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An inside look at how immersive technologies can bolster online sales

What tools and technologies can help auto brands and dealers compete online? By Kosta Popov

The behavior of automotive consumers is changing rapidly. Nowadays, more and more car buyers prefer to carefully study and compare offers from different automakers and dealers online and only then will visit the dealership. According to McKinsey’s study, over 80% of new-car and almost 100% of used-car customers now begin their journey online. Consequently, dealers often have just one chance to attract and keep consumers’ attention, encouraging them to visit the dealership.

To create a ‘wow’ effect and get consumers to a test drive, car dealers’ websites need competitive advantages like immersive technologies. These technologies make the online car research experience more interactive and bridge the gap between online and offline. Immersive technologies for the automotive industry include online car configurators, 3D visualisations of vehicles, demonstration of cars in augmented reality, and virtual test drives.

A range of tools and technologies can help auto brands and dealers compete online.

3D configurators of new cars

Online configurators allow consumers to configure every car option and visualise how it would look in real life. Today, most users configure their cars on a car dealer’s website and visit the dealership only for a test drive or to make the final decision. That’s why almost all well-known auto brands provide consumers with an opportunity to configure a car on the website. 3D configurators help car dealers attract customers to the offer, involve them in the car research process and encourage them to make a purchase.

Abarth virtual test drive
Abarth delivered a VR headset pre-loaded with ‘test drive’ footage and a pair of Bose headphones to offer the ‘test drive’ experience during COVID

An initial pilot of the real-time 3D configurator on saw user engagement increase by 66% compared to the traditional 2D solution, along with increased satisfaction ratings across a range of qualitative KPIs. The pilot also led to an average 9% increase in additional feature selection per vehicle. The partnership with ZeroLight, a company that provides solutions to create 3D-configurators, resulted in a significant uplift in the average online basket value. Thomas Orenz, Global Lead Digital Content and Virtual Reality at Audi AG, pointed out that the real-time 3D user experience drastically improves over typical 2D experiences.

It’s worth noting that creating a 3D configurator requires manual 3D modelling. That is a time-consuming process: creating a high-quality 3D model of a vehicle will take multiple days. The process is also expensive, and 3D modelling of one car will cost over US$500. That’s why 3D configurators are mostly used by auto brands and the biggest car dealers.

3D/360-degree visualisation of new and used cars

3D/360-degree visualisation of a car helps consumers see it from all angles of perception and examine tiny details. Many auto brands provide consumers with an opportunity to examine cars in the 3D/360-degree format. For example, Porsche consumers can view a car model from any angle and interact with it, turn the headlights on and off, or open the trunk.

To create a ‘wow’ effect and get consumers to a test drive, car dealers’ websites need competitive advantages like immersive technologies.

A 3D visualisation of a car increases online car buyers’ engagement. According to Spincar, a company providing solutions for 3D demonstration of vehicles, a consumer spends one-third more time on the web page with a 3D image than in an offer with flat images. The conversion of interactive web pages is higher than those with 2D images by almost 50%.

An opportunity to examine a car from all angles is especially important for used car buyers. In this case, creating an interactive visualisation using manual 3D modelling is useless. Used car dealers should pay attention to the services allowing them to create a 3D image of a car without a 3D model. For example, using the 3DShot mobile app, car dealers can create an interactive demonstration of the vehicle using a smartphone. To do so, they need to open the app, circle around the car, and the app will automatically create a 3D view of the vehicle. The result can be embedded into any website like a YouTube video.

CarSwitch and willhaben are among the first car marketplaces to provide buyers with the opportunity to inspect vehicles in the Cappasity 3D View format. Now car sellers can easily create interactive 3D demonstrations of their cars using only a smartphone and attract more potential buyers to their offers. A 3D View of a car helps consumers examine it as they would offline and notice all its visual defects. The ability to zoom in allows the buyer to see chips, dents, and scratches on the vehicle and make an informed purchase decision. By embedding a 3D visualisation of a car into an online catalog, a car dealer will attract consumers’ attention and encourage them to visit the dealership. Moreover, high-quality 3D demonstrations of used cars on a car dealer’s website will help the dealer build trust with clients.

Car demonstration in augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is the technology that enables users to place digital objects into real-life environments. The technology opens many opportunities for car dealers. For example, it helps car buyers imagine how the vehicle will look in real life, and examine its dimensions and exterior. AR technology is a great way for auto dealers to grab and keep consumers’ attention and get them to a test drive.

A great example of using AR in the automotive industry is Porsche and Google’s joint project on the Mission E Augmented Reality application. With the app, consumers could place a 3D model of the new Porsche Mission E (Porsche Taycan) into a real-life environment using a smartphone screen. The app allowed the user to see different views of the Mission E concept study, virtually place it in a room, and select their preferred colour. It was also possible to go on a test drive using augmented reality in the interactive driving mode. AR technology became a part of the marketing strategy and helped to create the ‘wow’ effect and attract consumers’ attention to the electric concept car.

Porsche Augmented Reality App
As part of a collaboration with Google, Porsche has developed an augmented reality app which shows the new Porsche Mission E

Virtual test drive

Virtual test drive is a relatively new service from car dealerships and gained popularity in Europe and the US during quarantine when it was impossible to organise a real test drive at a car dealership. The Italian racing and road car maker Abarth launched the world’s first virtual reality test drive delivered to homes. A VR headset is delivered to the customer’s home to experience the Italian sports car brand from their sofa. While nothing will ever compare with test driving in the real world, the VR test drive provides customers with a fully immersive and exhilarating alternative.

Immersive technologies’ impact

Previously, many car dealers used online sales to attract potential buyers’ attention, but now e-commerce can become one of the leading sales channels. The experience of car dealers using immersive technology has proven that interactive content helps dealers stand out in today’s competitive online car market. Immersive technologies attract new customers, create a new online car research experience, and motivate consumers to visit the dealership.

About the author: Kosta Popov is Chief Executive and founder of Cappasity, which provides an easy and scalable platform for creation, embedding and analysis of 3D and AR/VR content

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