The Future is Now: Car-Shopping With Virtual Reality

In the past, showrooms were the only way to get useful information and be able to examine a new car thoroughly before buying it. Today, most car shoppers do the majority of their research online and make their purchases without seeing the item in the real world.
Potential car buyers can sometimes spend months reading professional reviews, customer reviews, and watching videos to narrow down their purchases. When they are ready, they simply select the dealer that offers them the best deal to complete their purchase.

Virtual reality offers an enhancement to today’s car shopping experience. VR can be used at home by consumers, or in the showroom to showcase models, features or colors that aren’t available in that location.

Will Virtual Reality Car Shopping be the Future of Showrooms?

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality car showroom apps are emerging as a powerful trend. A spokesperson from RelayCars announced that once the app was released to the general public, “we pulled in over 1.2 million downloads”. This demonstrates the kind of demand and interest that’s driving online and virtual reality car sales.

Potential buyers not only can see a car model but as things progress in this field, they will likely be able to fully customize their desired car and share those customizations with dealers.

Customers can view every angle, get inside the driver’s seat virtually, learn about the specs, and in some cases, can even take the car for a virtual test drive.

If dealers are willing to follow in Tesla’s footsteps, online orders could be the new future. Tesla gets around the ‘hands-on experience’ factor with its more lenient returns policy. This allows the public to shop for the model they like, order it, and then take it for a test drive after it’s delivered. If they later discover they don’t want the car, they can return it (within a strictly limited period) for a refund or to change to another model.

With customers turning up to dealerships fully informed and ready to buy, there is also a lot of time saved on the dealer’s side. Hours spent explaining features and following up with sales calls are unlikely to be as needed. Instead, the dealer can focus on closing the sale and not the entire buildup to the sellable stage of the process.

The Virtual Reality Car-Shopping Process

Most buyers are going to start out by doing online research. Some might have a car in mind, but most will likely be looking for the best versions of a particular style. For example, they could search for something like “top 10 compact SUV 2020” to find the best-rated options as reviewed by professionals. They might also talk with friends and family for ideas and insights.

Once buyers start to narrow down which cars they are most interested in, features and reviews are going to start to have a strong influence on the car they choose. This part could include car comparison charts, reviews, videos, and virtual reality experiences. The challenge is to determine which car is a good fit for the buyer, within budget and with all the features they desire.

According to Think with Google, the majority of digital shoppers buying cars prefer to use their mobile phones to do research:

“When researching new cars 90% of buyers in Kuwait used their smartphones and 86% in the UAE.”

This kind of statistic is not uncommon, as more people prefer to relax and shop from digital devices, or even shop on the move. Mobile shopping trends have been increasing steadily for years, and of course, this fits in perfectly with virtual reality sales.

Virtual Reality showrooms offer a ‘polished’ approach to displaying vehicles. Video reviews and articles are good, but they are always from the opinion of the author, even if they do try to stay fairly neutral. Many modern and informed buyers know that reviews are often biased, or even a paid promotion for a vehicle.

With virtual reality, buyers get an honest and neutral experience. In a virtual reality showroom, the buyer can see exactly how the car looks in the real world. Some AR apps even allow buyers to place the vehicle in their street or where they choose. Not only can buyers see the vehicle close-up from all angles, including viewing the interior in full virtual reality, but they can interact with other statistics and options as well.

VR is a powerful way for buyers to see and interact with cars without visiting a showroom and without a biased sales pitch. In this sense, it helps to increase buyer confidence and makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.

Once a buyer finally chooses the car or cars they like, smart shoppers will then look for promotions and offers. Dealers need to be ranking high in search results, as this part is also likely to be mostly done online before visiting. Even negotiations begin online nowadays, with AutoTrader reporting that “56% like to start the negotiation on their terms and 45% like being anonymous to the dealer until they lock in a deal.”

Finally, the buyer may decide to visit a nearby dealership or simply order online. This, for dealers and buyers, makes the purchasing process clearer, informed, and faster at the ‘in-person’ stage — a win-win for car buyers and sellers.

Are VR Sales Good for Dealers?

It might first appear that virtual reality could be taking opportunities away from dealers and their sales teams. However, that isn’t really the case.

First of all, virtual reality can be used as a tool for dealers to show off any model, with any trim level, and in any color… all without needing to have the vehicles in stock. This can be done in showrooms, at trade events, or just about anywhere.

The end result for dealers is that they can provide a better experience to shoppers, while also not needing to keep as many vehicles in stock. Happy customers are also more likely to make a purchase, and needing less stock should result in reduced costs.

At the end of the day, most people that do visit a dealer will at least start their car buying journey with online research. If the virtual reality car shopping experience is good enough, they may not even visit a showroom and instead simply order online.

Another angle that is often overlooked is the data these apps and VR experiences can provide to dealers. The interaction within virtual reality could lead to more focus being given to important car features or highlight app/car features that were detrimental to making a sale. This data can then be used to develop better experiences for customers, and make the entire buying experience more enjoyable.

Will it Affect Showroom Jobs?

Some areas of the showroom and staffing may be reduced or eventually disappear, but other positions will be created in relation to developing and promoting virtual reality car shopping platforms.

It is also unlikely that showrooms will completely disappear in the near future, as showrooms act as real-world reminders of car brand names. Dealers will likely want this to continue, even if in more compact or modernized showrooms.

Virtual Reality is Making Customers More Aware

Having accurate and unbiased information changes how purchases are views. An ‘upsold’ car can later turn out to be a disappointment. However, if a buyer chooses to buy a car after seeing and checking all of its flaws, the same car can turn out to be a pleasant surprise.

Sales figures could potentially be increased with the use of VR and AR as marketing tools. Dealers can provide their own virtual online experiences to potential buyers. As more and more people switch to online shopping, virtual reality and 360-degree videos are great ways to attract attention to your products.

VR helps buy not only providing a full 360-degree view of cars but also by highlighting and explaining all of the features and functions. This allows potential buyers to spend as much time as they need to really get to know the car.
VR and AR headsets can be powerful sales tools, inside and outside of showrooms. As technology has progressed, many VR or AR experiences are now possible with just a mobile phone. Affordable headsets can turn mobile phones into mobile-powered virtual reality devices, making virtual reality accessible to almost anyone with a modern phone.

Will Car-Shopping with Virtual Reality be the Future?

VR and AR are likely to continue to grow in usage by the automotive industry. This approach delivers a balanced and honest view of vehicles to buyers, and in turn, provides an improved buying experience.

Many major brands are already online, with their cars being showcased in virtual reality. However, there is no reason only to use dealership virtual reality apps. Others are providing car shopping with VR in ways that allow consumers to compare vehicles in a standardized environment. This helps with comparing sizes and getting a sense of making ‘real world’ comparisons.

More VR and AR innovations are sure to develop over the coming years. These uses by the automotive are an exciting and developing twist to the virtual reality marketplace.