The auto industry, like many others, has been dealing with change after change over the past decade, and dealerships and sales managers have had to dig through a whole lot of hype just to get a handle on where things were actually headed. Now, just when things seemed to settling in a clear new direction—Internet and mobile-based outreach and marketing with a high emphasis on information and customer service when customers finally arrive on the lot—a new technological specter has appeared on the horizon.
Virtual reality and augmented reality, two closely-related technologies that use digital media and innovative new hardware to provide full sensory experiences to users, are the new hot item, promising to revolutionize practically every industry and the world as we know it. While we’re excited by the things virtual reality can do in the worlds of entertainment, medicine, and many other fields, when it comes to car buying we’re not ready to buy into the hype.
And frankly, neither are consumers.
Cars can’t be fully experienced in a virtual world, and consumers know it. According to a recent report from eBay Motors, among buyers 18-29—the age group most likely to use other new technlogies during the car buying process and in other areas of their lives—only 21% of consumers are “interested” in using augmented reality as part of their vehicle vetting system. Compare that to more than 70% of ALL buyers who already use mobile devices to search for and research cars and dealerships, and to the more than 90% of Millennial buyers who use the Internet as a major source of information when car shopping, and it’s clear that VR has a long way to go before it makes a real difference to dealerships.
And that time may never come.
The fact is, you’ll never be able to experience actual reality via a virtual setting. Even if we could plug directly into consumers’ brains and make them think they were sitting behind the wheel of a new car, they’d be getting an idealized and computerized version of the driving experience, not the actual experience of driving the specific car they’re interested in. Knowing this, consumers are unlikely to trust virtual test drives when car shopping—they might make for awesome video games, but they’re less entertaining as part of a major purchase.
Video “test drives” offer the same real information that could be gleaned from a VR test drive, without the needless difficulty, expense, or hype of a VR system—they give you a chance to reach out to consumers with media-rich details about the vehicles they want without requiring huge investments with little to no payoff potential.
Don’t let virtual reality/augmented reality send you on a wild goose chase for the next big thing in automotive marketing and sales. Stick with the technologies that have proven successful with today’s and tomorrow’s car buyers, and build a profitable dealership on real consumer help rather than high-tech hype.