As you work to increase exposure for your online listings and drive more traffic to your store, a mobile version of your website may be just the tool you need. Consumers increasingly access the mobile internet, and a growing number of companies are responding with mobile-specific sites that put information about their products and services in the palms of their hands. Just like their traditional online counterparts, these sites are designed for conversion: click-to-call functionality and email links allow in-market shoppers to contact you and take the next step toward a purchase. Let’s look at who you’ll reach through the mobile internet and what you’ll need to do to establish an effective presence.

Look Who’s Shopping

These days, a mobile site for your dealership is evolving from a nice-to-have component of your advertising mix to a must-have tactic. Approximately 90 percent[i] of American adults own a mobile phone, and one in three mobile subscribers in the United States pays for internet access – an increase of 28 percent from the first quarter of 2007 to the same period in 2008[ii]. Among these users, the majority constitutes the very audience you want to reach: 76 percent are aged 18 to 54[iiii].

To help our advertising dealers and manufacturers reach these shoppers, Cars.com in 2007 launched a mobile version of the Cars.com website. While traffic to the site has remained steady throughout the week, monthly page views have skyrocketed – growing 250 percent from February 2008 to 8 million last month[iv]. Of note are the new audience the site reaches (i.e., 30 percent of visitors had never been to the traditional Cars.com site[v]) and the 39 percent of Cars.com mobile visitors who access the site from a dealer’s lot[vi].

Marketing to the Mobile Customer

Complementing your online advertising with a mobile internet presence does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. Automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com offer products that can quickly connect you with on-the-go shoppers by optimizing your inventory for web-enabled cellphones and portable devices. Whether you work with an outside vendor or choose to go it alone, here are the primary factors you’ll need to address:

  • Be ready for the small screen. Developing an effective mobile internet site begins with providing shoppers with only the most essential content and easy navigation. Overloading them with information that is irrelevant to buying a car or difficult to find creates an unpleasant shopping experience and reflects poorly on your brand. Rather than simply transfer everything over from your traditional site to the mobile site, focus on the basics: your full inventory, telephone and email contact information and maps/directions to your store. You’ll also want to avoid the use of audio, Flash animation and video components that work correctly only on a handful of devices or take too long to download because of limited bandwidth.Note: Remember to look beyond Apple’s iPhone and its expanded web browser capabilities when designing your site. With only approximately 15 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers own the device, up to 85 percent of your customers and prospects will not enjoy the same functionality. At Cars.com, for example, the mobile site automatically configures itself to display correctly on more than 200 handsets.
  • Keep the clicks to a minimum. When car buyers arrive at your mobile site, they want to begin looking at actual vehicles within a few moments. Help them to quickly search your inventory with tools that refine their search results based on make/model combinations, mileage, model year and price.
  • Advertise every car. Car buyers increasingly visit only one store as part of their purchase process, so it’s critical that your dealership make the first cut. Particularly in a changing economy that finds shoppers moving more than usual between new, used and certified used, your safest bet is to present prospects with everything you have available. If you have a vehicle but don’t advertise it, you’re essentially handing the business over to your competitors.
  • Ensure your inventory is fresh. Consumers equate the internet with the most up-to-date source of information, whether for news, sports scores or vehicles they plan to purchase. Many in-market shoppers will view a specific vehicle in your listings and then visit the store to learn more about it – without first calling or sending an email. If they learn the car sold several days before, will you be able to earn back their trust and save the sale by offering a similar vehicle?
  • Stay engaged with the shopper. When a car buyer contacts you about a vehicle on your site that recently sold, remember to open your inventory. If your third-party listings provider offers “send-to-phone” capabilities, request the prospect’s mobile phone number and to send them information about a similar vehicle. This step keeps shoppers engaged with your inventory and creates a basis for an ongoing dialog – even if the immediate suggestion isn’t the right fit, you can continue to provide options until they make a purchase.
  • Integrate mobile into your internet sales process. While its role at your dealership may not seem obvious, your mobile site can determine whether you desk a deal or send it to your competitors. Consider how a robust site could help you save the sale by keeping prospects at your store when they:
    • Believe the car they came to see isn’t a good match. When you present an alternative from your inventory that they haven’t researched, do you hope customers will come back after getting the information they need? Or do you suggest they take a few minutes now and access independent reviews on their mobile device?
    • Question your pricing or trade-in offer. To demonstrate your pricing is competitive and your offer is fair, encourage the shopper to access third-party tools such as Kelley Blue Book’s Used Car Values. Not only do you show transparency in your sales process, but you build credibility for yourself and your store.
    • Wonder if they can afford the car. Ease shoppers’ worries with an online payment calculator. After entering the car’s price, along with the term and interest rate for the loan, they’ll know whether they can make the payments or need to consider either a higher down payment or a different model.
    • Have trouble getting a good internet connection. Rather than watch them become frustrated, invite these shoppers into your store to use your computer. Assure these customers that you’ll give them a few minutes of privacy to complete their research and that you’ll be available to answer any questions.

With a credible mobile site, you’re positioning your store to win incremental business and to work with shoppers who are lower in the purchase funnel. Not only are these buyers contacting you about specific vehicles at your dealership, but they tell us that they’re serious about their intentions. In a recent survey of Cars.com mobile shoppers, for example, 58 percent said they planned to buy in 90 days, 37 percent within 30 days.

Additional Resources

In our March DealerADvantage Live webinar, Sharon Knitter, senior director of consumer products for Cars.com, and Chris Gugliotta, director of internet marketing for Lithia Motors Inc., discussed how an effective mobile internet presence translates into sales. You can listen to a recording of the session or download a copy of the presentation to review or share with colleagues.


[i] The Harris Poll #36, April 2008

[ii] Critical Mass: The Worldwide State of the Mobile Web, Nielsen Mobile, July 2008

[iii] Critical Mass: The Worldwide State of the Mobile Web, Nielsen Mobile, July 2008

[iv] Cars.com Internal Reporting, March 2008

[v] Cars.com Survey, 2008

[vi] Cars.com Survey, 2008