A new design frontier for Nissan’s Canadian dealerships

Nissan's newest Retail Environment Design Initiative (Nissan Retail Concept) brings their vehicle’s sleek design and innovative technology to the dealership with the aim of creating a flexible retail customer journey. We talked with Ken Hearn, Director of Dealer Network Development and Customer Quality, to learn more.

The customer journey and expectation of their dealership experience has drastically changed over the 17 years since Nissan last re-designed their retail environment. Dealerships in the past were the sole source of buying information, but technology has given customers nearly endless resources to research their decision independently.

Dealerships have now become the place to experience a vehicle first hand, ask in-depth questions, and have their car serviced. At the same time, customers expect a consistent experience across all interactions on all channels from the moment they start their research through to when they have their vehicle serviced. By taking a customer-centric approach, Nissan Retail Concept aims to create flexible retail customer journeys at the dealership for every type of customer, providing better experience and excitement for everyone who visits the dealerships.

The new Nissan retail concept

“The Nissan Retail Concept is truly an industry innovation and represents a pivot from what our dealerships are, to what they will be in the future. The concept was created collectively by regions and functions by identifying areas of improvement within our current retail environment, cross-regional customer research, and competitive benchmarking. We embraced technology and modern design in every aspect of the design,” says Hearn.

From the exterior floor-to-ceiling glass walls, to maximising touch-screen opportunities, the Nissan Retail Concept is focused on the customer experience.

“Every customer is unique and our facility is designed with this in mind. This starts from the moment you pull into the dealership, with the red tablet Nissan sign showing you to the main entrance. Upon entering the dealership, customers are greeted by a featured vehicle display, situated like a red carpet reveal. This shows off either the newest or best looking car in a unique manner. We moved the reception to the front of the dealership to act as concierge to immediately welcome and help direct customers,” explains Hearn. “Our customer lounge has also been moved from its traditional location towards the back service area of the dealership and placed in the middle of the showroom.

We took a similar approach in designing our service area, using glass walls to allow customers to see where everything is at a glance. We really wanted to create a unified space versus the traditional sales, service, and parts areas. Additionally, all of our dealerships will have express service drive throughs, which is a nice touch for customers in the cold Canadian climate.”

Nissan’s attention to the unique needs of each customer is seen through their creation of spaces for those who do not want to be in the middle of the dealership bustle. To address this, dealerships have a smaller quiet lounge that looks into the service shop. This innovative solution meets the customer’s desire while still engaging them passively in the dealership activity. Seeing the technicians at work often catches children’s attention, but there are also play areas to keep them entertained.

“Buying a vehicle is the second largest purchase customers will make and we wanted to make the final step in the process something special,” says Hearn. “This pivotal part of the customer experience is emphasised when a customer gets the keys to their new vehicle. Our new vehicle delivery glass pods let consumers see their vehicle from the second they arrive, and gives us the opportunity to put their new vehicle in the spotlight and better highlight the exciting moment of taking delivery.”

Embracing technology

Technology is central to the Nissan customer experience. Screens are used in multiple ways, from showing a digital menu board in the service area to showing the news and other updates in the customer lounge. Digital wheel stands at each vehicle allow consumers to pull up information immediately. Building on this concept, the Nissan Personalisation Studio uses a 55” touch screen where customers are able to customise their vehicle and see a preview, which is a major shift from looking at pictures and details on a sales sheet and brings the online experience to the dealership.

Technology will be used to improve the sales and delivery process.                                                           

A proprietary tablet-based application (NCAR), helps sales consultants by putting information at their fingertips, such as information about both Nissan’s vehicles and their competitors. This keeps the sales consultants fully engaged with the customer, creating a superior experience. It also ties into the delivery process through electronic quick reference guides (EQRG). In the delivery process, the customer is walked through all the features of their vehicle but they may forget by the time they get home. The app sends the pertinent EQRG to the customer in advance, saving them from having to search on YouTube or through a bulky owner’s manual.

“Part of our recipe for success is leveraging technology. This is common enough in the automotive industry, but at Nissan, making the most advanced technology available to mainstream customers guides everything we do.

The aim in the short-run is to enrich the lives of customers, the aim in the long-run is to achieve zero emissions, and zero fatalities. We operate towards this goal with a vision called, ‘Nissan Intelligent Mobility,’ and it will define the Nissan brand moving forward,” says Hearn.

“Nissan Intelligent Mobility includes Nissan Safety Shield 360, comprised of six key features offering a number of accident prevention tools including, Intelligent Emergency Braking, which is fitted as standard on nine models for model year 2019. Our commitment to intelligent vehicle technology is an indication of our passion for providing our customers with the best ownership experience, and this is all rooted in the retail environment.”

Managing the implementation

Rolling-out the new global design to Nissan’s 208 Canadian dealerships is a massive undertaking. Taking a methodical and step-by-step approach was required. Hearn explains: “We went from a tried and tested program called NREDI 1 to a brand new global initiative.

First, we needed to fully understand the background of the Nissan Retail Concept and how it was addressing the needs of customers globally. We then examined what was needed to adjust it for the Canadian market to ensure it’s what our customers wanted. Through this, we were able to set everything up on the backend, such as bringing in the right staff and establishing preferred suppliers, to enable us to achieve what we expected in terms of results.”

“Gaining the support of the dealer network was critical to the success of the implementation. We needed to develop a communication plan to share the vision of the Nissan Retail Concept and what they could expect. From a practical standpoint, dealers understood the need, as our sales have nearly doubled in the last six years and the network was bursting at the seams. The Nissan Retail Concept positions dealers for the future through its customer centric model and use of technology,” says Hearn. “It also aligns with the continued improvement of technology in the vehicles while also matching the expectation of consumers. In addition, we provided dealers with a variety of options to expand on the brand look, such as a vehicle display tower, with up to six vehicles on prominent display, which adds additional visibility to the dealership while showing off the beauty of the vehicles.

The program is scalable to the size of the market and customer needs while also making business sense. We have over 70 percent of the 208 member dealer network actively engaged in discussions, 32 completed dealerships, and another 16 in construction.”

When asked if there was a specific strategy to the success of the roll-out and the best year of sales Nissan has ever had in Canada, Hearn responded: “There isn’t a single factor we can attribute our success to. Part of the recipe is certainly the branding upgrades and our efforts to create cohesive marketing at every touchpoint.

Leveraging technology in every aspect of our business, from enhancing our vehicle capabilities, to elevating our customer interactions, to providing customers with the information they desire at the dealership is also a factor.

A big part of the recipe are our people and partners. We have great suppliers that we work with in Canada that we continue to work with. We’ve also got dedicated people in the field and at head office, which includes the Turner & Townsend team.”

“Part of our success and the value of Turner & Townsend is their full integration on-site with our team. They bring considerable construction expertise and their longstanding relationship with Nissan globally, as well as at the regional level, adds considerable knowledge.”

Paul Walters, Project Management Office (PMO) lead for Nissan Canada with Turner & Townsend agrees. “Our full integration with our Nissan colleagues provides unique opportunities to realise savings. The trust we’ve established over the years allows for transparent conversations that allow for proactive solutions. We’re proud of our long term relationship with Nissan and look forward to working with them closely through the roll-out of the Nissan Retail Concept and beyond.”

What does the future hold?

The major metro market trend of in-mall and shopping boutiques continues to grow and Nissan expects this innovation to further evolve. They anticipate more dealerships looking to a boutique environment and are already considering what will be required logistically, such as having valets.

“We are always working on the company’s permanent goal of continuous improvement and are constantly asking ourselves how do we make service and sales better and unique to each individual customer. Technology is creating new ways to personalise the customer journey and our customer-centric model positions us well to embrace new ways to engage. Perhaps we’ll have holograms at each vehicle to share details rather than a tablet in the future!”

With a robust, tech-focused product offering, happy customers, staff, and dealers, the future looks very bright for Nissan.

For further analysis and insights, read the full Canada market intelligence report for 2019.

For further information contact:

Sarah Gilmour
Marketing & Communications Manager

t: +1 416 925 1424