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BMW's Future of Retail Vision Includes Apple-Style Product Geniuses

Posted by Dale Buss on May 25, 2012 02:02 PM

BMW this week launched a concept called Future Retail with the grand opening of its first new BMW Brand Store in a luxe pocket of metropolitan Paris this week. It also signalled that the brand is stepping up investments in its dealers and retail network to better equip them to win BMW's worldwide fight with Audi for luxury-vehicle sales leadership — and in the United States, with Mercedes-Benz for upscale-segment supremacy.

The Brand Store aims to be more than 'just' a brand experience or halo outlet. Much more important to BMW strategically will be how it executes the Future Retail concept in its dealerships worldwide. Among other things, the brand plans to increase the number of contact points with customers and prospects, increase the services and benefits offered in its retail channels, and enhance the retail experience "at all touch points."

According to its press release,

With Future Retail, the BMW Group has three objectives – first, to increase the number of possible contact points with customers and prospects, second, to increase the services and benefits offered in its retail channels, and third, to enhance the retail experience at all touch points. Therefore, customers can expect to see a number of new BMW and MINI retail formats, as well as several initiatives in the near future. These include, among others, a new online presence and social media activities, as well as a more appealing showroom appearance. Some aspects can be experienced already, such as a virtual product presentation which has already been implemented in the BMW Munich and Zurich branches, as well as MINI Westfield in London.

It's all part of a level and wave of attention being paid by nearly all luxury brands to exactly what happens at retail during those subtle "moments of truth" when consumers decide to buy — or not. Upscale buyers want to be pampered, of course, but it's more than just making them feel special and smart. Increasingly, they're as flummoxed as any other buyer by the array of technological possibilities now presented to them.

In addition to the sophisticated, high-tech product presentation, BMW's retail secret weapon is a digital concierge called a Product Genius. Borrowing the concept from Apple's customer support Genius Bar idea — just as Lexus already has done — BMW wants to make sure that this new type of sales staffer "better support[s] customers with in-depth product knowledge as well as enabl[es] the customer to better utlize and configure products in accordance with their particular needs."

BMW's Product Geniuses will (literally) know the nuts and bolts of the brand, including the horsepower and torque data on BMW models. But where they're most likely to get questions and need to do some handholding will be explaining the array of infotainment and other digital features integrated in BMW's vehicles that, in all makes and models, have begun to overwhelm modern auto buyers even as they appreciate the extra capabilities.

BMW's press release notes that the Future Retail concept will be rolling out beyond Paris to the UK, China and the Netherlands. And while Parisians can now flock to buy BMW-branded baseball caps and baubles at the new merchandise store, what BMW customers really will appreciate is how much better things might get for them once they step into a BMW dealership.

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