James Browne argues that dealerships must act now to blend physical and virtual worlds to create optimum experiences for potential customers
Since the pandemic started, car sales have dropped by 37%. It’s easy to blame this drop in sales on store closures, but the fact is the car dealership sector is way behind other sectors when it comes to digital transformation, and this is what really left it in the dirt when coronavirus struck.
With all challenges, however, come new opportunities. Thanks to a year of no-contact, making big ticket purchases over the web has been normalised, and cars are no different. In fact, there’s never been a better time for car dealers to reinvent their sales funnel to facilitate relationships with a broader, more diverse, more engaged audience. Not through video conferencing—which is the extent to which most dealers have gone so far—but through immersive virtual experiences that not just match but surpass the experience of trialling cars in-store.
With EV and autonomous vehicle development accelerating, we’re at a crucial point in the car buying economy, and opportunity is ripe to make sales in this arena
Think about what the traditional car purchasing experience looks like for most people. They are ushered into a showroom which includes just a handful of models from which to choose. They struggle to pay attention to the sales assistant’s pitch whilst the kids dab mucky fingers over the freshly polished cars. They then have 20 minutes to test out the car and see if they like it before making the second biggest purchase of their life.
In a virtual showroom, there would be no space constraints. Brands could not only share their entire portfolio, including older models, but even tease upcoming models and offer people the opportunity to sign up for updates and generate leads ahead of launch. Add an Oculus headset into the mix, and this experience is enhanced tenfold. By leveraging VR, AR and gamification, customers can experience exploded views and better explore the unique mechanics of the cars (safety, performance, sustainability). You can even offer the chance to ‘test drive’ them without stepping outside their living rooms.
With EV and autonomous vehicle development accelerating, we’re at a crucial point in the car buying economy, and opportunity is ripe to make sales in this arena. A virtual dealership could act as the gateway to additional high-level content and information around each model, such as the technical and environmental benefits, and keep people informed of trends and innovations in this arena that aren’t even available yet. After all, people like to find information themselves these days, rather than being force-fed, so it’s up to brands to provide intelligent solutions to enable that. For brands with cult followings, this would also be a fantastic tool for nurturing those customer relationships, by creating a sense of inclusivity that encourages repeat purchases.
There’s never been a better time for car dealers to reinvent their sales funnel to facilitate relationships with a broader, more diverse, more engaged audience
Utilising virtual capabilities could even make test driving—perhaps the most important part of the process—a whole lot easier. Expecting the customer to drive to the dealership and make a significant purchase decision based on a 20-minute test drive is seriously outdated.
With a virtual dealership, customers could enjoy a ‘click and collect’ service where they simply pick the car they want before it’s dropped at their house for a weekend test run, something the likes of Porsche and Mercedes were already doing prior to the pandemic. Service convenience is everything in today’s world—something the next generation of drivers are spoiled with, thanks to the likes of Uber and Deliveroo— and the same level of convenience will very soon be expected when buying a car as well.
If they don’t act now, car dealerships will miss a unique opportunity to catapult themselves way ahead in the digital sales game. I’m not saying get rid of physical showrooms altogether. But the whole point of sales is to create optimal experiences for customers, and brands will be in a much better position to do this by creating amazing physical and virtual worlds that blend together.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
James Browne is Director at 4 Roads
The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact [email protected]
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