to enhance customer experience when buying cars   -  Daimler AG

Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management, Daimler AG   -  Daimler AG

Customers should be able to buy a car just as easily as a book today, says Britta Seeger, Board Member of Daimler AG

The much maligned car salesman was once a dealership fixture, as much in real life as in the movies.

The world has come a long way from those days, and yet, the retail experience at an automobile dealership continues to be fundamentally unchanged in its format and approach.

At a time when there is an information overload and a huge explosion in choice, especially in the luxury car space, it can be irksome for customers to be faced with a stagnant dealership experience.

Mercedes-Benz is out to change that with some serious levels of tech being brought in to modernise the brand’s 6,500 dealerships around the world. At the centre of the aggressive, new technology-infused strategy is a strong move to go digital, the seeds of which were sown more than five years ago with its extremely successful Mercedes Me customer ID and smartphone app plan.

Order at home

Consider this, the luxury brand says that customers will, in the very near future, be able to view online, customise and order the Merc car of their choice while sitting on their couch at home. With the Mercedes cAR app, they can even use Augmented Reality to generate a 360-degree image in 3D and throw it on their table to get a good look at what they will be buying.

Based on what the customer has willingly shared through the Mercedes Me app and social media, Merc product experts can also offer personalised advice regarding the apt model that would suit the tastes and preferences of the buyer.

Post purchase, if the customer drives into a dealership for repairs, cameras at the gate capture details from the number plate and by the time the car is parked in the service bay, the past service records and all related information has already been generated for immediate use by workshop personnel.

In fact, Mercedes-Benz is so gung-ho about the digital future of the purchase experience that it expects one of every four Mercs sold by 2025 to be done online. Last month, it rolled out the details of its new, updated, “Best Customer Experience 4.0” — a multi-channel marketing initiative which was launched originally in 2013.

In a chat with BusinessLine at the company’s upgraded new showcase dealership at The Hague in the Netherlands, Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Mercedes-Benz Car Sales and Marketing, said, “I want our customers to be able to buy a Mercedes-Benz just as easily as they would buy a book today.”

After-sales products too

“And we are not only focusing on the sales of new and used cars but also on after-sales products like Connect Services. Cars have already turned into smartphones on four wheels — always on and connected,” she added.

Mercedes-Benz was the first car manufacturer worldwide to launch an online store for new car sales via the Internet. But, now using the Mercedes Me ID, an app-based network of its car owners and even non-owners, the brand is connecting to deliver a host of services and experiences, like ride-hailing and carsharing (in markets where they are available).

‘Best Customer Experience 4.0’ will also attempt to seamlessly merge digital channels with the physical brand experience – from online to offline. So, while the company is expecting future online and digital platform sales to boom, it is simultaneously also investing heavily in upgrading the physical infrastructure at its dealerships and service network.

After all, over 80 per cent of customers still wish to speak personally to sales advisors and take test drives. “As a luxury brand, we are convinced that offering direct expertise will remain an essential part of our customer’s journey because you want to feel, experience and test the product,” says Seeger.

Mercedes-Benz is going where its customers are, with urban concepts like pop-up stores and Mercedes me stores inviting people to enter and engage with the brand. Also, recognising that women are now a strong, independent demographic, the company started the ‘She’s Mercedes’ initiative in 2015.

Campaign for women

Women join ‘She’s Mercedes’ to expand their own network, inspire each other and get to know the brand better. She’s Mercedes is currently active in more than 65 markets.

Back home, Mercedes-Benz India has been simultaneously increasing its geographic reach with new dealerships and upgrading many of the existing ones to meet global benchmarks. But, while country-specific services and features can be delivered online in India, it will still take time to truly go online with the entire sales process. After all, consumer protection is regulated differently in each market.

A company spokesperson says that Mercedes-Benz is looking at the regulations per market in order to be in unity with the country-specific legislation. With updated new e-commerce and consumer protection laws in place, customers will be better protected when buying online in the future.

Commenting on local developments, Martin Schwenk, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India says “We are making our systems and processes digital and are ready for the future. Our new initiatives, coupled with digital transformation, will enable us to adopt more scientific and data driven decision-making processes.”

“True to the core brand value of safety and security, the company pays special attention to the protection of customer data and attaches great importance to transparency and the responsible handling of data,” declares Schwenk.

Published on August 23, 2019
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