Digital Marketing & eCommerce Innovation Blog

Digital Marketing & eCommerce Innovation Blog

Augmented Reality and the Rise of Virtual Showrooms

Augmented reality (AR) isn’t a new topic and mporium covered its effect on the business environment in late 2015. Nevertheless, automotive retail trends have focused on revolutionising purchase journeys through the use of augmented reality and virtual reality, particularly in the last 24 months. Embracing augmented reality gives a brand the opportunity to put power in customers’ hands, giving the consumer a chance to truly see and experience a product. Augmented reality doesn’t only provide benefits for the buyer, however, as brands can in turn experience a boost in sales and a minimised number of product returns, laying out a healthy sales:returns ratio.

Two takes on offering an enhanced customer experience, but with different properties, can be seen from the likes of BMW to Skoda, indicating that this isn’t just a trend within luxury automakers. From augmented reality showrooms used to present products interactively to utilising AR to allow consumers to personalise and build their own cars, the wide-span opportunities offered by this technology play perfectly into the prediction that the AR market could grow to $90 billion by 2020, with over 60pc of consumers seeing clear benefits from a retail perspective, according to ISACA.

A number of augmented reality stunts in the automotive industry have been touted as “industry firsts”, with companies such as Land Rover seeing long-term implications and changes as a result of augmented reality:

“It is about making the buying experience as easy as possible for the customer. That could mean augmented reality slowly replaces showrooms to an extent as people can look at all the features of a car ahead of a purchase from their homes via smartphone and virtual reality headsets.”

Lauren Schwab, Marketing Director at Land Rover UK.

To demonstrate the progression and rise of augmented reality in the automotive industry, we chronologically look at some of the most successful executions of virtual showrooming and AR-fuelled purchase journeys:

CGI & Real Life Footage for the 500X [Fiat, 2014]

In 2014, Fiat produced a showcase for its new car, the 500X, using augmented reality technology that combined CGI with real-life footage, in what was claimed to be an industry first. Starring magician Dynamo, the virtual experience used a blend of real-life footage of the magician and the car with CGI, allowing viewers to sit in the car as Dynamo controls it. The roadshow aimed to increase awareness of Fiat’s new product in a way that would provoke word-of-mouth marketing. Combining a number of marketing tactics, such as live-streaming, 360-degree 3D AR and CGI, this immersive experience likely paved the way for automotive brands in the future.

Augmented Reality for the new Mustang [Ford, 2015]

To drum up interest in its latest Ford Mustang model, multinational automaker Ford launched an augmented reality app, allowing users to visualise the new car on their own driveway. Using the latest in visual marketing technology, the mobile app created a life-like size Mustang within whatever location the user directed their smart device.

Virtual reality showroom [Vroom, 2016]

With virtual reality headsets now more accessible for millions of households worldwide, online used car dealer Vroom sought to deliver a virtual showroom from which users could inspect vehicles and learn more about the models on offer. Giving customers the ability to hear engine sounds and visualise important components such as blind-spots eliminated the need for them to travel and test multiple cars at numerous physical showrooms.

Smartphone augmented reality [BMW, 2017]

Aiming to drive product sales, BMW has recently invested in smartphone technology that allows customers to view lifelike, three-dimensional models superimposed onto their view of the real world. More interactive than what has been seen in the past, customers will be able to open boots and doors, essentially “stepping inside” the augmented vehicle to such a degree that they can even turn on the radio.

The Future

Eric Johnsen, Head of Business Development for AR at Google, has said that brick and mortar stores have suffered from the increase of internet shopping, but augmented reality could help bring them back. Presenting virtual showrooms and demonstrations of vehicles using AR adds substance to the shopping experience. Websites may boast impressive pictures and product descriptions, but these are all flat and out of touch: how can a customer really know how that car will look on their driveway? Or how they’ll really feel in the driver’s seat? With AR and VR moving forward for a number of multinational brands such as Lenovo and Apple, the latter of which has acquired German AR start-up Metaio, the future of augmented reality is up for grabs.

Progression of augmented reality and virtual showrooming has come on leaps and bounds since Fiat dabbled in 2014. The continuous advancements in technology means that the automotive industry is on the cusp of something ground-breaking, with more experimental and immersive sales and marketing tactics imminent.  

Could virtual showrooms be the new route to completing product purchases? What do you think about the increased usage of augmented reality in the automotive industry? Get in touch @mporiumgroup

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