It’s a question I’m sure a lot of urbanites have asked themselves when, like me, life has taken them from a well-connected city centre to the relative wilderness of suburbia (in my case South-East London).

But as someone who also happens to spend his days thinking about customer journeys and how to create more remarkable experiences at key points on those journeys, I was especially interested to find out how brands guide people through what, for many, is the second biggest life purchase they’ll make.

At first, the thought of buying a car excited me; cue a montage of images of me carving my way through London in a high-powered sports car before speeding off for a weekend in the South of France. Then my girlfriend reminded me that we had a mortgage to pay and wouldn’t it be better to look at something that we could fit child seats into in the near future (gulp)?

Now I’m no petrol head. I don’t watch Top Gear. I don’t read car magazines. The last car I owned was a Fiat Uno that started rattling as soon as you pushed the needle over 60mph.

So where did a car luddite like me start?

I searched back to my last positive car driving experience – a Volkswagen golf I had hired – and started by visiting www.volkswagen.co.uk where, helpfully there was a ‘My Perfect Volkswagen’ tool that promised to help me find the right car to match my lifestyle.

Volkswagen_MPV

The tool was simple to use and had some nice real life touches to help me make choices about what I’d mostly be using the car for and how much room I needed.

I was then given my top 3 matches. I must admit this felt a little bit underwhelming, and not just because one of them included an estate. Yes, there was the option to ‘see the full details’ about each choice but it felt like the fun and interesting bit was done, and now it was down to business – it would have been nice to get a bit more content (a test drive video, a tour of each car…).

After deciding on the Tiguan, and a quick look at its detailed specifications (which meant very little to me) I thought I’d take the plunge and book a test drive. And that’s where my car buying journey with Volkswagen hit a snag.

 

My nearest test drive was 7.5 miles away. And after a quick peek at citymapper it was going to take me over an hour to get there on public transport (and another to get back). All of a sudden, my interest in a VW Tiguan, or any car for that matter, started to wane. Am I going to have to rely on weekend public transport to get me to and from a dealership? Is my car choice going to be swayed by dealership distance to my front door?

It felt like I was going to have to go out of my way, rather than (like so many other purchases I make) the brand adjusting its offer to fit around my life.

The demanding nature of today’s consumers (like me) is clearly something car brands are sitting up and taking notice of.

Take SEAT, for example. To overcome the barrier of customers having to take time out of their weekend schedules to visit a dealership, they’ve created ‘Experience Centres’ in a number of shopping malls in London. Here customers can fit in a test drive, see and touch a range of models and speak to a SEAT expert, alongside picking out a new outfit or choosing a new sideboard for the lounge.

Car_shopping

The centres are open ‘at times to suit you’ and offer ‘hour long test drives without a sales person sitting next to you’.

Peugeot have taken that ‘fitting around your life’ element to the next level by offering customers the chance to complete the purchase of a car entirely online. Here’s the spiel from their website:

“We’re all used to ordering online these days- from DVDs to our weekly groceries, we take it for granted. But surely ordering a car online is different?

We used to think so, but here at Peugeot we like a challenge, which is why we’ve introduced a brand new website that allows you to order your new car online. Simply choose the Peugeot you want, configure it, get a part-exchange deal on your current car, personalise your finance and then order your new Peugeot online to complete your purchase.”

Although neither SEAT or Peugeot were part of my initial consideration set when embarking on my car buying journey, their customer-centric innovations have struck a chord with me. Sadly, SEAT’s experience centres aren’t at a shopping mall near me but I did a bit of research into their models and have taken quite a fancy to one of their SUV models the Ateca.

Like Peugeot, SEAT offer the chance to ‘buy’ my Ateca online. But for all the convenience this offers I still want to ‘experience’ what it’s like to drive one. To date I’ve had to settle for Youtube videos but surely it won’t be long before car brands follow the lead of other industries, such as travel, where brands like Thomas Cook and Marriot Hotels are offering consumers the chance to ‘virtually’ experience destinations like Greece, New York, Singapore and Rwanda from the comfort of their VR headset.

Imagine if I could create my ideal Ateca online, ‘experience’ it via a VR test drive, agree the ideal finance plan with a virtual sales person, and then have it delivered to my home at a time to suit me.

Now that really would be Remarkable!

-Sebastian Weston, Planning Director