Weekly Focus: Ford Motors Test-Drives Alibaba Auto Vending Machine

This week, the spotlight is back on Alibaba’s Tmall, where Ford Motor has offered up more than 100 vehicles for customers to try out via the e-commerce operator’s newly launched Super Test-Drive Centre.

Dubbed ‘China’s first auto vending machine’, the facility provides these vehicles for potential buyers to test-drive over three days before making their purchase decision. The Guangzhou centre offers only Ford models, including the U.S. automaker’s Explorer SUV, Mustang, and Escort.

Tmall customers can sign up for a test-drive on the site, or via the Taobao mobile app, and pick up their selected vehicle at the unmanned ‘vending machine’. The process is touted to take no more than 10 minutes, tapping Alibaba’s various tech solutions including e-commerce, facial recognition, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and Internet of Things (IoT).

Alibaba first announced the initiative last December, championing the car vending machine as a service that resolved key challenges consumers faced in the car-buying process.

It then inked the Ford partnership with the aim to “redefine the consumer journey and user experience for automobiles”. Customers, for instance, would be able to book a vehicle, pay the deposit electronically, and schedule a pick-up time and date via the Taobao app. Test-drive customers also would be able to take a selfie and use the image as a way to authenticate their identity at the Guangzhou facility.

Consumers can test-drive two different Ford models and, should they decide to buy the vehicle after the test drive, can visit any of the automaker’s 45 physical showrooms to pay the remaining amount after using the deposit to offset the final payment.

Each test drive costs ¥99 (£11.29) or ¥198 (£22.57), depending on the Ford model. Alibaba’s Super Members and customers with a Zhima credit score of at least 700 get to test-drive for free.

The auto vending machine is a further extension of Alibaba’s New Retail strategy, said Tmall Auto’s general manager of vehicles Gu Wanguo. Access to such services aimes to provide better understanding of specific products whilst making the shopping experience more engaging, he added.

In the automobile industry, specifically, dealerships often are limited by time, space, and available routes when offering traditional test-drives.

Test-driving is critical to the shopping experience, said Cao Zhenyu, senior executive at Changan Ford Automobile, which is a joint venture established with Ford. “We want consumers to take our cars out traveling and on their daily commutes for them to fully experience our products and, eventually, have that translate to sales at our physical stores”, Cao said.

Ford’s Asia-Pacific vice president of marketing Dean Stoneley concurred, adding that Alibaba’s online-to-offline new retail model could help drive foot traffic to Ford showrooms in China.

Stoneley said: “We are looking for ways to simplify customers’ lives and give them the ultimate try-before-you-buy experience.”

Gu noted that brands also could tap Alibaba’s data analytics and marketing resources to better identify potential customers and their requirements.

Ford currently is the only official partner of Tmall’s auto vending machine service; although, Alibaba said others had yet to be announced. They also are looking at Beijing and Hangzhou as potential new locations for future launches.

Shopper Media Goes Helix to Target Audience

From China, we move to Down Under, where Australian retail digital out-of-home operator Shopper Media Group says it has partnered with Roy Morgan to help brands better target audiences across its shopping communities.

The collaboration would enable agencies and marketers to develop more targeted and customised communications with Roy Morgan’s consumer segmentation methodology, Helix Personas. The system tapped psychographic and behavioural data to classify Australian consumers into 56 personas and seven communities, said the two companies.

Shopper Media Group’s director of marketing and insights Victoria Primrose comments: “With the ability to serve ads to the right audiences, our partnership with Roy Morgan will ensure we can offer more targeted campaigns for our clients. This will also unlock greater campaign personalisation capabilities, with the ability to serve different ads to different audiences at the same time.”

Lazada Offers E-commerce Lessons

Offering help of a different kind, Lazada Group has unveiled training programmes aimed at beefing up e-commerce skillsets and knowledge in Singapore.

The Singapore-based e-commerce operator said the initiatives would be offered through partnerships with Nanyang Polytechnic’s Singapore Institute of Retail Studies, Singapore National Employers Federation, local data analytics vendor Sparkline, and Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Lazada said the partners would jointly develop both online and offline training courses for entrepreneurs, as well as small and midsize businesses (SMBs), to help these companies be “more nimble and capitalise on” the region’s growing e-commerce market.

The Alibaba-owned e-commerce operator was targeting for more than 1,000 people, including sellers on Lazada, SMB owners, and professionals, to complete the training courses between April and December 2018.

To be conducted in English, lessons would focus on areas such as supply chain and inventory management, data analytics, and tactics on selling more effectively in Southeast Asia’s e-commerce marketplace.

The courses would be offered on Lazada University’s online learning management system.