Why malls are an automotive hotspot for SEAT

10th May 2017

Car stores in shopping malls are driving new customers to local dealerships, reports Peter Crush

Seat at Intu Lakeside

Shopping centres could soon become as important as traditional dealerships for selling new cars, if an experiment revealed by Spanish car marque SEAT is anything to go by.

Speaking to visitors to Retail Design World Richard Adams, head of property and corporate identity at parent group VW, explained how its recent experience of setting up shop at Intu Lakeside revealed malls are much more suitable locations than many might have thought.

He said: “Not only are the rents for large traditional forecourts effectively pricing us out of anything inside the M25, our research told us certain customer groups were being put off visiting traditional dealerships for fear of getting a high pressure, hard sell experience. This is when we decided to look into the possibility of having a presence in malls.”

According to Mike Roberts, chief creative officer of design agency Green Room, which helped SEAT open its first mall-based retail presence at Lakeside last September, the shopping centre has turned into the perfect place to attract three key customer types – those who are in the market, but feel intimidated; those who are disengaged, but needed disrupting; and those who are currently already in some sort of car contract, but didn’t know they could get out of it easily.

He said: “We wanted to engage with these people at a different level – by providing them an open space they could come into, sit in, and look at the cars, with lots of images of what the SEAT brand stood for. The feel we've gone for is a warm, welcome, spirited space.”

Part of the research process included Green Room recording street-scene sounds in Barcelona, while VW also hired salespeople who were deliberately not paid on a commission basis, so that visitors wouldn’t feel under any obligation to buy. Lakeside also provided a facility that enabled customers to take a car for a test drive.

According to Adams, the results of the Lakeside store have been so successful it is already planning a similar branch at Westfield in White City, London. “We were staggered to see that 20% of people who registered at the Lakeside store then went on to buy a car from their nearest SEAT dealer,” said Adams. “This confirms how having a mall presence is a brand-building activity that can substantially benefit the local dealer population.”

Adams also confirmed that many buyers were from a brand new audience, meaning the store was driving incremental sales from a group it would not otherwise have reached. “We’re putting power back into the hands of customers and we’ve found a brand new audience,” he said.

The Westfield store is due to open in July.