The Evolution of the Virtual Showroom

The consumer experience is rapidly changing, as users demand faster service with minimal steps in between. Everything is becoming simplified, from hailing a taxi to paying at Dunkin Donuts, so it’s not surprising that the rise of Virtual Reality is hitting industries in interesting ways.

One of the few products that consumers truly need to get their hands on and see in person are automobiles. There is nothing that can replace walking around a dealership, but what if you could replicate that experience without a used car salesman?  

That’s what online car sales startup Vroom is doing with a series of pop-up VR showrooms across the country. As most potential customers don’t have an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive at home, Vroom is opening up a series of demo stations that allow users to virtually walk around a car lot, view specs including real-time price and availability, and even go on a virtual test drive. Once “inside” the car, a simulated test drive is accomplished by superimposing pre-recorded video and audio on the windows, similar to a “green screen” effect.

Online brands like Vroom are entirely dependent on evolutions in technology to improve the consumer’s journey. Depending on the product, the added convenience of being “online only” is offset by a lack of precision.   

Consumers keep finding ways around this dilemma, mostly to the detriment of brick and retail stores. Amazon customers, for example, might not feel comfortable making a final purchasing decision without seeing a product in person. Thanks to the lower-price provided by being an online retailers, millions are using Best Buy and Target as showrooms to try out products before making their final purchase on a competitor’s website.

But what if there were a way around this “Showroom Effect”? What Vroom is going with virtual reality is attempt to take away the only middle-man left. When an online retailer can own the customer journey from beginning, middle, and end, they have effectively closed the loop, rendering brick and mortar competitors irrelevant.  

There is always an easier and faster way of doing things. Calling a restaurant over the phone to order delivery evolved into online ordering on individual websites. Seizing this opportunity to deliver a unified interface, Seamless and Grubhub launched, which now looks complicated compared to the ease of ordering a pizza by texting an emoji. 

Even if shopping in virtual reality is not a game-changer for the automotive industry, this won’t be the last time that the role of brick and mortar retailers will be threatened by advances and innovations in consumer shopping.