Welcome to Spring 2019, Canada. Celebrate it by shopping for a Cadillac from your phone!
In a private Rosedale home, one of Toronto’s and Canada’s fanciest postal codes, members of the automotive media – mixing uncomfortably with luxury and tech bloggers (“Oil, meet Water!”) – are getting a sneak peek at a virtual first. Cadillac Live is a website where you can peruse and shop for a car with live human interaction rather than just those ubiquitous clickable configuration tools.
As of today, a live rep will walk and talk you through any Cadillac vehicle in a coolly decorated online lounge in real time. So, you can question qualified expert, but one who isn’t trying the hard sell, via the microphone and screen on your smartphone, laptop, PC or tablet.
No hard-sell but they do have a set of talking points, features that many shoppers would ask about anyway. If you don’t stop the rep with questions of your own, they’ll talk you through these greatest hits.
You can't complete the sale at Cadillac Live
Why can’t you complete the sale at Cadillac Live? “This is a brand experience,” we hear.
That’s the sort of answer that splits the room. While foie gras for the luxury bloggers, it leaves several auto writers mesmerized like deer in an XT4’s approaching cat’s-eye lamp glow. Oh, this is about the braaand.
A complete purchase could be something Cadillac Canada chooses to offer if this experiment goes viral. But for now, if you want to take the next step towards purchasing, the brand ambassador arranges an appointment at a nearby dealership.
So, let’s get this straight: a live voice walking you through the first step of the sales process? That’s it? Yes. In English or French. That’s it.
But it’s a first in the North American auto sector and is actually more novel than it may sound.
“Cadillac Live … is one part personal shopper and one part live interactive digital showroom,” says Natalie Nankil, Cadillac of Canada’s communications and brand activation manager. Let’s decode that. How does this thing work?
Don’t worry if you're shopping in your underwear
When the Cadillac spokespeople walked us through the experience, they assured us that GM’s technology only accesses your device’s microphone, not the camera. So, though you can see the Cadillac Live brand ambassador, they can’t see you. (Nonetheless, I’m leaving that electrician’s tape across my camera in case they get hacked by some pimply Ukrainian Elf Lord.)
Second, the service is mostly available in off hours. Meaning? The Cadillac Live Lounge is only open from Sundays till Thursdays, between 6pm and 2am. That’s when dealerships may not be open but you, Johnny Consumer, may finally have some time on your hands.
Say it’s 9 pm. The kids are in bed and your workaholic boss is attending a therapy session via Skype. It’s an ideal time to begin the long process that is shopping for a car.
To access this personal service, you surrender your email address. Now you begin your interactive session with one of eight hosts. If your live connection goes down – that happens even in Rosedale – they’ll email you a link to reconnect when you’re back online.
“And if you’re the ninth caller?” I ask. A widget appears with a countdown metre indicating how long till the next host is live. It’s one of those simple solutions that removes the stress of hearing “Your call is important to us. We’re experiencing greater than normal call volume.”
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If you prefer, you can conduct the live conversation via text
There’s a word-bubble icon in the bottom left of your screen. It’s part of this high-tech-meets-high-touch approach. That is, Cadillac is taking a luxury brand experience, your personal shopper, and mixing it with tech, delivered through your device.
Cadillac Live was created by Cadillac Canada’s digital marketing agency, Isobar, whose raison d’etre is “to craft meaningful consumer experiences.”
That physical end of that digital experience is a large studio, filled with Cadillacs displayed as though at an auto show, and staged “somewhere in the GTA” according to Hoss Hassani, the Managing Director of Cadillac Canada.
'Where in the GTA?' we all want to know. He’ll only reveal that it’s not in Oshawa’s rapidly emptying GM plant. But we assume it’s not Rosedale either.
When the lounge is live, one of eight attractive millennials in an austere navy blue and white quasi-uniform will show you any new Cadillac, outside or in, or under the hood. They have cameras mounted to their iPhones for that “live” feel.
I ask whether they’ll ignite the vehicles, because some shoppers really like the roar of, say, the CTS’s V6 engine, carbon monoxide poisoning be damned. “No,” says Hassani. But the rep will light the dials and screens during your live walkthrough and, as said, arrange your test drive at the dealer of your choosing.
What if you want to try Cadillac Live when it’s not open (i.e. not live)?
You can complete a form to arrange an appointment sometime later or watch pre-recorded videos of any given model (i.e. not live).
One hard-bitten and aging auto journalist wants to know if this service is just trying to appeal to those damned young people who love technology. (To be fair, I noticed that, at time of writing, if you visit the preview Cadillac Live site, the all-new Cadillac XT4 is the only model mentioned on the landing page. This entry-level luxury CUV does seem like a downtown condo dweller’s ride of choice.)
However, Hassani denies any generational fissure. He counters with the point that, these days, pretty much everyone begins (and shortens) their car-shopping journey online.
And that’s when the penny starts to drop in the room.
This service could easily become far more than some branding accoutrement. Like the experience of taking taxis was ripe for disrupting by Uber, the traditional car-buying experience could be even more ripe for revamping.
Think about it. When’s the last time you thanked someone with “That was as enjoyable as car-shopping!”
Potential for major reduction in sales folks
By easing the sales pressure tactics early, Cadillac may well find themselves able to ease them later too. Meaning? Consider how many on-the-floor sales staff dealers across Canada could axe if even a third of curious shoppers arrived with their specific questions already personally answered in detail ahead of time, holding their appointment card for a few minutes’ test drive next to their cheque book.
Potentially lower overhead in salaries … a potentially truncated mating dance between buyer and seller (time is money) … what’s not to love if you’re a dealer?
And if you’re Cadillac Canada, the investment in the hiring, training and staffing of Cadillac Live seems minimal for the learning that’s about to happen. This is an experiment, yes, and more.
“We’re watching it very closely.” Hassani acknowledges they’re ready to scale up in case the Live concept ignites like the aforementioned CTS couldn’t. He also suggests, “we’re not the only ones watching this very closely.”
Which led to my final questions. This concept could be huge. But in her invitation to learn about Cadillac Live, Nankil said she’s been working towards launch of the service for two years.
Two years! That’s longer than a generation in the tech world, where being first often means being number one forever. I wanted to know, wasn’t Cadillac Canada nervous someone else would steal their idea and launch such a service first?
But we were being rushed out. Our hour-long sneak peek had evaporated already.
Cadillac flexes its marketing muscle to be first
Another set of bloggers and auto writers was filling the next room, denuding the Rosedale-quality snack table and clear-cutting the open bar. I sent the questions next day.
“Anytime you’re onto a big idea that answers an unmet need, there’s the risk someone will beat you to the punch,” Hassani admits via email. “That said, Live is an expensive endeavour to do well [my italics] and a potentially provocative concept, and there aren’t many luxury auto brands in Canada that have either the autonomy or the resources to pull this off well.” Provocative, indeed!
And why did it take two years to build? Try it yourself: if the Cadillac Live website isn’t live now, you can explore the lounge with 360-degree maneuverability; zoom-in and -out; click on buttons to watch videos, etc. You can also pre-book your Live session. But the entire experience doesn’t seem to boast any new tech that your 14-year old niece couldn’t configure between the quarters of a Raptors game.
“It didn’t take two years to build,” Hassani explains. Instead, it “was a matter of prioritizing all of the other activities … that commanded resources and attention. But we always came back to Live because we knew it was the right thing to do, and every time we did, we discovered a new element to refine.”
Ah, yes. All those sudden and last-minute what-ifs that invade any entrepreneur or gambler’s sleep. “Until finally we realized it was now or never, and we also concluded doing it ahead of our product onslaught made ultimate sense.”
Onslaught of product? Indeed. As you may have read here, the all-new XT4 launched just months ago. The 2020 XT6 arrives this summer. With more on the immediate horizon, the Live reps could well be busy throughout most nights. Stay tuned.