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BMW says people are buying luxury cars online as it plans first marketing push for e-commerce site

BMW is plotting the first marketing push for Retail Online, its fledgling e-commerce platform which it claims – perhaps surprisingly – is performing well since the launch last year.

The online store raised more than one eyebrow when it was announced in a first for the car market, with many questioning whether people were comfortable enough with e-commerce to make such a high-value purchase.

After entering the site, potential buyers answer five questions on their lifestyle which BMW uses to suggest an appropriate model which they are able to then customise. Meanwhile an online specialist is on hand to answer any questions via a live-chat function. Users can select their nearest dealer to process the transaction there and then or set up a time to visit for a test-drive.

BMW claims customers have responded well to the ‘open all hours’ offering, and that it’s seeing positive results so far.

“The recent case of a doctor buying a car at 1am after he came off a night shift is a really interesting example,” BMW’s UK marketing director Paul Ferraiolo told The Drum at the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s recent onmi-channel event.

In terms of sales, he declined to offer any specific figures but said it’s seen a “strong start” and “an increase month on month”.

In another unexpected turn, most sales have come from the higher end of the product range, “suggesting there is an interest from well informed, time poor, customers,” said Ferraiolo .

Bouyed by the somewhat limited success, the brand now has to solve the issue of driving awareness. It’s currently in the midst of incorporating BMW Retail Online into marketing activities.

“The prominent focus will be integration into events, tactical campaigns, national ads and more focus on our website. A major focus will be how we bridge the gap between the physical and online spaces,” said Ferraiolo .

Women could potentially be a target market with BMW noting that particular demographic is generally less comfortable in the typical showroom situation and negotiating with what’s seen by some as the “enemy salesperson”

"We know that many women don’t especially enjoy going to a car showroom," he said. "This new channel gives customers the choice in terms of how they would like to interact with us as well as enabling us to engage with customers who might not have bought through the normal franchise model."

It's part of a wider move by BMW to create a more holistic experience both on and offline for the customer. It recognised some time ago the shift in how people were engaging with the brand and that its in-store propostion was increasingly about "validating" a decsion that had already been made online. 

Inspired by Apple, it created an in-store area similar to its Genius Bars where customers can get advice from someone not being paid on how many sales they make that week

"We’re diffusing and trying to make it easier for people to learn about BMW," said Ferraiolo. 

It's taking a similar tact to its advertising strategy, telling The Drum last year that it was on the hunt for what it calls “consumer engagement” metrics to validate marketing spend. 

Featured by The Drum