The New Apple?

Posted on Posted in Westfield World Study Tour 2013

We all know that Apple is the most successful retailer on the planet; that it changed the way that retail is delivered; and that it is responsible for many innovations we are starting to take for granted, like hands-on displays and hand-held EFTPOS. But what’s the next big thing in retail?

In LA this week on the Westfield World Retail Study Tour, the buzz amongst shopping centre execs was about a new sensation – an electric-car maker called Tesla. Like Apple, Tesla has reinvented both its product category and the way it is sold.

Right now, it sells just one model – the Model S. (Tesla had a limited edition roadster, but that has been discontinued, and a crossover SUV is on its way). The family-oriented Model S starts from US$70,000 and can travel up to 480km on a single charge (depending upon the battery configuration purchased). “Consumer Reports” magazine dubbed it the best car it has reviewed since 2007, with a rating of 99 out of 100.

Unlike its fugly electric car competitors, the Tesla is sleek and desirable – it is about form and fashion as much as function, which is an Apple quality in itself. And in stark contrast to the way that cars are wheeled and dealed in stand-alone showrooms, Tesla has established a fixed-price policy, and set itself up in 150 square metre shops in higher-end US malls.

Tesla founder Elon Musk snagged former Apple heavy George Blankenship as his VP Retail Development, and it shows in the showrooms. Polo-shirted employees are as far away from the typical car salesman as you can get, and the vehicle itself sits in simple but sophisticated surroundings with a good dose of digital technology.

When shoppers want to test-drive the car, they are taken to the centre’s car park, where demo vehicles are kept, alongside a charging station.

And when you decide to buy, there’s no haggling – you jump online, customize your car, and it’s delivered in 30-60 days.

I saw the first Tesla store at Santana Row outside of San Francisco two years ago. But now they are starting to spread, and no wonder. One senior US shopping centre executive who spoke to our group called Tesla “phenomenally successful” and quoted some Apple-like productivity figures (albeit, of course, with a much higher average sale.) Another categorised Tesla alongside Tiffany and Cartier as a “luxury” brand for centres, not another car marque.

Tesla is bound for Australia, and undoubtedly will be coming to an upscale centre near you. For both shoppers and mall-owners alike, it will breathe life into the retail mix and the way that cars are presented, sold, and run.

USA Today wrote that Tesla’s shares “zoomed 14%” this Monday, “sizzling…on hot profit and hotter review”. Sound a little like a certain Cupertino-based electronics maker? In its own way, Tesla indeed is the new Apple.

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