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Automakers turn to augmented reality to combat falling showroom visits

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As people turn to the Internet to make purchase decisions rather than visit a showroom, how can car manufacturers sell their vehicles effectively?

A survey conducted in August by Autotrader.com found that millennials -- the next generation of buyers -- are more likely than Baby Boomers to rely on word-of-mouth research. In addition, they are far more likely to go out of their way to avoid talking to dealership staff.

"Millennials view the dealership as a key piece of their research process -- they're looking for experts to help answer their questions and to touch and test out the physical car before making a purchase," Isabelle Helms, senior director of Research and Marketing Analytics said. "That said, millennials want time and space to make the right decision, and will value the salespeople who provide the information they seek in a no-pressure way."

As a result, showroom visits have fallen in recent times -- giving automakers less opportunity to tout their wares. In this kind of retail climate, manufacturers have begun to embrace technology by taking the showroom to the buyer.

Cadillac and Toyota are among the car makers that are exploring the benefits of augmented reality -- a way to embed images and videos in a picture viewable on mobile devices. This can give a viewer a three-dimensional view of a car, with far more detail than standard images which includes additional information on a model.

Cadillac introduced a campaign last year which allowed readers to download an app in order to view models in 360 degrees, and Audi has used the technology within brochures and instruction manuals. Toyota now uses augmented reality in advertising campaigns through computer-generated 3D figures.

One firm cashing in on the change in marketing is Venice Beach-based Specular Theory, which creates car renderings that allow "users to open the doors of a car that is not really there, peer inside and roam around, or take a test drive, merely by running their fingers over a phone or tablet screen," according to the New York Times. The company creates campaigns that can be spread across mobile devices, PCs and showroom floors, allowing dealers to project and modify 3D versions of their vehicles.

Augmented reality can serve as a powerful tool, especially as millennials often come to showrooms knowing exactly which car they want after reading reviews and researching options online. Mr. Chung, the general manager of Magic Toyota and Scion, commented:

"Many younger buyers no longer even test-drive a car before buying it. The consumer is no longer coming in and looking at 10 colors. They've seen all 10 colors online and know what they want."

Via: The New York Times

Image credit: Flickr

— By on September 2, 2013, 12:01 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure