The car buying journey has evolved over the years. In the past, automotive consumers visited an average of five dealerships before deciding which vehicle to purchase. But now, consumers complete many of the steps of the car buying journey online rather than at dealerships.
Today’s automotive consumers go online to gather information, conduct research, compare and contrast different models, and narrow down their options. As a result, the modern automotive consumer only visits one or two dealerships before purchasing a vehicle. Furthermore, most consumers have already decided which vehicle they want and are ready to buy once they arrive at a dealership.
To remain competitive, automotive companies must adapt to this sudden shift to a digital car-buying journey. This is why many automotive companies are moving toward virtual reality car shopping experiences.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is technology that can be used to transport users to simulated environments. You aren’t simply looking at a different environment on a screen. Instead, the technology allows you to leave the real world behind and become fully immersed in the simulated environment. The technology even allows you to interact with different elements in the new environment.
You may need a special device such as a headset or pair of goggles in order to experience virtual reality technology. Some of the most popular virtual reality devices include the Oculus, HTC Vive, and the Sony Playstation VR headset. However, you can access some virtual reality experiences with just your smartphone.
Many people confuse virtual reality with augmented reality, but these are two distinct technologies. The former takes users to a completely new, simulated environment, whereas the latter does not. Instead, augmented reality allows users to enhance their real-world environment with images, sounds, and other digital elements.
How is Virtual Reality Used For Car Shopping?
The two main ways in which virtual reality is used in the car-shopping process are:
- Virtual Showrooms
- Virtual Test Drives
Automotive dealerships can use virtual reality technology to create virtual showrooms to showcase their inventory. A virtual showroom is just like a real showroom, except it exists online. Automotive consumers can visit a virtual showroom to explore the interior and exterior of a vehicle, rotate it to see it from different angles, and walk around it just as they would if they were actually inside a dealership’s showroom.
Virtual showrooms can eliminate the need for consumers to travel to dealerships in order to see vehicles in person. Inside a virtual showroom, consumers can carefully examine vehicles and compare and contrast different models to help them reach a purchase decision.
Thanks to virtual reality technology, consumers will feel as if they’re standing inside a showroom at a local dealership rather than shopping for a vehicle online.
Virtual Test Drives
Test drives are very important to automotive consumers. According to the 2021 Global Automotive Consumer Study, nearly two-thirds of consumers still want to take a test drive of a vehicle before purchasing it. In the past, these consumers may have needed to travel to a dealership to test drive a vehicle. But now, virtual reality gives these consumers the opportunity to test drive multiple vehicles without ever leaving their homes.
A number of automotive manufacturers are already using virtual test drives to make it easier for consumers to shop online for new vehicles. A consumer can take a virtual test drive of any vehicle model using only their computer or smartphone. They can see how the vehicle drives and what it feels like to sit behind the wheel before making a purchase decision.
Using virtual reality in this manner makes the process of taking a test drive easier, faster, and more convenient for both the dealership and the consumer.
What Are the Benefits of Virtual Reality Car Sales?
The virtual reality car shopping experience can benefit both automotive consumers and dealerships. Some of the many benefits include:
- Lowers Overhead Costs
- Creates A More Convenient Shopping Experience
- Increases Sales Staff Availability
- Widens the Customer Base
- Improves Customer Satisfaction
Lowers Overhead Costs
Many dealerships are hesitant to invest in virtual reality technology. Although it requires an upfront financial commitment, it’s important for dealerships to realize that this technology will save them money over time by lowering overhead costs.
Dealerships spend thousands of dollars per year on transporting vehicles to their showrooms and maintaining the vehicles until they are purchased. However, the use of virtual reality technology could drastically reduce or even eliminate these expenses.
Virtual showrooms and virtual test drives could eliminate the need for dealerships to keep a large number of vehicles on-site. Instead of keeping these vehicles on-site at all times, dealerships could choose to only transport them to the showroom once they have been purchased online. Automotive dealerships could even choose to transport the vehicles directly to the customers’ homes instead of the showroom.
Not only would this reduce transportation and maintenance expenses, but it would also allow dealerships to operate out of smaller spaces, which means they could save money on rent and other operating expenses as well.
Creates A More Convenient Shopping Experience
Most automotive consumers would agree that shopping for a vehicle online is far more convenient than shopping for a vehicle at a dealership.
According to a recent study, nearly half of automotive consumers are unhappy about the amount of time it takes to purchase a vehicle from a dealership. Automotive consumers currently spend an average of three hours at a dealership when purchasing a vehicle.
However, moving the car buying process online would drastically reduce the amount of time that consumers spent at dealerships, which would make the entire process more convenient. Even if consumers could only complete some of the purchase steps online, such as exploring vehicles in a virtual showroom, they could reduce the amount of time they spend at a dealership.
This isn’t the only reason why shopping for a vehicle online is more convenient than shopping for one at a dealership. The use of virtual reality technology allows automotive consumers to start the car buying process on their own schedule from the comfort of their homes.
This means they could technically explore a virtual showroom or take a virtual test drive at any hour—even if it is outside of the dealership’s standard operating hours. There’s no need to waste time traveling to dealerships—the entire process takes place online.
Increases Sales Staff Availability
The use of virtual reality technology could lead to increased sales staff availability, too. Sales representatives typically work one-on-one with customers who visit dealerships in-person, which means they usually only help one customer at a time. But if customers start shopping for vehicles online, this could free up a lot of time in the sales team’s availability.
Digital automotive consumers may need online assistance from a sales representative throughout their car buying journey. For example, a customer may use a live chat feature on the dealership’s website to ask a sales representative a question about a specific vehicle they see online.
But even if a sales representative must step in to provide help, they can still help other customers at the same time. This is because online shoppers typically won’t require a sales representative’s undivided attention. So sales representatives would be able to serve multiple customers at the same time, which means they could potentially sell more vehicles.
Widens the Customer Base
The traditional car-buying experience only allows dealerships to serve customers who are living in the immediate area. This is because customers must visit dealerships in-person in order to buy a new vehicle, and they typically only visit dealerships located nearby.
But the use of virtual reality technology could help dealerships widen their customer base. If customers are able to virtually explore and test-drive vehicles online, they won’t need to visit a dealership in-person before buying a new vehicle. This means virtual reality technology could give dealerships the potential to serve customers from around the country. Serving a wider customer base would give dealerships the opportunity to sell more vehicles and increase their profits.
Dealerships aren’t the only ones who benefit from this, though. Automotive consumers also benefit from being able to shop online at any dealership regardless of their location. This would make it easier for automotive consumers to find the exact vehicle they want. They would no longer be limited to choosing from the vehicles that are in stock at local dealerships.
Improves Customer Satisfaction
One of the reasons why so many automotive consumers want to take the car buying process online is because they aren’t satisfied with the traditional dealership experience. In fact, one survey found that 87% of consumers disliked at least one aspect of the process of buying a car at a dealership. Some of these consumers reported feeling anxious or uncomfortable at dealerships, whereas others felt like they were frequently taken advantage of when visiting automotive dealerships.
The use of virtual reality car shopping could eliminate the need to visit a dealership to buy a car. This would please the majority of consumers who are unhappy with the dealership experience, which means it would improve overall customer satisfaction.
To put it simply, using virtual reality technology to create a digital automotive shopping experience would give consumers exactly what they want when it comes to buying a new vehicle. For this reason, it’s safe to say that virtual reality car shopping will become increasingly popular in the years ahead.