China's car showrooms go all out to woo buyers, offer manicures, free food

Dealerships offer manicures, films and buffet meals as salespeople explain vehicles' features

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 4:17am

On his first visit to the Peugeot dealership in Wuhan, Xu Zhongli spent hours asking questions and fiddling with cars. Over the next month, he returned for another four marathon sessions and also made several visits to a Citroen showroom. Neither dealer showed any signs of impatience with him, Xu says.

"I needed time to look at the models and consider the colour," said Xu, 41, a production supervisor, who finally settled on a 105,000 yuan (HK$133,028) silver Peugeot 308, his first car. "I had to negotiate the price, too."

While the time needed to make a sale would be considered excessive in the US, it is normal for mainland car dealers to entertain multiple visits from prospective customers, who often bring along relatives and friends to give opinions and haggle over the price. About half of all car purchases in the mainland are made by first-time buyers like Xu, who have limited knowledge about cars, according to researcher Nielsen.

Carmakers and dealerships go out of their way to make these newcomers feel welcome, offering manicures, films and free food to keep them in showrooms as salespeople explain features.

"They go through a different process from what you'd see in the US," said Nigel Harris, Ford Asia Pacific's vice-president of sales and service. "Not only are they first-time car buyers, but their family hasn't had the experience either." With more than 100 brands available in the mainland, dealers come up with creative ways to ensure return visits.

At a Ford Motor showroom in Shanghai's Pudong district, there is an in-house manicurist and shoe-shiner. Singers perform at barbecues for customers, and periodically the dealer holds drawings for gifts such as iPads and televisions.

In Foshan, a city in southern Guangdong province, a Honda Motor outlet holds talks on fung shui, shows recent hit films from Hollywood and mainland studios, and offers massage chairs for relaxation.

The three-story Mercedes-Benz dealership in Shanghai's Putuo district has a 12-seat theatre (often showing films that feature Mercedes vehicles), a cigar room for repeat customers, a library, a fitness centre, and a game room that includes pool tables and driving games. At lunch, there is a buffet with five different meat and vegetable dishes, and a full-time tea artist brews various types of Chinese tea. Once a buyer has paid and the keys are handed over, dealers often festoon the car with huge ribbons, light strings of firecrackers, and snap commemorative photos.

Dealerships and carmakers are willing to spend time and money to pamper first-time buyers and encourage repeat business and referrals, said Chin-Lim Ong, General Motors' China director of vehicle sales, service and marketing in the mainland.

"It's crucial to make sure customers have an exceptionally good experience" so they'll recommend the dealership and brand to others, Ong said.