With more than 167 million active smartphone subscribers nationwide, there’s no question that smartphone use has reached a tipping point in the United States. Look no further than a table at a busy restaurant or a crowded city park to see people more engaged with their devices than with those who are right in front of them. In the past four years, the number of Americans accessing the internet on their mobile phone has more than doubled, rising from 25% to 60%, and it’s largely because smartphones have evolved. More than a fancy way to check email and look up sports scores, smartphones are a consumer necessity, offering shopping experiences that are as good (or better) than traditional computers.

So what does this mean for car shoppers and dealers?

smartphone and dealershipIn an independent study conducted earlier this year, Cars.com partnered with mobile research leader Placed Inc. to understand how consumers used their smartphones for research before visiting auto dealerships, as well as how smartphones affected behavior while shoppers were physically standing on dealership lots. The data showed that the vast majority (81%) of shoppers now use their smartphones as part of the car buying process. And contrary to some industry beliefs that mobile is not a unique advertising medium, one in four shoppers used only their smartphone to do research prior to visiting dealerships.

Comparing options

Even more interesting than the total reach of mobile was the number of car shoppers using their smartphones while actually at the dealership. A process commonly known in the brick-and-mortar retail industry as “showrooming” – when a consumer uses a mobile device to compare product options, and then purchases the product at a different location (typically online) – the study found that sixty-three percent of shoppers turned to their mobile device while on the lot to conduct additional research.

This behavior shows that even once a shopper steps onto the lot, there are still multiple points of influence that can sway their decision to purchase, making a strong mobile presence essential to success with modern buyers. Shoppers stay connected, shopping competitors from the comfort of your own showroom, and that action has an impact. Of shoppers surveyed who visited more than one dealership, more than half (52%) did so because of information gathered on their mobile device.

Getting a shopper to the showroom is a good indicator they are ready to buy, but closing the deal requires going a step further. Understanding what shoppers are looking for while in the showroom can help you better engage buyers and keep them moving towards a sale at your dealership.

Placed Price, payments and offers

When car shoppers step onto dealership lots, they’ve got a big decision to make – a bunch of big decisions, really. Is this the car I want to buy? Can I afford it? Are there better options available at a store across town? The list goes on. As a result, typical on-lot mobile activities include calculating price and payment information, confirming vehicle availability and comparing local competitors. Shoppers want all facts, and your dealership has an opportunity to improve the consumer buying experience by being transparent and consultative with mobile.

The role of third-party marketplace sites

Consumers depend on objective third-party content to build confidence in their decisions at the dealership. Of shoppers who used a smartphone to do research at a dealership in the study, 56% visited a major third-party marketplace site, far surpassing the use of manufacturer and dealership sites while on the lot.

A trend that’s only expected to grow, dealers can use this new mobile behavior to build trust with potential customers by encouraging open access to information throughout the sales process and, in turn, reinforcing the dealership’s value to would-be customers.

Navigating Mobile Marketing
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For more insights and best practices on how to create a mobile-friendly dealership experience, download our Navigating Mobile Marketing ebook.