Buy a BMW in just 10 minutes, with new online platform

Published: 27 November 2015

► Would you buy a new car online?
► BMW Retail Online sales gadget launched
► Become a car owner in the space of 10 minutes

BMW is muscling in on Black Friday’s frenzy of consumerism, by launching an online platform which can sell you a brand new Beemer in just 10 minutes. The UK is the first market in the world to offer BMW Retail Online, which seeks to make car buying easy by suggesting a suitable model for your lifestyle, offering crowd-sourced configurations to make speccing it simple, and potentially approving you for finance with a 90-second credit check.

The sales gadget – embedded into – mixes the universal acceptance of buying online with product gurus popularised by Apple: specialists are available between 08.00 and 22.00 to ‘live chat’ you through the transaction. The process isn’t so radical as to cut out BMW’s dealer network though: once you’ve decided your car and been informed of a delivery time, you can select a dealer to handle the transaction. Some 137 of BMW’s 146 UK retailers are signed up, with the remaining nine scheduled to opt in by April 2016.

‘It’s about giving customers the chance to do the whole transaction online, or more of it online,’ says BMW UK’s retailer development director Kevin Davidson. ‘We believe in bricks and clicks: our network has invested £120m in bricks and mortar this year, while we’ve spent 18 months creating an enhanced digital [retail] architecture.’

To start the buying process, answer five questions about where you drive, how many passengers and what kind of luggage you carry, and the characteristics you’re seeking in a car: sportiness, luxury, efficiency, practicality and the like. And hey presto, it suggests an M4 GTS! Only kidding: the price range ‘only’ goes up to £109,000, which excludes super-specialist kit like next year’s stripped out, ultimate M4, though the i8 is available.

The system will recommend a preferred model and two alternatives. ‘In 300,000 customer trials, 80% agreed with the recommendation,’ says Davidson. The smart algorithms don’t stop there: the most popular spec will also be suggested, which you can then customise.

To conclude the sale, customers select a dealer, input details of their current wheels to get a trade-in value, and then determine how to pay. Leasing customers can use levers to select the length of repayment and amount of deposit, to get a suitable monthly payment, then it’s a question of entering your bank details to close the deal. After all, there’s no haggle button: ‘haggling is much rarer now because of pricing transparency in the digital world,’ says BMW global marketing chief Ian Robertson. ‘That way of doing business has changed and it's never coming back.’

BMW UK won’t put a figure on how much virtual business it expects to conclude. But retailer development director Davidson swatted aside the reservations of some dealers who told him they weren’t ready to participate. ‘Your customers are ready for it,’ he replied. It will be fascinating to see how quickly transactions mushroom. While there’s minimal risk buying a £40 Gran Turismo video game on Amazon, it takes a leap of faith to buy a £40,000 3-series Gran Turismo online. Thanks to BMW, now you can in just 10 minutes.

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine