The Augmented Reality Showroom: Where Imagination Meets Reality

According to Statista, the augmented reality and virtual reality market is expected to exceed $30 billion in 2021. The technology is used in the gaming world (like Pokemon Go!), in the beauty industry (preview cosmetics), in home design (preview paint colors in a room) and throughout the automotive sector.

All these sectors and industries share a common use of augmented reality: the augmented reality showroom. This unique showroom is where imagination meets reality. Consumers can use their real world environment and preview products. Cars appear in living rooms, lipstick color sweeps onto lips, and living room walls are painted in any color of the rainbow (and beyond).

The augmented reality showroom can aid shoppers on their hunt for perfection and, for some business, maybe it even leads to fewer returns. After all, if shoppers can see an item on their faces, their rooms or even in their garage, the decision to click buy may become less intimidating.

An augmented reality showroom option also could heighten the user experience while shopping. Augmented reality showrooms can transform the seemingly flat online shopping experience into something that is immersive and interactive. If a website offers an augmented reality showroom, shoppers may play with the technology for a while…instead of clicking through the website and moving on.

The site UsabilityGeek stated in a headline that augmented reality was “the shiny new toy syndrome.” Although the site noted that the technology could lead to “obsessive use.”  And, when used in retail, “…people have started making unplanned purchases- all thanks to the tech’s influence.”

How is the automotive sector leveraging this type of tech-heightened experience? And how do augmented reality showrooms aid new car buyers? Let’s look at the impact of augmented reality in the dealership realm.

Augmented Reality Showroom

The Covid Crux

The impact of Covid on the automotive sector was devastating. Not only did the pandemic affect production, but it also impacted dealerships. The Drive reported that Ford, General Motors and FCA all ceased production during Covid; production plants shut down for several weeks in Ford plants to ensure proper cleaning and sanitation. Car and Driver reported that Subaru shutdown through early April (2020), Daimler closed for two weeks (starting in late March 2020), and Toyota suspended production through early April 2020.

CNBC reported that Ford’s Chicago plant had to close twice when some workers tested positive in May; the closures were brief. In addition, CNBC reported that Ford’s Dearborn Michigan plant also had to be shut down briefly (in May) after positive cases were confirmed.

Ford wasn’t the only automaker impacted by the spread of the pandemic.  General Motors had to take on quite a juggling act when workers were out sick or in quarantine because of exposure. Fiat Chrysler and Ford took on temp workers.

While car sales are now rebounding, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) reported that new car sales in 2020 finished with 14.46 million units—a 14.7 percent decrease from 2019.

How Dealerships Responded to Closed Doors

When shoppers couldn’t get into the physical location, how did businesses survive? Many had to pivot to online sales, and this transition may have been harder for car dealerships. Traditionally, the new car buying experience involved consumers visiting dealerships in person to check out different cars on the lot.

New car shopping was very much a tactile experience. Shoppers opened doors, sat in the vehicles, played around with the features and took their favorite models out on the road for a test drive. Duplicating this experience required a bit of creativity.

Before Covid, dealerships often offered photos of car models or used cars from their inventory online. Some dealerships might have provided photo slideshows that depicted these cars from all angles and gave shoppers a glimpse at the interior. The online experiences likely varied per dealership.

During Covid, online experiences likely were a means of survival. Shoppers now had to limit their visits to dealerships…if they could even visit the dealership at all. While augmented and virtual reality showrooms were offered pre-Covid, during the pandemic these tech-savvy features might have increased in popularity.

Shoppers needed a way to duplicate the in-person experience. Two-dimensional photos likely weren’t enough to provide the visual insight of the car. Dealerships responded with interactive showrooms that heightened the user experience.

Augmented Reality Showroom

Augmented Reality Showrooms: Cars in the Living Room

Dealerships may have offered virtual or augmented reality showrooms to provide online buyers with more detail about the cars offered in the dealership. While virtual reality showrooms transport shoppers into a virtual realm to preview vehicles, augmented reality showrooms overlay graphics onto a real-world environment.

Virtual reality showrooms could be accessible through online portals or with the aid of virtual reality headsets. All vehicles and details in a virtual reality showroom are graphic depictions. That is, nothing in virtual reality uses any real world data. While the vehicles are virtual designs, they are completely accurate in their detailed simulations of their real-life counterparts.

Augmented reality showrooms exist in various iterations. Many augmented reality showrooms—including RelayCars AR showroom—allow shoppers to integrate a graphic depiction of a specific vehicle into a real world environment. Using an app (in the case of RelayCars), users can use their camera to focus in on any area of the home or outdoor space. Then the car of their choice is dropped into this environment. The car can appear on a bed, in the living room or maybe in a garage.

Augmented reality showrooms may allow shoppers to switch out elements of the car to preview different looks. Perhaps paint hues can be changed. Or maybe different features of the car can be examined. Often, shoppers can peek inside the vehicle for a glimpse of the interior and its features.

Manufacturers and companies offering augmented reality showrooms may tailor their experiences differently. For example, Ferrari’s augmented reality app works in the physical showroom. The shopper can swap out colors and look at the inner-mechanics of the vehicle.

The augmented reality showroom offered by RelayCars lets shoppers experience all different types of makes and models. The user can experience various vehicles in their own environment. These experiences can be a way to preview different cars but it also can help the consumer get acclimated to the idea of a simulated experience. Augmented reality showrooms require no special glasses or goggles, although users do typically need to utilize their smartphone or tablet camera.

When physical dealership showrooms may have been closed to shoppers, the virtual and augmented reality showrooms offered online and via apps helped shoppers research cars and get an up-close look at their favorite models. When they found the cars that topped their wish list, they could contact the dealership and inquire about test drives. Some dealerships may have allowed the entire car buying transaction to happen virtually or online.

How Does Augmented Reality Help Shoppers After Covid?

While the Covid vaccine is rolling out to the most vulnerable populations, soon the entire country will have a chance to receive the vaccine. The world may return to the old normal, but Covid also may have left an imprint on the shopping experience.

Augmented reality showrooms existed before Covid. And after Covid, these offerings could remain popular for those who prefer to begin their shopping process online. Augmented and virtual reality allows the consumer to preview products at home, without commuting to a store, fighting traffic or dealing with crowds. Convenience could be a big perk of this tech.

For car shoppers, augmented reality showrooms may help narrow down the wish list to a few favorites. Maybe seeing that SUV in the garage pushes the model higher up on the list. Even color preferences could change thanks to this tech. In the dealership, sometimes not all the available colors may be on the lot for buyers to see. Augmented reality showrooms, though, often let buyers switch out paint hues. That dark plum paint job could be the must-have hue, even if it wasn’t even on a buyer’s radar!

Shopping for a new car could become a mix of real-life and virtual/augmented reality experiences. Virtual and augmented reality could be used for pre-buying research, with only the top models being investigated by consumers in the physical dealership. Augmented reality showrooms combined with other tools offered online by dealerships could greatly aid buyers in finding deals and their favorite cars.

Augmented reality showrooms when combined with online customer service experiences could further ease the hunt for a new car. Dealerships often offer virtual customer service assistance via their website, and these virtual assistants can answer questions that buyers may have as they search for a new car.

Even after Covid has dissipated, the virtual and augmented platforms that many buyers relied on to simulate the real-world experiences may continue to impact, aid and simply the task of shopping for a new car.