Will VR Cause Carnage in Motor Dealerships?


The Internet has transformed most industries. The adage ‘you either have a presence or an absence’ has been the guiding principle that, for a time, even inspired the government to run a Getting British Business Online campaign. Smarter computers, bigger data and high-speed broadband have delivered the realm of the possible, bringing the high street and, notably, ‘motor alley’ into the home.

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‘The Configurator’ Build your own car online

Most motor manufacturers, including Audi and Mini, now offer customers the ability to compile their own spec’d car online – futuristically known (by some) as ‘the configurator.’

Perhaps as the next step, Mahindra has taken matters a stage further by dispensing with dealers altogether, relying on an online sales portal. Further evidence that they are ahead of the curve lies in the decision to have servicing completed by mobile technicians.

The next giant leap – as much one of faith as technology – is the addition of Virtual Reality to the car manufacturer’s sales kit.

Can VR reinvigorate shopping for a new car?

VR has the potential make the retail experience and a talking point. There are advantages on all sides.

For manufacturers and dealers there is potential to centralise stock and instead place the emphasis on a virtual catalogue. Cadillac in the US is trialling an approach that sees some of its salesforce taking VR equipment out to customers. It also does no harm to have an automobile brand associated with cutting edge, interactive technology.

Customers can maximise their time by experimenting with and optimising their choices over the full range of the catalogue. They could do this at a retail location or – with the right equipment – at home. Then, having honed their choices, they can visit a bricks and mortar dealership as a virtually pre-selected customer. Elsewhere, PlayStation VR will be available in the UK in October, while in the US, more generically, it’s predicted that over 50 million headsets will be sold by the year 2020.

VR is not without its challenges

Customer experience is key. The technology must be robust, user-friendly and responsive in real-time. Unless VR – across the industry – delivers an impressive, immersive experience customers will simply see it as a gimmick. Let’s not forget the cataclysmic PR and financial damage done to Atari when it launched its ill-conceived and now infamous ET computer game.

There are also environmental factors to consider – the design and feel of the headset and issues around motion sickness. (Unreal Tournament, anyone?) System compatibility and integration – for both hardware and software – will be another hurdle to overcome, which would be best accomplished by industry standardisation.

The blended solution

VR’s limitation is that it can never be kinesthetic. Despite that, US used car dealer Vroom can offer would-be purchasers a virtual test-drive in a VR showroom, augmenting the experience with side-screen overlays.

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*The real thing – much harder to keep clean!

There’s no substitute for the real thing though. Autotrader’s research revealed that 88% of customers would not buy a car without test-driving it first. Vroom has understood this need and appreciates the value of a good brand story – it is offering potential buyers a free car for a week, no strings attached, though no doubt terms and conditions apply!

One thing is clear: VR is driving change in retailing, on and off the forecourt.