Driving to an Augmented Reality Future

Auto dealers and Facebook have something in common: augmented reality is part of their future.

At Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the world’s largest social network is making a major investment in AR. Facebook will soon roll out the Camera Effects platform, through which Facebook’s 2 billion users can use the Facebook in-app camera to create AR effects and experiences.

At F8, Zuckerberg said he envisions people using AR on their mobile phones to turn everyday objects and surfaces into opportunities to view and share immersive content, like turning a home appliance into an interactive family message board. In doing so, he challenged a common perception that AR is simply a glorified way for people to play Pokémon GO.

Whenever Facebook makes a major move, marketers – including dealers — should take notice. Facebook is more than the world’s largest social network. The company is also both a reflection and influencer of consumer behavior. Mark Zuckerberg has glanced at the future, and he sees AR in the tea leaves, as does Apple’s Tim Cook, who has repeatedly voiced his confidence in the uptake of AR. According to eMarketer, augmented reality has been exploding worldwide; Global Market Insights says that AR will be a $165 billion market by 2024.

Businesses are developing AR apps in a number of ways to improve everyday experiences ranging from exercise to driving cars. For instance, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show automotive suppliers demonstrated AR applications intended to make driving safer. As reported in CNET, Harman, a provider of connected car technology, demonstrated how AR in a modified Chrysler Pacifica visually shows drivers whether they are going too fast, and an AR overlay on a driver’s windshield makes street signs more visible. (As CNET noted, poorly marked street signs are a common distraction and safety risk, which AR could remedy.) Meanwhile, other automotive suppliers showed how AR could make driving safer by overlaying color codes in a driver’s sightline to flag cars that are braking suddenly or pedestrians by the road.

Harmon’s system can place street signs over intersections, greatly helping drivers.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow


As CNET reporter Wayne Cunningham wrote,

Head-up displays, which show vehicle information at the base of the windshield within the driver’s view, have gained traction in recent years, appearing on many car models. These displays typically show vehicle speed and navigation directions, so the driver doesn’t need to look away from the road. AR goes beyond head-up display technology by using GPS and sensors to pick out objects in the car’s environment, calling out those objects for the driver. AR can be very helpful in urban environments where the amount of traffic, pedestrians and signage becomes overwhelming.

According to ABI Research, more than 15 million AR heads-up displays will ship by 2025. ABI noted that that OEMS such as Ford and Hyundai are working on AR interfaces.

The uptake of AR is one example of how technology is influencing the future of the driving experience. This is an exciting and challenging time for dealers as they sense and respond to changes in automotive in order to act as informed resources for car shoppers. One way to stay on top of the future of automotive is to follow our blog. And keep watching and learning from the leaders inside and outside the automotive industry.

Change is Coming at the Dealership, Are You Ready?

Change is the name of the game in the Automotive industry as it stands today – that’s the biggest takeaway from Driving Sales President’s Club in New York City this past week.  The general theme of all sessions and subsequent conversations both with industry influencers and dealer principals was that a major shift is coming for the industry and those that will be successful will figure how to ride that change – and do it quickly.

Change will manifest in a few places but the most important will be in how effective teams are built at the dealership – both sales and service.  Dealer owners and principals need to build teams that all share a “growth mindset.”

The old business model where business and marketing decisions were made on limited and incomplete data from CRM or single sources are gone.  Holistic data based decision-making will be what leads the way in success for dealerships moving forward. Are you developing a sound measurement strategy and looking at metrics that are based on how consumers interact with you online today?  43% of shoppers don’t send a lead before they show up to a dealership; how are you measuring their interaction with you?

The change and need for more data in decision making is driven from the increased focus on the consumer experience.  There has become an increased ‘sameness’ to some of the competitive differentiators – price, payments, product, fuel economy, inventory, etc. – and the place to really compete is within the sphere of the car shopper’s sales experience.

How are you creating an environment that creates the best consumer experience?  And then are you showcasing that experience online? Finally, do you have partners who want to help you better define and improve that experience?

Clearly the word of the year is CHANGE.   As an industry we will need to redirect our focus to changing the experience we provide consumers, the information we provide those consumers and the way in which we measure the impact of marketing investments.  It will be a fun year and we’re looking forward to working with you to navigate the changes ahead.

Building a Better Display Ad: Tips for Effective Creative

A successful display campaign hinges on serving compelling creative to consumers.  In a world where there are new, flashy options for display constantly emerging, you should ask yourself, ‘what creative works best?’ The most effective display ads are relevant, attention-grabbing and straight forward.

To effectively catch the eye of a shopper, your call to action should be prominently displayed, straightforward and simple. Does the consumer need to act? If so, what is the desired action? Any copy should be minimal, but too often advertisers try to squeeze multiple lines of copy into limited real estate rendering their advertising ineffective.

Your landing page should be where the content itself lives, with the ad acting to give a quick hook and then a call-to-action (CTA) being the only copy. An internal analysis of OEM ads on Cars.com revealed that ads are most effective when a single CTA is used, placed near either the bottom or right edge of the ad.[1] That same analysis also found that white text against a black, purple, or red button background were the most effective designs for CTA buttons.

Dynamic ads are also a great way to serve applicable, real-time information to shoppers while at the same time creating a personalized experience. Dynamic creative allows you to feed in up to date inventory to their display ads based on the shopper’s search and location. This is a win-win for both the shopper and the advertiser. The shopper has a more tailored, one to one experience, while allowing the advertiser to be more efficient and targeted. It also eliminates any risk of your creative becoming outdated or irrelevant, since it automatically updates with the relevant available inventory.

Often, we are in such a rush to get something out the door that we forget how important the creative element is in our advertising’s success. Creative should be at the forefront of every advertiser’s conversation. Consumers see hundreds of ads a day, how will you stand out amongst the crowd?

[1] MOAT Analytics & Cars.com Analysis of Internal Data: Feb – Sept 2015

What Dealers Need to Know about Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication

The New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) kicks off this week with an inaugural Empire State of Mobility Conference, being held in advance of the 10-day public auto show. We’ll be watching for developments from this event, including technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle communication which are revolutionizing the automotive industry.

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a rule that would require automakers to include vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technologies in all light-duty vehicles. But Cadillac is not waiting to see how the ruling plays out. The automaker has announced that its 2017 CTS sedan will be the first auto in the U.S. market to include a V2V communication as a standard feature. Dealerships need to understand how and why V2V is taking hold.

What is Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) Technology?

V2V technology makes it possible for autos to communicate with each other. With V2V technology, automobiles can share critical information such as safety hazards on the road. And the U.S. Department of Transportation is a big believer in the power of V2V.

Notes the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA), V2V technology “shows great promise in transforming the way Americans travel.” On its website, the NSTA also comments that “Using V2V technology, vehicles ranging from cars to trucks and buses to trains could one day be able to communicate important safety and mobility information to one another that can help save lives, prevent injuries, ease traffic congestion, and improve the environment.”

Case in point: Cadillac’s V2V system will perform a variety of safety-related functions. For instance, as shown in the following video, Cadillacs equipped with V2V can warn a driver about hazards such as fast-approaching congestion on a highway, cars speeding toward an intersection, disabled vehicles on the road, or slippery conditions:

Cadillac compares the experience to being able to see around a blind corner. The V2V-equipped Cadillacs have a range of 1,000 feet, and they communicate only with other V2V-enabled Cadillacs. Even still, the Cadillac announcement is a start.

How V2V Works and Why It Matters

Since V2V communication relies on cellular networks for autos to talk with each other, the advent of more sophisticated 5G mobile systems — still a few years off — will likely be a catalyst for better and more widespread V2V automobiles. But with the U.S. Department of Transportation making V2V a priority, auto dealers should keep an eye on this development to understand what’s around the corner. According to the NTSA, V2V devices could eliminate or mitigate 80 percent of accidents not attributed to driver impairment — so it’s unlikely that the NTSA will back down from its commitment to a V2V-enabled auto industry.

What V2V Means for Dealers

Auto dealers should watch closely for other auto makers to follow Cadillac’s lead. They should monitor news from OEMs and third-party insight from sources such as Cars.com to anticipate and respond to questions their customers may be asking, including questions about the maturity of V2V systems and the issue of data security. In due course, “coming soon” will become “here and now” with V2V. Will your sales team be ready?

Mobile Apps and Mobile Websites – Is One Better than the Other?

The answer?  No, one isn’t better than the other as they are both important to the larger car shopper audience and help drive that walk-in traffic.  We’ve been discussing the role smartphones play in the car shopping process for a while now, but we haven’t specifically addressed the use of mobile apps and mobile websites. We found that 93% of consumers use mobile apps on their smartphones and of those consumers, 46% use apps that help with their car shopping journey¹ (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017.

It could be personal preference to use a mobile app over a mobile website, but our research suggests that car shoppers continue to use their smartphones on the lot to further cross-shop inventory or reinforce their decisions to purchase¹.  When it comes to reporting on traffic via mobile, both mobile apps and mobile website usage allows us to track engagement with inventory on Cars.com – as long as they turn on location services in their phone settings.

Which is why it’s interesting that a majority of car shoppers only use location services if the app requests or requires its use (Figure 2). It’s a good rule of thumb that when reviewing reporting that highlights geo-locating metrics like our Lot Insights report, that these numbers likely underreport the total number of consumers who are using their smartphones in their car shopping journey while on the lot.

Figure 2.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017.

This is great information to better understand the role of apps in helping to drive a purchase, but what role do mobile websites play in the car shopping process? A large one. Usage of a mobile website in the car shopping process leads the way in requesting a vehicle quote, viewing vehicle options and features, and reading vehicle reviews when compared to app usage¹ (Figure 3). Usage of mobile websites could be related to familiarity in seeing a browser and typing in a URL versus not knowing if an app is available – but, again, it can come down to personal preference on how best to search, research, and compare vehicles.

Figure 3.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper. Cars.com, February 2017.

Those dealers that are optimized for mobile are going to win out in the car shoppers mind and win more market share from competitors.


[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, White Paper.  Cars.com, February 2017. 

Your Most Valuable Customer: The Walk-in Shopper

Walk-in shoppers are a sizable and important audience. According to recent research conducted by Cars.com, 43 percent of car shoppers don’t contact a dealership before walking onto the lot via traditional “lead” methods, meaning that about 4 out of 10 shoppers have narrowed their vehicle search without ever contacting a dealership.  And, these walk-in shoppers are valuable: two-thirds of them make a purchase within 72 hours of their on-the-lot visit, and 40 percent buy within the same day.

The prevalence of walk-in shopping is a challenge and a catalyst for dealers to adopt multi-touch attribution to maximize marketing effectiveness.

Walk-in traffic has always been a challenge to quantify. I suspect that the number of consumers who walk on to the lot to purchase vehicles will create stress an industry whose key systems to gauging sales process and marketing effectiveness (CRM, Google Analytics and dealership management systems) are already antiquated.

 Walk-in Traffic and Multi-Touch Attribution

Walk-in shoppers are influenced by a number of touch points, ranging from organic searches to reviews and third-party sites such as Cars.com. Armed with a wealth of research, they’re visiting dealers’ lots confident that they don’t need to engage with a dealer ahead of time. Consequently, dealers need to use multi-touch attribution strategies, not just last touch attribution or traditional lead metrics, to understand the value of their digital marketing.

However, dealers continue to invest in tactics that support last-click/single-source attribution and are not even necessarily driving sales. For example, in 2016, more than 50 percent of  dealerships’ digital spend went to promoting their website via paid search and display (according to eMarketer). As I wrote recently,when our dealer customers listen to inbound phone calls that originate from branded paid search terms, they realize that close to 90 percent of these “leads” are not leads at all – they are recovery searches for post-influence service. The industry needs to move away from metrics that support last click/single source to advertising that wins with consumer preference and walk in traffic

Winning with the Walk-in Consumer

The walk-in consumer is a great opportunity of sales for the dealer community. To turn walk-in consumers into customers, dealers need to understand their motivations and behaviors. Our data paints the picture of a ready-to-buy shopper  who uses their devices to determine what, where and from whom to buy. They’re using their mobile devices on-the-lot to make smarter decisions:

  • 64-percent use smart phones to compare vehicle prices.
  • 51-percent compare vehicle makes and models.
  • 41-percent read reviews.

Dealers need to train their sales teams to understand how to engage with walk-in shoppers, – and assume that all walk in traffic are consumers who have spent time online researching their future vehicle purchase.  Walk-in shoppers are engaged and ready to talk prices and details about makes and models, and a large number continue their research online while at the dealership’s lot.  Sales associates should understand what key review sites like Cars.com are saying about the vehicles, the dealership, and sales people

On-the-Lot is the New Normal

Dealers need to face a hard reality: their lead data is incomplete and CRMs and Google Analytics currently only support single source attribution. Dealerships that rely solely on last-touch attribution and “internet” lead data to make advertising decisions are missing a sizeable and growing segment of on-the-lot customers — and these are customers who are more than likely ready to make a purchase.  To this end, our industry needs to become literate in the digital experiences, expectations and needs of walk-in consumers to best work with the growing legion of walk in traffic.

How Are Car Shoppers Finding Your Dealership?

Today, all leads are Internet leads – especially on-the-lot shoppers – but I’d bet you don’t source on-the-lot shoppers as such.  Dealerships that treat all leads – traditional, digital, and on-the-lot – as Internet leads are going to be the most successful.  So, how are car shoppers learning about your dealership?

How Consumers Find Dealership Information

Half of shoppers go directly to dealerships, rather than contacting them ahead of time (Figure 1)¹. That’s a big insight! These same car shoppers are most likely using their smartphones for maps and directions, making these metrics even more valuable when evaluating digital ad spend. This also makes proper attribution of car shoppers on a dealership’s lot even more important.

Figure 1.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  February 2017.


One-quarter submit contact information and another quarter call for an appointment (Figure 1). While we know that half of car shoppers do not send a traditional lead like phone or email, one-quarter still do send traditional leads making these important lead types to monitor (Figure 1).

However, our data on dealership information sources points out the need for understanding the car shopper lead path journey. While search engines are a primary search path for car shoppers from our study (Figure 2) where car shoppers were allowed to pick multiple information sources, that does not indicate where consumers started their journey. Indeed, by the time a consumer chooses to type in a make or model or a dealership name, they’ve researched enough to actively seek out that information from that specific dealer – but how did they first hear about you?  Even the dealership’s website seen in Figure 2 seems prominent, car shoppers most likely found the dealership from another third-party source before visiting. Last-click attribution is not representative of how car shoppers initially found a dealership.

Figure 2.  Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  February 2017.


What Can You Do to Evaluate Walk-In Customers?

You need to adopt multi-touch metrics.  The car shopper journey from awareness to an on-the-lot purchase is complicated. On-the-lot shoppers are influenced by several touch points, ranging from organic searches to reviews and third-party sites such as Cars.com. Armed with a wealth of research, they’re visiting dealers’ lots confident that they don’t need to engage with a dealer ahead of time. Consequently, dealers need to use multi-touch attribution strategies, not just last touch attribution or traditional lead metrics, to understand the value of their digital marketing spend in today’s modern car buying journey.

Action Steps

  • Ensure you have an attribution process in place to know how consumers found your dealership and work with your third-party vendors to evaluate that performance.
  • Create a holistic approach to understanding how consumers are researching you and all available touchpoints with your dealership and brand.
  • Evaluate your SEO & SEM performance to ensure you’re not wasting money and are driving the right time of leads and or traffic you need.
  • Review your SEO & SEM spend and place your advertising dollars with more relevant touch points where consumers start their journey to lead them to your lot.

Once you face the reality that your existing lead data is incomplete either because lead data isn’t being sent before an on-the-lot visit, doesn’t account for multi-touch attribution, or that your sales team is inputting incomplete information into your CRM, you can properly analyze your advertising approach to drive consumers to you.  Traditional leads as the industry knows them will soon be a thing of the past.  It’s time for you to dig into your available data in more depth, work with your vendor partners, and do your homework.  After that, you can better optimize your marketing spend to be in front of consumers at all touch points.

[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping.  Cars.com, February 2017.

Simplifying Attribution to Propel Efficiencies and Profits

Following is a guest article by Ryan Gerardi of DealerRefresh. 


Despite changing consumer behavior patterns, many if not most dealers continue to evaluate third parties only on “hard lead” measures and discount others forms of influenced purchase behavior. Consumers want to be in control of their experience and they are reluctant to provide their contact information because they fear the repercussions of unwanted marketing and solicitation.

These influential experiences appear anonymous to the dealer looking through the lens of a traditional hard lead, and even when a flow of hard leads is provided, many dealers struggle to ascertain their value when they can’t attribute them to immediate sales, even when the leads are proven to have made a purchase elsewhere.

As competition in the automotive space increases and sales plateau, dealers will need a continually better way to understand the complexities of consumer shopping behavior and refined data to help cut through the clutter and focus on their marketing spend,

A Strategy, Goal, and Framework

After months of research and analysis, Cars.com has launched an attribution strategy that begins to resolve the conflict between how consumers shop and how advertisers measure and differentiate valuable data. While slow to adopt, the general consensus across the industry does acknowledge that the traditional way of measuring performance does need to change.

The goal is to provide automotive advertisers – OEMs and Dealers – with a better understanding and appreciation of the next generation of value measures that better reflects the connections with Cars.com Consumers, using a framework to demonstrate value and influence called Influence Drivers. The frame will continue to evolve and grow with the consumer and consists of Digital Drivers, Physical Traffic, and Revenue Signals.

Digital Drivers

Digital Drivers refers to a strategy and use of the full spectrum of digital media opportunities that boost broad influence of a message rather than trigger a behavior. Examples of this might include OEM campaigns, reviews, editorial content, and desktop/mobile integration or even insights.

Physical Traffic

Physical Traffic refers to tracking consumer behavior in the physical world in order to make more informed marketing investments elsewhere. One might think of it like night-vision google for shopper behavior. Cars.com was first to market with such tracking with its lot insights tool.

Revenue Signals

Revenue Signals refers to patterns of results from marketing investments calculated from a wider rate of financial metrics beyond weekly unit sales. You can think of this like judging GPA rather than an SAT score. As an example, over a six-month span, Cars.com influenced an average of 274 sales per dealership, 32% of sales at a dealership, and an average of 135 first-time vehicle sales, according to the Transparency Case Study January 2015 – September 2016.

Influencer Summit

Cars.com recognizes that it cannot do this alone. This is an industry move that requires collaboration with other industry players, and because of this has launched its first ever Influencer Summit, an event that is expected to continue occurring annually and grow, also with an ongoing online community effort.

On February 9th, 2017, thirteen industry players from outside the Cars.com family descended upon the Sheraton Grand in Downtown Chicago for a one-day roundtable discussion to explore  these ideas and how the industry can lock arms to bring solutions to dealers. These players included:

Cliff Banks, The Banks Report
Steve Finlay, Ward’s Auto
Ryan Gerardi, AutoConversion
Darren Haygood, Transparency
Jeff Kershner, DealerRefresh
Eric Miltsch, DealerTeamwork
Gary May, Interactive Marketing and Consulting Services
Cory Mosley, Mosley Strategy Group
Joe Oltman, Pin Business Network
Brian Pasch, PCG Digital Marketing
Matt Reid, Clarivoy
Joe Webb, DealerKnows Consulting
Steve White, Clarivoy

State of the Industry

During this roundtable discussion, Cars.com CEO Alex Vetter kicked things off with a State of the Industry address that reflected on the industry in 2016 as well as share how Cars.com is continuing to build a decision engine for consumers and a growth engine for its advertisers. During this time attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and share insights, which as you might imagine from the name listed, we did.

Industry Metrics and Influence Drivers

So much in fact that we rolled seamlessly into the second segment without the planned break. This second segment, led by EVP of Business Operations Elaine Richards explored the issues caused by the modern consumer being mobile and multi-touch whereas most dealer attribution models are not.

Product and Research Strategies

After a brief lunch , Chief Product Officer Tony Zolla gave attendees a glimpse into Cars.com’s product strategy and upcoming enhancements. He also shared new consumer insights based on Cars.com’s research.

Industry Innovation Roadmap

Finally, we spent the last part of the day with Chief Strategy Officer Greg McGivney leading a discussion on the advances in digital, giving attendees an opportunity to chime in with their own views on where the auto industry and market is headed in the immediate years to come.

Reflection and Insight – A Summary

Being part of this inaugural Summit was an honor, and I believe all attendees were more humbled by the experience than anything. Each of us in the room has put forth tremendous effort over the last 15-20 or more years, not just riding the wave of digital evolution and innovation in automotive retail, but putting our necks out to be pioneers in our own way. To be recognized for this and asked to participate in this Summit was a welcome nod, especially coming from the folks at Cars.com.

Not So Warm and Fuzzy

As stated in the opening sentences of this article, dealers have a way of viewing a third-party provider that is not always pleasant. The people at Cars.com not only recognize this but also embrace it, seek to understand it, and are attempting to change that sentiment.

As an example of this, let me assure that not all input from attendees at this roundtable was music to the ears for the team at Cars.com. There was no brown nosing going on in the room. In fact, I observed more challenging situations for the folks at Cars.com than sugar coating, and it was evident that the Cars.com team not only wanted this, they expected it from us.

Having dealt with, collaborated with, and observed other third-parties in this space, I am enthused to see such authenticity from an established company such as Cars.com who by the looks of things is about to make its last few years in the business appear like its adolescence.

Click here to read more on DealerRefresh.

Multi-Touch Attribution Changes Marketing Decisions for Dealers

Following is a guest blog by Brian Pasch, Founder of PCG Companies, Author, and Keynote Speaker.


Dealers who have been following the progress of the PCG Engagement Project have new tools to inspect the quality of their website traffic and smarter strategies to capture conversion on their website. Once standardized goals are installed in Google Analytics, dealers can take advantage of VistaDash’s automotive specific Multi-Channel Funnel template.

With one click, dealers can now see Assisted Conversions (Column B) in addition to the Last-Click Conversions (Column A) for common automotive marketing channels. This information is critical for dealers because their CRM lead source reports are not accurate. (read my previous article)

The Google Analytics Assisted Conversions report, enhanced with the VistaDash template dated 3-14-17, created a more informative lead management report for this dealer to show the direct influence of their marketing investments. For this dealer, their CoVideo communication platform (line 7) is working well to increase conversion. Did they know this for a fact?

Here is another example of CRM blind spots. In the dealer’s CRM it was reported that CarGurus (line 11) generated only seven leads (last-click attribution), but the platform also influenced nine other conversions: a total of 16 leads.

Without considering multi-touch attribution, dealers may fire their most effective marketing partners.

The VistaDash Multi-Channel template also shows Tier 1 and Tier 2 influence, which can be customized by market. The template shows paid search conversions, lines four and five, which has been a topic of discussion lately.

Line five breaks out conversions that were generated by purchasing the dealer’s name. You can see that approximately 50% of all paid search conversions were generated from the dealer’s name. This is not uncommon. The data confirms that the success of AdWords campaigns ride off the dealer’s other branding and advertising investments.

Enhancing Analytics With Third-Party Data

Keep in mind that Google Analytics Assisted Conversions report only documents influence that comes directly from another website. Recently I wrote about the partnership between Cars.com and Clarivoy that will enhance GA reports based on offsite data. (read article)

This type of innovation is exactly what the auto industry needs; clearer ways to measure marketing ROI and influence.

The good news is that VistaDash will be supporting Google Analytics multi-touch attribution reports and sales funnels, so the enhanced data from Clarivoy will be automatically made available for their customers in VistaDash.

What dealers find when doing audience overlap studies with Clarivoy and Transparency will shock them:

40+% of their vehicles sales are directly influenced by third-party classified websites and only a small percentage customers, who purchased a vehicle, actually visited the dealer’s website before arriving on their lot.

I will be sharing more data regarding these findings, along with other speakers, at the 2017 Digital Marketing Strategies Conference (DMSC) in May.

Stop Firing Your Best Marketing Partners Based on CRM Data

When dealers start to measure the quality of website traffic and how they convert (or just walk in) they can make smarter business decisions to increase engagement and sales. The automotive community has to look at engagement, conversion, and sales data with a fresh set of eyes to stop perpetuating harmful marketing myths.

Smartphones Are Used More than Desktops and Laptops

According to our study Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, smartphones are used for nearly half (46%) of online car shopping activities¹. Desktops or laptops are a close second, being used for 41% of all online activities¹. Tablets are a distant third, being used for only 13% of online car shopping activities¹.

This shows a shift in the way consumers interact with the world today, not just in car shopping. Not long ago, desktops and laptops were the primary method of surfing the Internet and shopping online. With the advent of higher quality digital, mobile technology, consumers are allowed to shop online on their own terms.

Dealers that recognize the role mobile plays in consumers’ lives will be the most successful in moving metal. This is why it is important to think from a mobile, digital perspective when creating an advertising strategy. Optimizing vehicle inventory to be seen on smartphones— along with the necessary merchandising—is key to engaging car shoppers and influencing them to choose one vehicle or dealership over another. It should be no surprise, then, that Millennials are the primary users of smartphones in car shopping. This generation has grown up with technology and has quickly adopted a mobile mindset when it comes to interacting with the world and consuming entertainment, information, or shopping online via their smartphones.

We know the role smartphones play as the device of choice in car shopping, but what actions are car shoppers performing? Smartphones are especially the device of choice for viewing maps and directions to the dealership, deciding which dealerships to visit, and reading dealership reviews. This makes sense — using a mobile device while in transit to help navigate to their dealership of choice. This also means that car shoppers have made a choice and researched enough to be satisfied to choose a dealership’s lot to visit.

The high prevalence of use of dealership reviews on smartphones also shows that consumers may be cross-shopping competitor dealerships while on the lot. Auto shoppers want real-time information. We know from our own research that 63 percent of auto shoppers were still researching dealerships after showing up at a dealer’s lot, and more than half of those visited additional dealerships based on what they found via their mobile devices².

We can’t discuss the role mobile plays in the car shopping journey without understanding the role that desktops and laptops play as well. Desktops and laptops are especially the device of choice for viewing vehicle colors/360 vehicle views, completing credit applications for vehicle financing, and using build and price vehicle tools.

Device Usage in Specific Car Shopping Activities

Figure 1.  Car Shoppers Are Judging You, February 2017.


Essentially, desktops and laptops are used for those tasks that may seem more laborious to the consumer — providing detailed information via online forms or more video-heavy experiences — that are deemed easier to perform with larger screens and keyboards.

Desktops and laptops have their place, and when used, one could assume that consumers are highly focused and engaged when giving in-depth information in this way.

Screen size can also play a role in collecting various types of information, and it could just be a preference amongst some car shoppers to use desktops and laptops in some cases. We see here that most consumers are searching dealership inventory on their desktops and laptops. Car shoppers may be in their early stage of shopping, wanting to choose vehicles, review specs, and incentives to later compare vehicles and move to their mobile device.

In any scenario, smartphones are a key touch point for car shoppers with any dealer’s brand.  It’s these mobile touch points that influence the car shopper and drive them to action – sometimes literally driving them to the dealership’s lot.  Keep this in mind the next time you do a review of any advertising strategy or a reallocation of advertising funds.  Placing emphasis on a mobile presence can pay off significantly.


[1] Mobile Influence on Car Shopping, Cars.com White Paper. February 2017.

[2] Behavioral Analytics on Mobile, Cars.com, Q3 2016