Jack R. Nerad www.forbes.com
The car industry talks a lot about digital marketing and the importance of selling cars online. Perhaps it needs to get a bit more specific about the online platform, because among the many ways that Covid-19 has changed our lives is the rapidly rising profile of the smartphone as an automotive marketing and selling tool.
Of course, American consumers depended upon their phones long before the pandemic spread fear around the world. But in the midst of the health crisis the smartphone has become nearly indispensable to those who are in the market to buy a car and, thus, to those who would sell one to them.
From vehicle research to price shopping to dealer selection, American car buyers are pulling out their phones to get information that will guide their buying process. Further, more and more consumers are using their phone to consummate the car purchase and schedule delivery. Not only can you research and buy a car from your couch in your pajamas, but you can now do it without logging on to your laptop or desktop. You can buy a car just like ordering a pizza or scheduling an hour on a municipal tennis court.
AdColony is a Century City, Calif.-based service provider that works closely with advertisers and publishers to help them maximize their smartphone campaigns and integrations. Its just-released study of consumer attitudes and behavior, Car Buying Survey 2020 (USA), details just how reliant consumers have become on the smartphones when it comes to shopping for a car.
Instead of treating their phone as a supplemental research tool, consumers rely heavily on their smartphones for every aspect of the car buying process. A strong majority of respondents to the survey said they use their phones to research car models and specs (66%) and compare prices (74%). Once they’ve narrowed the search to their top choices, they then use their smartphones to find dealership locations (60%).
“We’ve seen that consumers are becoming more acclimated to using their mobile devices to access important purchasing information,“ Jean Ortiz-Luis, marketing communications specialist at AdColony told Forbes.com. “For instance, the 2019 edition of this survey only saw 40% of respondents using their phones to find dealership locations. Over the last year, this jumped up by 20%.”
This begs the question are information providers keeping up with the information needs of shoppers with their smartphone offerings? Many of the largest third-party information providers in the automotive space — Edmunds, Cars.com and Kelley Blue Book — seem to pay much greater attention to their desktop offerings than their smartphone interfaces.
“Car buyers are using their mobile devices to look up specific models and features. If consumers can’t easily find relevant information on a company’s mobile site or app, they will move on to the next source,” Ortiz-Luis said. “The best information providers are the ones that offer quality in-app or mobile experiences with proper data prioritization. There’s definitely no shortage of information out there for shoppers.”
The study found that consumers who do research cars online are likely to visit a dealership. More than two-thirds of respondents (70%) said they are very likely or likely to visit a dealership after researching cars online, and that number is up 11% over last year’s result. Of course, smartphone users are also getting more and more likely to buy a car with phone in hand.
“While there’s no doubt that more car shoppers use their smartphones throughout the research process, AdColony is also seeing consumers use devices at the actual purchasing stage,” Ortiz-Luis said. “A quarter of our respondents said they have used their smartphones to purchase a car. We also asked if they had ever bought a car online and had it delivered to their home. While only 22% said yes, 37% said they would be interested in this process. We expect that as these services gain more credibility, the car buying process will become fully digital for many consumers.”
If 22% of respondents actually did purchase their vehicles online, they represent a leading-edge cadre, because the online percentage of overall U.S. car sales is well below that figure despite the fact that Covid-19 has influenced many buyers to take the online route. But it is certainly indicative of what smartphone users seek going forward. Further, there is little doubt that when consumers get the urge to buy a new car the first thing they are going to do is pick up the phone.