The goal of this project was to apply ubiquitous computing to enhance or improve a social environment. Our team chose car dealerships for this project knowing that many people seem to dislike their experience at the dealership. There was no shortage of stories about poor service, untrustworthy salespeople, and lack of helpful information from our peers to support our decision. We aimed to address the uniquely challenging social interactions while providing helpful information to prospective buyers.
Our initial surveys netted over 500 responses in under a week, primarily from car buyers, but surprisingly we received a few responses were from car sellers. We found that buyers feel overwhelmed, disconnected, and pressured. The majority of our feedback from buyers was that they wanted to eliminate the salesperson altogether. Seeking the other side of the story, we traveled to nearby car dealerships to speak while car salespeople across a wide range of manufacturers: Honda, Smart, MINI, BMW, Hyundai, WV, Jaguar, Toyota, and Fiat. Our plan was to act as if we were buying a car, taking test drives, and even discussing financing, to immerse ourselves in the experience. Despite our assumptions, at the dealerships we discovered salespeople were surprisingly helpful and willing to answer questions without pressuring for a sale.
Using what we learned from our field research, we developed 12 storyboards that used ubiquitous computing to improve the dealership experience in different ways. Our storyboard panels walked through a basic scenario involving technology that ranged from car vending machines to virtual cars. We gathered feedback in speed dating sessions where each idea is presented for only a few minutes. After speaking with salespeople and prospective car buyers, we selected one storyboard and built a more detailed scenario for our prototype.
We decided to focus on using technology to help the customer and the dealership at the same time. After testing different ways to apply ubiquitous computing in the dealership through speed dating, we decided to prototype a smart table with smart objects. Unlike usual typical prototyping mediums, however, we would create a video sketch of how the technology would function. We headed back to a nearby MINI dealership to act out our scenario then compiled into the video below.
This project was quite challenging given that all the stakeholders wanted different outcomes. Buyers seemed to want to eliminate the salesperson altogether, while the salespeople insisted that they were there to help. Our solution seemed to address both sides by allowing the buyer the opportunity to chose their level of interaction with the dealership. Many potential buyers that saw the video seemed eager for this technology, so we decided to go beyond the project requirements and we presented our idea to a few folks at MINI. We were ultimately told that it would make salespeople redundant and our conversation ended there. I still think our solution improves the car buying experience, though perhaps not as much for the dealer.