Attiq Qureshi has guided FTSE listed car retail leader Lookers through some of the automotive retail sector’s biggest disruptions to date. Horizon sat down with him recently to pick his brains about his experience and ask how he is preparing for future shifts in the industry.
Horizon: What have been the biggest disruptions in the automotive retail sector in the last five years?
Attiq Qureshi: The retail landscape has changed significantly over the past five years in the automotive industry. Between higher expectations from consumers and more rigorous demands from manufacturers and regulators, Lookers and our competitors find ourselves in a challenging situation.
Today, customers who come into one of our dealerships looking to buy a car have almost certainly done their research online, and they don’t want to hear the information repeated to them in the showroom. The ‘old-school’ technique of the hard sell has therefore all but disappeared, as customers have a much better idea of what is and is not value for money. Instead, consumers value great service from knowledgeable staff while they’re in a store. Online, they’re looking for all of the information they can find about the car they’re interested in buying — if you’re not providing that to them, one of your competitors will be instead.
In short, the biggest disruption in the automotive industry over the last five years is definitely that today’s customers has a clear idea of what they want before they even set foot in the showroom. To succeed, our focus has to be on doing everything we can to ensure they have a successful retail journey across all of our digital platforms and in our dealerships.
Horizon: How are you responding to the changing market dynamic?
Attiq Qureshi: Our overarching strategy has been to invest equally in technology as well as the right people, and focus on weaving all of it to together for a multi-channel, customer-centric approach.
We have put a lot of effort in to setting up high-performing in-house digital teams, and we continue to invest in our online presence. We also put a great deal of time and money into making sure our front-line staff have all of the support and tools they need to perform to the best of their abilities.
Our response to the changing landscape of the car retail sector has therefore been to heavily invest in technology to ensure our business is perfectly equipped to deal with the changes brought on by the digital age. This has involved investing in everything from the best CRM, campaign management, and cloud hosting tools to fitting our dealerships with the best available Wi-Fi, computers, and tablets.
Horizon: What are the biggest disruptions you’re expecting in the next five years?
Attiq Qureshi: Over the next five years, we expect our customers to drive further demand for a better, faster, and easier retail experience. The key to this is going to be more intelligent and agile retail processes powered by great people using the latest technology.
Alongside excellent service, a personalised customer experience that is seamlessly integrated across all channels is set to be the key to differentiating yourself from the competition in our sector. The automotive industry is highly competitive, and we understand that pricing and the depth of our product range are also going to affect where customers choose to buy. With technology putting more of the power in consumers’ hands, this is only set to continue, and retailers need to adapt to survive.
As our world becomes increasingly connected in the digital age, great service is set to become more important than ever in the coming years. If a customer has a poor experience with your brand, the word can quickly spread across social media. Of course, the opposite is also true — provide brilliant service at every level of your business to use social media to your advantage in the coming years.
We’re also expecting an increased demand for greater technology. Over the past five years, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the demands placed on our systems. For example, our workforce now sends and receives over 50 million emails a year, and our systems need to have the bandwidth to sustain this level of usage. These demands show no sign of slowing down, and are only set to increase in the future.
Horizon: How are you preparing the business for a change in operating model?
Attiq Qureshi: In many ways, the main focus of our whole business is preparing for these future disruptions. This applies to everything from design and construction of our new retail experiences, to our continued investment in the latest technology and the best staff.
On the technology side, the seismic shift within our industry — from ‘old-school’ dealerships to a technologically-advanced, multi-channel retailer — means we have huge amounts of work to do. However, it also means we have the luxury of skipping generations of technology and moving straight to the cutting-edge, where we’re investing in the tools that will serve our company best going into tomorrow.