The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about the world we live in. Some of those changes will, we trust, be temporary, while others look like they’re here to stay.

One such lasting change is the shift to digital forms of communication and purchasing. In the automotive retail sphere, this already covered a range of tools and offerings, enabling the customer to obtain a wealth of information, configure their ideal vehicle and make a purchase.

The virtual showroom is a recent development, and one that the pandemic has made more valuable than ever. Customers can speak to a representative of the brand, who will give them a tour of the car/s they are interested in and, ideally, provide them with advice that’s specific to them and their needs and desires. The idea is that the customer gets an interactive, responsive walk-round presentation from an expert, much like that they’d experience in person at a dealership.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Over the past couple of months, Meda has conducted a widespread ‘mystery shopping’ exercise to look at the virtual showroom offerings of a multitude of brands.

The findings are interesting, to say the least.

Some brands have an impressive purpose-designed offering, while others take place at a dealership and are simply a reflection of that dealer’s standards – whether good or bad. Some make it easy to see a car and speak to an expert. Others require a booking and the installation of specific software on the customer’s device. Others – well, you’ll have to call a dealership and see if they can make it work for you.

The power of the virtual showroom

Following our many virtual showroom visits, it’s clear that a virtual showroom offering must provide:

  1. Instant access – making it easy for the customer to speak to someone, wherever they are
  2. Information – about the car and the options available to the customer
  3. Insight – into what makes this car suitable for the individual
  4. Inspiration – building trust in the brand and encouraging the customer to take the next step
  5. Integration – making it easy for the customer to take a test drive, contact a dealership or get online to configure or buy
  6. Impact that lasts – not only on sales figures, but also on customer happiness.

With the automotive retail sector starting to look forward to an easing of lockdown restrictions, there’s a danger that brands and retail networks will ‘return to type’ and take their focus off virtual showrooms. That would be a big mistake, as surveys show that many customers have no intention of returning to their former buying habits.

So, rather than viewing the virtual showroom as a temporary requirement and reducing the scope of the offering, we believe brands should be expanding their virtual showroom offerings. Indeed, the advent of online sales models – whether for an entire brand (such as Lynk & Co) or for selected models (such as the Volvo XC40 Recharge P8) – means the virtual showroom will become ever more important.

The really powerful thing about virtual showroom offerings is that they can fit in to any customer’s journey; the tricky part is to ensure it can be offered in a seamless manner and that any insights gathered by the customer or by the brand are retained and used to provide a more personalised, rewarding experience for the customer. Too many brands view a virtual showroom offering as something that solely forms part of the ‘consideration’ phase – whereas it can also be, for example, a powerful post-purchase tool that enables brands to follow-up using a ‘familiar face’ or customers to check on a feature or understand the full benefits it provides.

Myriad success factors

The factors to consider are numerous and diverse. What software system is best? What vehicles should be in the virtual showroom? What specific skills and aptitude do the people working there need to have? How can we ensure the virtual showroom forms a valuable and integrated part of each customer’s journey? And what specifications should the virtual showroom have in order to work as well as possible?

With more than three decades’ experience designing physical automotive retail spaces and creating customer experience and culture change programmes, we know what’s required to ensure that your virtual showroom offering is as effective, integrated and powerful. Like to know more? Email max@experiencemeda.com.

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automotive, cars, Current, Experiences, future, Retail

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