If virtual reality is the future of car shopping, it is safe to say that this shopping will eventually take place at a virtual car dealership. Already, nearly every dealership has at least some sort of online presence, even if just posting sales listings on third-party sites. But some dealerships are taking it a step further and conducting not just their marketing online, but most—if not all—of their sales online. In fact, an increasing number of dealerships are starting to eliminate brick and mortar showrooms entirely.
Whether or not these dealerships count as truly virtual, however, is debatable. In effect, they are just dealerships with very thorough webpages, extensive car picture galleries, online financing forms, and home delivery. A truly virtual car dealership would take the ability to interact with car models online to a new level with extended reality (XR) assets that allow customers to engage more fully with a vehicle before purchasing.
VR ASSETS ARE THE HEART OF A VIRTUAL CAR DEALERSHIP
Virtual reality is still mostly thought of in terms of gaming in a virtual reality environment. But the world is slowly waking up to its practical potential. Amid the coronavirus pandemic that is forcing people into isolation, some of these practical applications are gaining greater visibility. For example, a math teacher is conducting lessons inside a popular VR game to improve student engagement. Major record labels are offering VR concerts to make up for the revenue lost from the cancellation of live performances. Meanwhile, Ford designers are using a purpose-built VR app to collaborate remotely.
VR has the same potential to bring a dealership showroom into the home. VR car assets for new or used cars in a dealer’s inventory allow customers to see what it is like to walk around the vehicle and sit inside of it, mimicking the real-life sales room experience. Because this happens in a fully immersive virtual environment, it is a more compelling and realistic way of considering a vehicle than car photos and car stock videos alone. The viewer can more readily understand the scale of the vehicle, see what it’s like to sit in the driver’s seat, get a closer look at the instrument panel, and consider how comfortable passengers will be. This can not only be a highly appealing experience due to its novelty, but it can also be highly practical and help car shoppers overcome any reluctance to purchase a car online.
AUGMENTED REALITY INVITES INTERACTION AND CONTEMPLATION
Virtual reality can be captivating, but it is not the only possibility when it comes to virtual car dealerships. Where VR allows the user to immerse themselves fully in a digital reality, augmented reality (AR) projects digital assets in a real-world locale. This can happen through specialized viewing gear like smart glasses as well as more common devices, like phones and tablets. As a result, AR assets open up the virtual car dealership to more customers, many of whom may not have VR headsets in the home. But the benefits of augmented reality showrooms go beyond accessibility.
With AR, a car shopper can project a vehicle into their driveway to see how it looks in front of their home or into a garage to see how it might fit. It also allows them to project vehicles onto the coffee table and view it with their family or friends to see what they think of the options. They can even open up the doors to inspect the interior, helping future passengers consider what their experience might be. This ability to view vehicles together can make a vital difference in the success of a virtual car dealership.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT
The biggest reason even today’s online-only dealerships aren’t typically considered virtual car dealerships is that, in the end, their digital showrooms are just very full-featured websites. In other words, they offer a shopping experience that is the same as any other online shopping. This doesn’t have the impact of a VR or AR showroom, and it keeps them from truly being virtual car dealerships—even if much of the functionality is already present.
Of course, the same can be true even if a dealer’s digital presence incorporates XR assets. Without personalized branding and a direct connection to dealership employees, even a fully virtual car dealership can feel more like a demo. This can be changed by integrating communication with salespeople. They can give customers guided virtual walkthroughs, explain features, discuss financing options, and bring a human element to the shopping experience. This can not only be practical and reassuring for car shoppers, but it also opens up space for compelling sales presentations. Ultimately, it helps a virtual car dealership feel more like a white glove remote service rather than ordinary online shopping, a gimmick, or a game.
With so many experiences moving online, forward-thinking dealers can stay ahead of the curve by connecting with experts in automotive XR assets and creating a virtual car dealership that engages car shoppers wherever they happen to be.