Personalised one-to-one video consultation is an “industry-first initiative” for potential customers to explore vehicles with a product expert, all through your smartphone.
Mercedes-Benz has answered the prayers of car buyers not keen on visiting a traditional car dealership.
Some fear the hard sell from pushy salespeople, or being patronised when asking seemingly basic questions, especially when it comes to the very new world of electric vehicles.
In response, the luxury brand has launched its Digital Showroom, where potential buyers book a time to view a Benz of their choice with a product expert.
You connect to a one-way video call with a proper human being (but they can’t see you), and the expert live streams a personalised 360-degree tour of the car to you, responding to any requests or questions you have.
It’s a free service, there’s no obligation to buy and there’s the option of booking a real-world test-drive at a dealership.
While convenient to potential buyers, it reduces the opportunity of face-to-face contact between a dealership and customer.
With Mercedes-Benz dealers already having their roles changed when the German brand moved to a national fixed-price sales model last year, the Digital Showroom is unlikely to be warmly welcomed by all.
It’s very similar to how real estate agents operated during Covid. Potential home buyers couldn’t personally view a home during lockdown, so they’d have an agent walk them through a house on a personal video call.
In Benz’s Digital Showroom case, you go to its website, select the vehicle model you’re interested in and book an appointment time.
When it’s your turn, you’re linked through to the product expert at Mercedes-Benz Australia’s Melbourne HQ, where they have ready access to all models in its current line-up. Your selected car will already be in the studio, and the expert has their phone mounted on a stabilising gimbal showing you their view.
The expert can hear you but not see you – the customer’s camera is not engaged during the consultation – so you can request to be walked around and through the car, then focus on key aspects you’re interested in.
For example: “Show me how big the boot is.” “Sit in the back seat so I can see the leg room.” “Is that screen standard equipment on this model?” “Show how I plug the car in to a household socket.”
Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesperson Jerry Stamoulis said that due to Covid, more people were doing car research at home rather than visiting a dealership.
“There’s a group of people that won’t go into a dealership, they just want to talk to someone,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to a bot, they want to talk to a real person.”
Visit the Mercedes-Benz website and you’ll see the overwhelming choice of models and variants.
Additionally, the brand will have eight fully electric vehicles in its line-up by year’s end– EQA, EQB, EQC, EQV, EQE sedan, EQE SUV, EQS sedan and EQS SUV – with many Benz customers unfamiliar with these EVs and how they compare to combustion models.
“Everyone has the first time they’re experiencing an electric car, and may think (what they ask) is a silly question,” said Mr Stamoulis. “Some may find it harder to ask these questions face-to-face in a showroom, something simple like how do the door handles pop out, or how do I plug it in? It’s easier to ask in a video consultation.”
During our visit to the Digital Showroom studio, the all-new GLC SUV and new electric EQE sedan were in situ. “The EQE has been our most requested car because it had been the newest, but since last week it’s been the (new) GLC,” said Mr Stamoulis, remarking that the service had been operational since February.
“If we don’t have the car (the customer requests) currently on display, we’ll bring that in,” he said. “Fortunately, where we are (Mercedes Australia HQ), we have most of our cars here.”
We were told the Digital Showroom can have up to 16 customer bookings per day (9am-5pm Monday to Friday), with consultations lasting up to 30 minutes. A customer could request to see two Mercedes vehicles side-by-side to compare, such as a GLB versus the new GLC.
Some may use the Digital Showroom just for research well ahead of a potential purchase, but others could immediately configure a vehicle in their choice of colours, trims and options, and search for existing stock.
You can organise a test-drive, or jump straight in and order a car online.
In addition, customers who have recently bought a new Benz could have a product expert go over specific functions via video conference, rather than return to a dealership.
Mr Stamoulis said the Digital Showroom was a local decision by Mercedes-Benz Australia, and he wasn’t aware of something similar globally, or from other brands in Australia.
Volkswagen Australia, for example, offer a virtual showroom where you can view a chosen car in augmented reality, but there’s no human-to-human contact as with the Mercedes initiative.
Mercedes’ Digital Showroom may prove resource enough for some to commit to buy without visiting a physical dealership.
“We’re already seeing people make orders straight away,” said Mr Stamoulis. “It could just be one more question they want to ask (in the Digital Showroom).”
In 2022, Mercedes-Benz followed the lead of Tesla, Genesis and Honda by moving to a fixed national price sales model, despite well-publicised push-back from its dealers.
Where previously dealers would buy vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and sell them to customers with a mark-up, customers now pay Mercedes directly through a dealership or directly online.
It means there’s no haggling involved and Mercedes dealers don’t compete with each other price-wise to secure a sale.
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