The high street is depleting. The demise of Jessops, Blockbuster and HMV has been a focal point of news this month, but how will car showrooms cope with changing consumer buying demands and requirements?
How we buy cars is adapting very much in the same way as other consumer goods. With so much information and flexibility available online, buyers can make informed purchase decisions without leaving the comfort of their sofa.
Not only can you read reviews of every model you could conceivably buy – including our own car reviews based on controlled lab testing – there’s also a plethora of owner reviews and verdicts to ponder. And since there are full specifications and option lists online, there’s no need to step foot into a showroom to pick up a brochure.
Car buying process – how times have changed
I can remember some 15 years ago as a youngster, traipsing around car showrooms with my father, clutching his list of company car availability for that year. We’d return home with a Rob-sized stack of brochures to ponder, gawping over different interior trims and finger-printing the glossy metallic-paint coloured squares. But all the while we did this, we’d have to piece together how the car would look in our minds.
Things are very different now. In 2013, you won’t find a mainstream carmaker’s website that doesn’t have a model configurator on it. These allow you to select every specification level and option on the car of your desire, and then present you with a rotating, multiple-angled display of exactly how the car will look. Back in 1998, when we finally opted for a ‘Rosso Red’ Alfa Romeo 156 as the next car of choice (which was subsequently horrifically unreliable), I would have spat my Fruit Pastilles out at the thought of being able to do this.
Car showrooms will always have a future
Still, this doesn’t negate our need for car showrooms. Even today, put in the position of buying a brand new car, I wouldn’t make a decision without spending a long time in a showroom, chewing off a salesperson’s ear and getting my hands on the product.
And it’s something the Which? Car team recommends you always do. We’d always advise test driving any model before buying, but there’s also so much more that you can get out of the showroom experience that the internet will never be able to reproduce.
For example, gaining a real understanding of how big a boot is, and taking an everyday item along to see how easy it is to lift in and out of the loading space. Or trying the different entertainment controls available so you can work out if more options will be more of an annoyance. Even taking the kids along is worth doing, so you can see how they find life in the back seats.
But what’s your take on the car showroom? Is it a phase in the buying process that you still partake in, or do you think you can come to a decision without having to remove your gaze from a computer screen?