3 ways virtual reality is impacting automotive retail in 2017

By Henry Stuart March 29, 2017

Self-driving cars are now being tested on the roads of the US and UK. The autonomous systems are managed with sensors including radar, cameras and ultrasonic technology.

All complex stuff – but what expectation does this set amongst consumers?

Cue virtual reality in automotive. Typically when we talk about selling cars, we don’t talk in context of retail. But that is exactly how the industry is changing, with cars now being sold like groceries in shopping centres (Tesla), via a mobile app (BMW) or even in your own driveway (Jaguar).

Along this new path to purchase, VR will impact automotive retail in three ways:

Customer Customisation of Cars

For the majority of automotive brands, clients can already customise their car online before ordering or booking a test drive. The next step is for clients to wear a headset and ‘be’ inside their car, looking around it from the comfort of their own home. In the simplest form this can be a 360 image of the interior hosted on the brand’s website, complete with choices to build a more bespoke product.

The beauty of using VR for the customer, in terms of customisation, is taking away any trepidation or doubt over their purchase, whilst getting them damn excited about sitting in their awesome new car!

Audi has been the biggest mover into this space with Next-gen Showrooms. The initial seated experience put the user inside their choice of Audi, powered by Vive and Rift VR goggles. Throughout the demo, the customization of the car was altered using a connected app  which allows car models, and aspects like interior features and colour, to be changed immediately. This means that any user engaged in the experience need only shout out their requirements for it to become an instant and virtual reality.

 

Meanwhile in the UK Jaguar has gone one step further. After building a pop-up showroom in a London shopping centre allowing customers to create a customised model and also creating a VR experience at London’s Waterloo, Jaguar has now trialled VR within its dealerships – helping bridge the gap between online and offline. For its VIP customers, Jaguar will also deliver the new model to the customer’s home so they could take a test drive without having to visit the showroom.

Many US auto retailers are also starting to incorporate virtual dealerships, buying VR headsets for their showrooms as part of their offering, using VR to create the emotional connection and enhancing the start of customer journey.

Living the brand

One of the most exciting aspects of VR for any brand is the opportunity to immerse the consumer in the brand story. This could mean taking customers to race tracks, meeting the drivers and their teams, or driving through the scenery and landscape that so often forms the backdrop of TV advertising.

Taking this idea further in 2017, brands will not only use VR in a literal sense, focussed only on promoting the product but begin using  VR as a brand channel by giving customers a taste of the fantastical.

As part of its 100th anniversary celebrations, BMW revealed a concept car of the future with a shape shifting carbon fibre body, an augmented reality windscreen, self driving and 100% emission free. So to actually give customers an experience of driving the car, perhaps in some far flung destination like Chile’s Atacama Desert would add another layer, elevating the brand beyond the imaginable. 

VR in the design process

It might not be directly related to the sales process, but consumers can also have a hand in the design and testing of new models.

Going full circle, being able to test and refine a design based on consumer insight from a VR experience – and being able to do away with outdated clay models –  means engaging customers far earlier along  the path to purchase than anyone ever imagined. It’s an opportunity unique to the automotive industry because there is a large demographic of car enthusiasts who would relish the chance to be ‘part’ of the design team.

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