How virtual reality is changing automotive retail

2016 is the year of virtual reality. With Goldman Sachs predicting the value of the industry to reach $80 billion by 2025, the number of devices entering the market is only set to continue rising, delivering a multitude of unique, fully immersive experiences. According to Digi-Capital, VR’s immediately addressable market is digital entertainment, with a number of games and 3D films already gaining traction.

Such forecasts fuel predictions that entertainment will be most people’s first entry into VR. However, the technology is also driving influence in commercial retail, particularly with high-value purchases such as cars. Automotive retail is undergoing its own revolution as digital displays and touch screens start to enter dealerships, giving customers configuration tools and digital exploration options at their fingertips.

VR is the ultimate expression of this trend, digitising the showroom, giving customers a sense of presence, engagement and freedom with a virtual car that screens simply can’t. The immersive technology allows customers to experience a digital car in the ultimate fashion, sharing the same virtual space and possessing absolute control over its configuration, actions and view. Beyond the enhanced customer experience, brands utilising VR in this way are benefiting from opportunities to align themselves with one of the most innovative and exciting technologies to date.

ZeroLight are the world’s premier providers of automotive visualisation and have integrated virtual reality – PC and mobile – as part of their overall omnichannel

The automotive industry is seeing the benefits of investing in VR first hand, providing experiences in stores, at events and to support global car launches. ZeroLight are the world’s premier providers of automotive visualisation and have integrated virtual reality – PC and mobile – as part of their overall omnichannel. They are the only firm in the automotive space to have deployed high-quality commercial VR solutions for their clients, which include Audi, Pagani and Toyota, alongside cloud and screen solutions.

Audi’s critically acclaimed VR experience was revealed earlier this year, and is being deployed to dealerships and special installations around the world including their Munich Airport outlet. When customers put on the VR headset, they are transported to a virtual environment where they can digitally explore and configure a vehicle from Audi’s stable. The detail delivered by ZeroLight’s technology is unmatched, a necessity when working with complex objects such as cars.

Toyota’s recent use is in the promotion of its new C-HR. Starting in the driver’s seat, users experience the interior before climbing out of the vehicle to examine and customise the exterior, a feat made more impressive since the car is still yet to be produced, demonstrating a valuable use-case for VR in the industry.

The uptake of VR as a medium to engage automotive customers is driven by changing consumer trends. Customers are arriving at dealerships more informed than ever, carrying out extensive research online beforehand. As a result, 75 per cent of the automotive customer journey takes place online. In line with this behaviour, total visits to dealerships in the UK from 2010 to 2015 were down by 15 million.

Dealerships are no longer a place of discovery, but one of validation. Dealerships must differentiate their approach to stay relevant.

Personalisation is the answer both brands and consumers are looking for. By empowering a consumer to tailor and experience a potential purchase, barriers relating to taste and preference are removed. Such experiences and empowerment give people a reason to visit and VR takes this to the next level, placing them in unique and immersive 3D environments to truly experience their new purchase.

VR and other forms of store digitalisation are allowing brands to set up locations in high-footfall areas, delivering their entire product range digitally for consumers to explore. Such an approach is changing the entire automotive retail sales model, shifting the focus from a salesman-led, product-centric approach to an expert-led, customer-centric experience.

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