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TALKING cars with experts is no idle chatter as after three months trialling an information-only, no-sales approach to visitors at a Sydney shopping centre, Australian tech company is now preparing to take the concept around Australia – and then head overseas.

The company has assembled investors in the concept and, after the successful trial in Sydney, plans to fund a national rollout.

In partnership with OEMs, CarExpert’s Experience Centre concept employed experts – including motoring journalists – to chat about cars to people at the Westfield Warringah Mall in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and answer their questions.

The company says that it will provide impartial advice on what car would best suit their needs. The process is free, independent and involves no sales commissions.

CarExpert founder Alborz Fallah told GoAutoNews Premium the concept benefits dealers and OEMs by displaying vehicles in an impartial environment.

“It’s like a real-life outdoor billboard that you can touch and drive and the centre is professionally staffed. It has proven to be extremely cost-effective and profitable,” he said.

Alborz Fallah

CarExpert makes its money by charging car-makers a monthly fee to display their cars and conduct demonstration drives. This, of course, is something Australia’s 4000-odd car dealers already do but CarExpert makes the distinction that its advisors do not have a vested interest in recommending one brand over another.

The company says it is now taking the concept to the next level, successfully attracting investors for its next round that will slingshot the concept to other states, before planning further fundraising to head the project overseas.

It says that within 12 months it will open in Melbourne and, after ending its 12-week trial at Warringah at the beginning of this month, at another Sydney location. Mr Fallah said the only delay could be caused by COVID restrictions – coincidentally centred in NSW in July at the very location of his shopping centre trial.

“The Warringah trial period attracted more than 30,000 visitors to the experience centre, which showed us exactly how popular it was with shoppers looking for a car and also with the car-makers,” he said.

“Attendance surveys of over 800 people that walked through the centre showed that 63 per cent were in-market to purchase a vehicle in the next three months.”

With a hint of Big Brother, CarExpert Experience Centres follow visitors with cameras to record what interests potential buyers in order to learn about what is really going on in the minds of buyers as they progress through the experience. There are extensive follow-up surveys as well.

“We had 38 4K cameras in the shop with full zoning technology and facial recognition and gender recognition and engagement recognition,” Mr Fallah said.

“Every car had two cameras on it. And those cameras could work out how many people slowed down near the car, how many people sat in the car and for how long. We learnt whether, based on their facial features, whether they were male or female and their age.

“It was fascinating how certain cars attracted males versus females. The Hyundai Kona, for example, was a lot more popular with the guys, and the Kia Seltos was a lot more popular with the girls.

“We then matched the camera data with data from an anonymous survey that we asked visitors to complete. That’s a lot of data that is very useful to other businesses including dealers.”

The cars were also available for a test drive.

“A self-serving and assisted test drive kiosk was developed and deployed in the experience centre that could quickly scan licences and book consumers into their desired car,” Mr Fallah said.

“From here, test drivers were handed over the keys to their desired car and a specific drive route was set up for potential buyers to test out the features of the car without sales pressure.

“All cars were tracked with live GPS that would report back if the vehicle left its specific zone or if it was unusually late in returning.”

Mr Fallah said the idea of an interactive car show in a neutral environment like a shopping centre appealed to shoppers but also to car-makers and their dealers.

“With the demise of motor shows in Australia and no travel overseas, the concept of an interactive motor show where cars can be seen, touched and driven, resonated strongly with automotive companies,” he said.

He said that automotive clients paid about $10,000 a month to have their car on display at the event for the three month period.

CarExpert was then able to provide data that shows which cars had the most interaction both inside and outside and by whom and provide that level of market insight back to the clients.

For the future, each experience centre will need six or seven full-time staff. Getting the right people at the right time may prove difficult but Mr Fallah is optimistic.

“We quickly realised that the staff, the experts, were one of the highest-valued commodities of the store itself,” he said.

“People just wanted to come and talk to an expert and be guided by them. We helped facilitate a great deal of sales, simply because we cut down the timeline in which the buyer moved to a sale because they got validation from a third party.

“So we had a lot of people come in and say: ‘We’re looking at a Mazda CX-5’ or ‘We’ll be looking at a RAV4. Do you think it’s a good car?’ and ‘Do you think it was a good price? Should I go back and buy it? Is it a good car?’

“So we tell them what we thought.”

Mr Fallah said one thing the staff at the centre realised quickly was that it worked extremely well for challenger brands.

“Some cars, such as a CX-5 or RAV4, have such a very strong brand recognition that people in the market for a medium SUV will always look at them,” he said.

“But we saw people come in and look at another brand – in this case it was a Peugeot 3008 SUV – and be impressed and ask what that car is and was it expensive.

“We’d say that it’s about the same price as the RAV4 or CX-5. And these people were very impressed. They weren’t aware of the 3008. I’m sure many people who liked the 3008 ended up at a Peugeot dealer.

“That’s an example of a car that had low brand recognition or brand credibility and until they came to the experience centre, that car was not on the person’s shopping list.

“We offer an independent site with 20 cars and experts ready to answer questions in an environment without any sales pressure – in fact, we can’t sell – and the opportunity is to take one for a test drive.

“It works and that’s why we have support to expand around the country.”

By Neil Dowling

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