On 1 May Mercedes-Benz UK will open a “retail showcase” at Bluewater, Europe#;s largest retail and leisure complex, located in a former chalk quarry near Dartford, east of London.

The outlet will display some cars and a full range of merchandise and accessories. Shoppers can purchase a new or used Mercedes-Benz or smart car and take test drives.

Audio-visual “virtual showrooms” will contain new model details for both brands, and details of over 1000 used cars which are available through the dealer network, some of which can be purchased online. Spare parts can also be ordered, and a convenient “service while you shop” facility will take customers#; cars to the nearby Dartford dealership for servicing and return to the same parking space.

Customers wanting to arrange finance for a car can speak face to face with a representative of DaimlerChrysler Services, via a private video link.

Attempts by M-B#;s UK arm to change its retail strategy attracted unwelcome attention when the company was threatened with legal action after it sacked most of its dealer network last year. The company had planned a small cluster of giant factory outlets in major urban areas supported by smaller parts and service satellites. This is still the broad plan, but compromises have been reached with the disaffected dealers over terms and timing of the change.

Saab has also begun a similar shift to non-traditional locations such as Birmingham airport where a dealer supported operation displays a few cars, operates AV displays and provides host staff as a first point of contact.

“This is the first time we have done anything like this, so there#;s bound to be a lot for us to learn as we go along,” said DaimlerChrysler UK retail managing director Geoff Brady.

“We have changed the way we do business to suit a retail environment, so our customers won#;t be aware that they#;re in anything other than a well-designed, extremely pleasant store. It is completely different to anything we#;ve offered our customers before.”

“When we announced the restructuring of our dealers, we promised some innovative new ideas to improve our customers#; experience at all our retail outlets,” said M-B passenger car director Dermot Kelly.

“Some of these changes are to procedures and policies, improving efficiency and levels of customer service, and are not immediately visible. Other things – like the Bluewater retail showcase - are more apparent, and therefore an important barometer for the rest of the network.

“It#;s a brave move opening a site like this, but we are convinced that it will work.”