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It is based in a shopping mall, displays only three vehicles, employs no trained salesmen and is mainly staffed by women. Welcome to the car dealership of the future.
Hyundai, the Korean manufacturer, has chosen a small retail unit wedged between the Body Shop and the Disney Store at Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre for its latest outlet, as it seeks to capture the eyes of potential customers wandering through the precinct.
“In six minutes, 120 people walked past,” says Tony Whitehorn, head of Hyundai in the UK. “This was a Thursday morning at 11am.”
Hyundai’s latest venture is a fresh sign of how carmakers are chasing their customers to where they shop, rather than luring them to vast out-of-town car parks.
The company claims that its 2,000 sq ft Bluewater store, a joint venture with the digital retail outfit Rockar, is a first.
Other manufacturers have opened mall outlets, such as the electric car pioneer Tesla, which has stores at the Westfield shopping centres in east and west London. But Hyundai says customers can transact the entire process – including part-exchange deals and financing – online or via tablet computers inlaid in the large white table at the heart of the store.
Customers can talk to one of 18 “product angels” – 13 of them women – and take a test drive from the service centre downstairs: on their own, if they like, thanks to GPS tracking.
The car retail sector is undergoing a shift not unlike that being faced by the supermarket chains, whose business model has been disrupted by the rise of online shopping and increasing demands for convenience stores.
The age of the dealership that relied on family trips to expansive forecourts is rapidly passing, giving way to more shopping-centre outlets, pop-up shops and – crucially – online showrooms.