Car sales have fallen by 37% since the pandemic. Although it is easy to attribute this drop in sales to store closings, the truth is that the car dealership industry is far behind other sectors in digital transformation and was the one left in the dust when the coronavirus hit.
New opportunities come with every challenge. After a year without contact, big-ticket purchases via the internet have become commonplace. Car dealers have never had a better opportunity to redesign their sales funnel and build relationships with a wider, more diverse, more engaged customer base. Video conferencing is not the only way, as most dealers have done so. But immersive virtual experiences can be used that match and even exceed the experience of trying cars in-store.
Consider what the typical car buying experience is like for most people. They are led into a showroom that only has a few models. While the sales assistant explains the options, the children play with the cars and try to keep their attention. The kids then have 20 minutes to test the car out and decide if it is what they want before finalizing the purchase.
There would be no limitations on space in a virtual showroom. Brands would be able to share all of their portfolios, including older models. They could also tease new models and give people an opportunity to sign up for updates. This experience can be ten times enhanced by adding an Oculus headset. Customers can explore the unique mechanics of cars through VR, AR, and gamification. Customers can even have the opportunity to “test drive” them from their homes.
We are at an important point in the car purchasing economy. This is where we have the opportunity to sell EVs and autonomous vehicles. Virtual dealerships could provide additional information and content about each model. This would include the technical and environmental benefits. It also keeps people updated on this area’s latest trends and innovations. People prefer to be able to find the information they need and not be forced to. Brands must provide innovative solutions that enable this. This would be a great tool to nurture customer relationships and encourage repeat purchases for brands with cult followings.
Virtual capabilities can even make the test drive- perhaps the most important part- a lot simpler. It is unrealistic to expect the customer to drive to the dealership to make a major purchase decision based on a 20-minute test drive.
Customers could use a virtual dealership to pick up their car and deliver it to their home for a weekend-long test drive. This is something that Mercedes and Porsche were doing before the pandemic. Uber and Deliveroo have spoiled today’s drivers, so they expect the same convenience when purchasing a car.
Dealerships that don’t act quickly will lose a rare opportunity to be a leader in digital sales. I don’t advocate removing physical showrooms. The whole purpose of sales is to provide optimal customer experiences. Brands will be better able to achieve this goal by creating incredible virtual and physical worlds that merge.