At a private dwelling in Toronto, we’re introduced to, and given first-hand experience of, the new ‘digital showroom’ that Cadillac Canada feels will engage online shoppers like never before.
It’s a shade after 9pm in Rosedale, one of Toronto’s wealthier residential areas. In the private, multi-million dollar home that’s been generously offered as the venue for tonight’s event, I’ve just sunk myself into a leather-backed couch in one of the two main living rooms. It’s svelte, and only minimally accented with two brightly latticed scatter cushions, but it’s so absurdly comfortable, I’m genuinely worried I’ll leave the lower half of my body behind when I try to stand up.
To my left, through the floor to 12ft-ceiling French windows, and half-shrouded by over-hanging eucalyptus trees and mid-evening darkness, there’s a balcony of several dozen square feet that overlooks a private pool. To my right, just in front of a private side-office complete with pristine glass table-topped desk and an ergonomic chair, a ‘Cadillac’-monikered sign motions the home’s occupants – a generous mix of lifestyle and motoring journalists – to a nearby Charcuterie table.
Almost out of nowhere, and with all-too well-practiced grace, the gentleman in charge of this evening’s open bar sidles up to ask whether I’ll be having a glass of the house white or sampling something from the local craft brewery. To avoid scuffing the meticulously polished hardwood, everyone has been provided with a pair of plush back-less slippers, and there’s enough soft ‘background’ jazz being piped through a surround sound system I’ve yet to locate that, for a few moments, I forget I’m actually here for work.
The atmosphere is about as homey as you can get. But then, that’s exactly what ‘Cadillac Live’ was designed for.
‘Cadillac Live’ is an attempt by Cadillac Canada’s digital marketing agency to reinvigorate car shopping for the company’s more, ahem, ‘time-starved’ prospective customers.
Conceived and developed across two years, ‘Cadillac Live’ is an attempt by Cadillac Canada’s digital marketing agency to reinvigorate car shopping for the company’s more, ahem, ‘time-starved’ prospective customers by creating a purpose-built film studio that can only be accessed online. Fire up ‘Cadillac Live’ with your laptop, iPhone or tablet, and you’re invited to speak one-on-one via video chat with one of the brand’s Agents, who’ll walk you round any model of your choosing, give your POV detail shots of the vehicle in question, and answer any questions you might have. All from the comfort of your own home, or in this case, someone else’s.
“We know that consumers want to do research online when shopping for cars, and they want to have their questions answered before they go to a dealership because they’re time-starved,” explains Cadillac Canada marketing and communication manager James Nash, who’s also sunk into the couch. “They don’t want to go from showroom to showroom, so giving them the answers they want through this experience was critical to this success. We wanted customers to have an in-depth brand experience without having to leave their office or living room.”
As he explains the ins and outs, other James busies himself with an iPad so we can get a sneak peak of this trial service first-hand. ‘Trial’ being the operative word. Cadillac Live will be available to everyone in Canada, but has so far only been launched in Toronto. The service itself is only available between 6pm and 2am, Sunday to Thursday, or ‘down time’ as it’s being called. The public are not allowed physical access to the digital studio either: so tight is the lid being kept on its location that we’re only told it’s “somewhere in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area]” in hushed precautionary tones. All to ensure that this digital ‘brand experience’ can be enjoyed at our leisure.
It’s a neat concept, one that doesn’t replace the conventional showroom (even if you’ve found the model of your dreams, you still need to head to the dealership to discuss figures and push paperwork around) but does remove the hair-ripping aggro that comes with online configurators and switchboards. Okay, you’ll still need to hand over your email address to gain access, but you won’t stumble across too many salesmen reeking of snake oil on this particular digital showroom floor.
The service itself is only available between 6pm and 2am, Sunday to Thursday, or ‘down time’ as it’s being called.
There’s method to this apparent laziness too. According to Google, and gladly shared with Cadillac Canada’s marketing materials, twice as many car buyers start their research online rather than at a physical dealership, and more than half of all online shoppers will abandon a purchase if their questions aren’t answered quick enough. Such figures, and the almost exhaustive knowledge that comes with being a petrolhead, puts quite a lot of pressure on the Live agents themselves. James assures us though that all eight of the bilingual agents currently on duty – of the 22 in total – have been specifically trained for this kind of rapid turnaround.
“There is absolutely nowhere to hide with this,” James continues as a pop-up widget appears on his iPad, informing us that one of initiative’s eight Live agents – Fareed – will be ‘with us in just a few moments’ (a helpful feature if, for instance, you happen to be caller number nine. “Training was a month-long process out in Oshawa, and that included homework assignments. There’s also training on how to use the Osmo – they have a chest strap, so when they’re holding the rig facing themselves, they can hold the camera steady – and how to do the walk around of the vehicles, all to make the customer experience the best it can be.
“We really want the customer to be in the driver’s seat of the experience and lead the agent. But if they don’t, the agents are ready. They know where to stand and how to present the vehicles from the best angles. I’m sure we’re going to get stumped here or there with some questions from hardcore car fanatics, but our agents have gone through rigorous training and they know their product knowledge. There’s an app on the iPhone X they’re using too, so they’re able to get information when needed.”
As promised, Fareed appears on the screen in ‘just a few moments’ on the dot, he and his seven colleagues rocking a Cadillac-brand blue suit, white shirt and matching sneakers, and the brand’s logo pinned to his lapel (I’m suddenly very aware of my on-loan carpet slippers). Prompted, he is soon walking around the Auto Show-style lighting gantry and half-enclosed seating area to fill in both other James and I on the XT4’s all-wheel drive ‘Smart’ chassis, available Active Sport Suspension, and hands-free power lift gate. He can’t fire up the turbocharged four-cylinder unfortunately – starting an engine indoors is rarely a good idea – but did we know that the 2-litre unit produces 237hp and 258lb ft of torque?
Two points should be mentioned here. Firstly, although Fareed can hear us through his two-way Bluetooth audio headset, the iPhone X camera affixed to Osmo Mobile gimbal he’s using is not: we can see him, but he can’t see us. For those of you who’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be guided round a Cadillac showroom in your boxer shots, this, mercifully, is the closest you’ll ever get without being put on some kind of register.
We really want the customer to be in the driver’s seat of the experience and lead the agent.
The second is the ‘showroom’ itself. It’s been specifically designed look more like a Cadillac stand at the Auto Show than a traditional dealership. And it looks fantastic.
“It’s a 10,000 sq ft studio, and it was basically just a blank space when we went in there,” James explains. “One of the critical things we had to do from a showroom perspective was to nail the lighting. You want the cars to really stand out and pop. So the arches that we see, they were designed to provide optimal lighting. I would say that was the biggest hurdle that we overcame, but I think the vehicles really stand out. And that’s a big space. It has 10 vehicles in there today, three XT4s, three XT5s, two Escalades, a CTS and a CT6, and these could vary based on customer demand. If we’re getting a lot of questions on the XT4, we may bring in a fourth or a fifth model. We have space to expand the showroom.”
“Also, we can see the Agent, but the Agent cannot see us. That’s very important. We may evolve that, but the thought behind this was that customers want to shop from different places. They may be at their office, they may be at hockey practice, or they might be at home in their pyjamas. This just gives the customers their privacy, but still allows them to feel like they’re in a showroom and be immersed in the product.”
Unfortunately, as is the want of WiFi technology even in Rosedale, and just as Fareed is explaining the ins and outs of the sixth gen “Apple CarPl…”, the screen freezes and our network disappears. In fairness, we’re currently one of four different sessions trial straining the house’s router.
For an online-only service like Cadillac Live, connectivity issues are a concern, but not one without back-up. Just a few moments pass before Fareed texts us a link, asking if we’d like to try reconnecting and continue our chat. Or, if we prefer, we can continue via text, through which our agent can answer questions and send images as requested.
“We’ve gone through a lot of testing with the platform, and we’re confident with the way it works today. We’ll be ready if there are issues that come up that we haven’t foreseen, and we’ll be ready to tackle them as quickly as we can. But we believe we’re in a really good position from a tech perspective.”
One of the critical things we had to do from a showroom perspective was to nail the lighting. You want the cars to really stand out and pop.
WiFi-related problems aside, it’s a neat system, and one which, if all goes well, Cadillac is already looking to expand. Every six months hereafter to 2021 after all, the company will be launching a brand new model, meaning increased interest, heightened online browsing, and, feasibly, a lot more work for Cadillac’s Live agents. Those of you scoffing that this is just a fad might want to bear in mind too that many thought that an App-dependent business like Uber could never overhaul the humble taxi rank…
And though exclusive to Canada for now, this is a service that could oh-so-easily translate overseas. Just as all agents are fluent English-French speakers in Canada, so too could agents in the UAE speak with Emirati and British/American customers in the Middle East. In a city like Dubai that boasts a rich night-life, that’s enveloping North American sensibilities more and more, and would surely welcome with open arms an online service that bolsters its already strong car sales? It’s a no brainer, and it seems only a matter of time before select markets in the United States are implementing Cadillac Live too.
Given this long-term plan then, I can’t help but wonder: why launch in Toronto?
“There are two big reasons. Canadian consumers are different to consumers in other parts of the world as they’re very digital and tech savvy, and they’re spending more and more time online. So they’re really looking for human interaction online as well, and Cadillac Live delivers on that. It really empowers the consumer to take the shopping experience into the comforts of their own home, office, gym, wherever they have internet connection, so we know that they’re going to adapt to a platform like this quickly.
“Secondly, having the studio located in the GTA really gives us the best opportunity to scale it. Toronto’s a very diverse city, there’s a lot of really great talent in the city, and there’s lots of studio space. So as other countries see what we’re doing and we want to scale it, we can do that very quickly.
“This is the first of its kind in North America, and we will be moderating the surveys very closely and watching the comments come through. We want this to be a platform that’s used around the world in different languages. We know there’s opportunities, whether it’s from an augmented reality or a virtual reality perspective, so our ultimate goal is to expand and evolve it, based on customer feedback and technical development.
“We really do think we’ve hit on something here.”