TORONTO — A pilot project that Porsche AG began with Porsche Centre Oakville in Ontario allows customers to view automobiles at the dealership without physically being there. It could be the next big breakthrough in buying automobiles online in Canada.
Located about halfway between Toronto and Hamilton, the store was chosen last August by Porsche’s global head office to become the first Canadian location to test the system, called Go Instore.
The company’s website has a banner called Live Video Chat that connects customers to a concierge, who then connects the call to the sales department. Sales staff, wearing headsets and a smartphone, provide live walkarounds of the vehicle. The customer, who is not seen, can ask to be shown specific features or details of the car.
“It’s the difference between sitting at your desk and taking a phone call versus approaching a customer who is walking into the showroom and wants more information to potentially purchase a car,” said Porsche Centre Oakville Dealer Principal Francesco Policaro, who is also CEO of Policaro Automotive Family.
“We’re still educating our customers. It’s not technology that is commonly used. A customer that is going online isn’t necessarily looking for that as a way to communicate.
“This is a hybrid of the two. It’s well received, and we love the innovation. It’s kind of pushing the boundaries of where this industry is headed and how customers want to be communicated to.”
He said the number of video calls his dealership would conduct compared to internet leads or phone calls or walk-ins to the showroom is still relatively low.
Nicole Trivieri, Porsche Centre Oakville marketing coordinator, said the Go Instore feature gives customers an exclusive look in a different way.
“A lot of shopping, whether it’s for clothes and now automotive, is being done online, so it’s giving you that personal, high-end luxury shopping experience for a vehicle and putting it into a virtual twist,” she said.
Ajeet Kapila,who has been selling cars for 15 years, said the new system is an example of communicating with customers who have sourced the dealership for a specific car, especially with used models, but don’t have the time to visit the centre.
“I’ve personally done it a couple times with clients looking at pre-owned vehicles that might live a distance from here,” Kapila said. “With pre-owned cars it’s a unique vehicle. I’ve had a client from Ottawa looking at a used [Porsche] Boxster and I did a virtual walkaround on the vehicle for him so he could see it up close, see the car in motion and in detail while he’s making his purchase decision. He made his decision without even coming into the store. He made it off of the walkaround.
“What we represent is what it’s going to be,” Kapila adds. “I got close-ups of any stone chips on the car for him. He knew exactly what he was getting. There was no surprise when the car was shipped to him. Whether it be a colour combination or the options, we can’t put an order into a pre-owned factory and get a car.”
Kapila said he’s worked with clients from across Canada, including one in British Columbia interested in a 2012 911 Turbo Cabriolet, and shipped a 2008 911 Turbo Cabriolet to a customer in Ohio.
He said it has taken some time to become accustomed to this type of consumer engagement.
“Any new technology or any new process always takes some ramping up,” he said. “You’ve got to keep innovating and doing new things. It’s good that way.”
Kapila estimates he does a live walkaround tour about once a week. He said when customers first saw the banner on the site they might have expected a virtual tour instead of someone communicating directly.
“It’s also getting the customers educated and used to it [the technology] as well,” he said.