Nissan prototype retail plan puts walls, offices, desks on the hit list

Nissan vision for future dealerships puts offices, desks on the hit list

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GENEVA -- A new-car showroom without a reception desk? No cubicles or desks for salespeople, and no offices for managers?

This is the experimental retail environment that Nissan is testing in Europe. And if it works as expected there, Nissan dealers in the United States will see it soon, at least as a test.

Nissan hopes to create a modern retail environment and improve the way customers are moved through the buying and service process.

So far the experiment has been confined to a single Nissan dealership in London. But that is changing rapidly.

Koen Maes, the European executive overseeing the project, says the experiment is expanding to Moscow and Stuttgart, then elsewhere in Russia and across Western Europe. If successful there, it will spread to the Middle East and Japan and then be tested in the United States by September.

"If it works there it will go completely global," says Maes, vice president of customer and retail experience for Nissan Europe, referring to the United States. "It will be the new retail concept for Nissan."

Among the key changes: the removal of dealership offices, reception counters and cubicles; a concierge approach to tending to shoppers; and greater sensitivity to female shoppers.

The concept also envisions franchise-wide adoption of service videos to show customers by e-mail what work is being performed on their cars.

The approach, known internally as the Nissan New Retail Concept, probably will not affect dealership exteriors, Maes says. But it would require dealers to create an open sales environment, with associates and managers strolling the showroom and the sales lot with mobile devices to discuss the product and transact sales.

Nissan has about 8,000 sales outlets, including 1,100 in the United States.

Its North American management team and dealers still would have to review the concept to decide if it is right for the United States. But the automaker is eager to improve U.S. retailing results, company executives have made clear. Nissan is attempting to raise its U.S. market share to 10 percent, up from 8.5 percent at the end of February. It hopes to boost per-store sales and improve customer satisfaction scores and brand awareness.

Maes says nine months of data from the London experiment show improvements on all those fronts.

"Our London dealer was a little bit doubtful when we approached him," Maes admits. "But after nine months, his customer satisfaction is up dramatically. Customer loyalty is up dramatically, car sales and aftersales are up, and so is his profitability."

In the new model, store associates are trained to take responsibility for every customer they encounter, regardless of the department the visitor needs. If a customer with a windshield wiper problem enters the showroom, a sales associate would inspect the problem, and then escort the customer to the service department and introduce him to a service technician, Maes says.

There will also be training on interacting more effectively with female customers, he adds.

"There are things that salespeople do that come across as threatening or offensive to women shoppers," he says. "The whole idea of taking a shopper -- male or female -- back into a back room to finalize the deal is threatening. We want to get away from that. We want to get away from offices and walls and desks."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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