Automakers are looking for new ways to sell cars while consumers change their shopping patterns to adjust to social-distancing norms in the COVID-19 era. Car sales took a hit, especially in the early months of the pandemic, but this month there have been signs they are starting to pick up. Car sales rose 4.8% year over year in September, the first such increase since February, according to the Associated Press. Sales were down in total year over year in the third quarter, but were seen rebounding from the second quarter.
A recent survey from TrueCar, a group that studies auto consumers, found that 33% of shoppers reported visiting fewer dealerships during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 41% of car shoppers said they would be encouraged to work with car dealers that “allow them to configure their deal online.”
“Although concern over virus exposure is ebbing, shoppers still desire a comprehensive online shopping experience,” TrueCar said in its latest report.
Enter Google, with a new way to check out cars virtually. Consumers can tour the vehicles in AR, and zoom in on the interior to reveal “intricate details like buttons on the dashboard,” Google said.
Augmented reality has become standard technology in phones, after it was first popularized by Snapchat, where consumers have played with AR filters in video selfies for years. Snapchat has also worked with automakers like BMW to design AR cars that render 3D in their ads.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and other platforms have been working on AR products, too. Apple’s latest iPhone 12, which launched on Tuesday, is equipped with a more-powerful sensor known as LiDAR, which improves the functionality of AR apps.
At its event, Google also announced new search capabilities that make it easier to shop with Google Lens. There was a demonstration showing how people can take a screenshot of a style of clothing found online and then click to search for similar items for sale.
In another demo, Google revealed “hum to search,” which claims to be able to listen to even an off-key hum from the user and find the right song.