Mercedes-Benz has introduced a “Digital Showroom” for shoppers to avoid visiting bricks and mortar car dealerships.
While some buyers enjoy poking, prodding and testing their next car purchase, many are daunted by the idea of pushy – and sometimes patronising – salespeople.
Benz’s new initiative invites prospective customers to link up with a product expert via a one-on-one video conference. It’s one-way video only – you see a live stream from the expert’s phone but they can’t see you.
Their phone is mounted on a stabilising gimbal and the customer is guided on an interactive 360-degree tour. You can request to see things like boot size, leather seat finish and how the infotainment works.
“Many people don’t want to talk to a bot, they want to talk to a real person,” said Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis.
“They want to see around the car but after doing so much research at home they won’t (feel the need) to go into a dealership.”
While other car companies have trialled augmented reality to show off vehicles, Mr Stamoulis believes this personal touch is an industry-first.
During Covid lockdowns, the one-on-one video conference proved a successful tool for real estate agents walking potential buyers through homes. It seems logical for the car industry to adopt the process.
Those interested in a new Mercedes can select their preferred model, schedule an appointment and connect to their video session for a “tour of all the features and benefits”.
It’s a free service, with no obligation to buy. Naturally, if the customer likes what they see they can configure and order online, or book a real-world test drive before making a decision.
On our visit, the studio had the two most recently-requested models: the new GLC SUV and all-electric EQE sedan. It was based at Mercedes’ Melbourne HQ, so they were able to rotate vehicles to suit requests. Want to see the C-Class instead, or even compare two models side-by-side? They’ll roll the desired cars into position.
Mercedes says it has proved particularly useful for those considering an electric car – Mercedes will have eight different EVs on sale by year’s end.
“Many are experiencing an electric car for the first time, so they may think a question is silly, but in the Digital Showroom they’re more comfortable asking it,” says Mr Stamoulis.
Mercedes-Benz dealerships may be less happy with the Digital Showroom, as it potentially reduces their importance further.
The brand is in the midst of a battle with dealers after it cut them out of the sales process and introduced a factory-direct, no price haggling model.
The luxury brand followed the no-negotiation policy of Tesla, Genesis and Honda: instead of dealers buying cars from Mercedes and onselling them at a mark-up, customers pay Mercedes directly, either online or at a dealership.
The Benz dealer network voted overwhelmingly to reject the new “no-haggle” model when it was mooted in 2019, but to no avail.