With the avalanche of new digital technologies and engineering innovations, passenger cars have been undergoing tremendous evolution. However, the retail experience and touch points of buying such cars are still very much the same as it was decades ago. This is true not just in India, but also in many developed markets. Accenture studies how augmented reality and artificial intelligence are likely to alter the retail experience in the automotive industry.
New age customers strongly feel a huge difference in the brand experience between the company’s website and apps, and the real experience they get when they visit the dealership eventually. Leading global players have been sensing these challenges and are recognising the pulse of new age, digital, millennial customers. These insights are compelling the automotive industry to invest in omnichannel customer touchpoints, in which augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) will play a critical role.
OMNICHANNEL CUSTOMER TOUCHPOINTS
Store of the Future
It is no surprise that future car showrooms could have no physical inventory, but would be filled with virtual cars that buyers can explore and customise in real time. Unfolding a state-of-the-art purchase experience, dealerships and stores will let customers explore through an array of digital merchandise. A smart application embedded in any hand-held device, will act like a virtual showroom, which potential buyers can visit to visualise the desired model, experience its augmented version and check if the specifications and features are aligned to their preferences.
This looks implausible, particularly in an emerging market like India, but this is already being executed by a few trendsetting OEMs in different parts of the world. Recently, a leading German car OEM launched the first AR dealerships, which allows its customers to view the cars with AR technology. Using a smartphone, potential buyers can view and interact with a virtual car as it were. They can bring images from catalogues, billboards and advertisements to life, change colours, scan the interiors and learn more about the models. Similarly, an UK-based OEM unveiled a prototype of an immersive car sales application. This prototype demonstrates how augmented reality can revolutionise the shopping experience for consumers by allowing them to view and interact with a full-scale virtual version of the car.
Another leading luxury car OEM has packed hundreds of millions of vehicles into a single iconic showroom experience, where customers can assemble their dream car with an intuitive touchscreen interface and finished models are ‘swiped’ to a power wall, where full-scale digital representations can be explored in a 360-degree digital environment.
From “Assisted” to “Autonomous” Store Experience
Leading OEMs are not just limiting themselves to virtual realities and catalogues, but are also making their in-store purchase experience on par with the analytics engine behind an online portal. A popular US-based OEM with a large focus on electric vehicles (EV) is streamlining the purchasing process in its brand-owned stores to function like an online store. The company’s leadership wants to replace its salespeople with “product specialists” and its stores to become more “intuitive”, thereby making the store experience autonomous, as opposed to an assisted one.
AI-Driven Swift and Convenient Purchase Channels
A lot of car buying decisions are now made online. As technology advances, it is evident that digital is going to impact the car dealer’s traditional sales functions, and in some cases, might even potentially substitute them. For example, a SUV brand in India has recently launched its vehicles first through e-commerce platforms to create buzz and exclusivity. For today’s drivers, purchasing a car is like buying any other consumer product – a swift, convenient and cost-effective exercise in online self-service, and that too with personalised alerts and interface. This is where AI can make a huge impact. For instance, a US-based OEM’s online shopping tool is aimed at attracting customers, who want to handle the best part of their car-buying process outside the dealership. Another OEM in Brazil is trying to bring the dealership to customers’ home with a “Live Store” that connects people to auto experts in real time.
Be Aware of “The Digital Paradox”
Automotive OEMs are aware that despite the online enthusiasm, car buyers still seek a personal touch. A recent Accenture study reveals that 60 % of all digital natives visit the dealership more than twice before making a purchase. In comparison, only 47 % of digital laggards do the same. Thus, the role of physical showrooms or dealerships becomes increasingly critical in future. Future showrooms might not just sell cars, but other services from automotive OEMs such as shared mobility or data services like any internet and telecom company.
By 2021, there will be over 635 mn internet users in India with a large majority accessing data on smartphones. Hence, digital technologies will certainly have a greater significance in attracting, engaging and influencing the Indian auto customer’s car buying experience. Undoubtedly, this will have a huge impact on the automotive company’s operating model, i.e., investment in technology, new relationship patterns with dealers, investment in own brand stores, working closely with technology suppliers, and re-skilling the workforce. Auto companies in India should keep in mind that a greater part of the new generation auto lovers in India yearn for innovation; thus, making it important for them to deliver newer, engaging and exciting customer experiences, by integrating digital technologies such as AI, AR, VR and so on.
PAUL SUNDAR SINGH is Senior Manager, Products Technology – Industrial Lead at Accenture Advanced Technology Centers in India.
ABHISHEK GUPTA is Manager and Automotive Research Lead at Accenture Growth and Strategy.
BHARGAVI VEDHA is Application Development Analyst, Products Industrial Industry at Accenture Advanced Technology Centers in India.