When dealers hear about mobile websites, they’re probably thinking, “I’ve just spent the last five years perfecting my dealership’s website—offering good content, getting it optimized for search engines, marketing my website address anywhere I can. Now you’re going to tell me I have to have another site?” Yes, get ready for the next wave of Internet marketing for your dealership: mobile sites.

Do I Really Need a Mobile Site?
A lot of dealers might ask if a mobile site is really necessary. The short answer is yes. The use of mobile devices like smart phones and tablet computers is steadily growing. Matt Murray, director of digital marketing for Dealer.com, cited “the upward trend and potential of mobile” as the reason dealers must consider establishing a mobile site. He stated, “If you compare March of [2010] to now, our mobile traffic has increased by five times.”

According to Dataium, a company which collects data on and analyzes Internet automotive shopping behavior, mobile devices accounted for a little over four percent of Internet browsing in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Many dealers might think their primary website is sufficient if it can be accessed by a mobile device. However, simply being accessible by mobile devices is not the same as being designed and optimized for mobile devices. “A dealer’s site may be navigable from the mobile device, but presenting the user with a mobile-optimized option brings your site in line with that user’s expectations,” said Mark Ruszczyk, product management director for eBizAutos.

Murray added, “Typical websites don’t fit well on a small screen. Mobile sites provide a site that is built specifically for those small screens to give the user easy access to the info they want, using the device’s best features like touch-to-call.”

Joe High, general manager of websites at Dominion Dealer Solutions, explained some of the issues presented by accessing a website designed for desktop browsing on a mobile device. “Links are small, addresses don’t tie directly to a map in all cases, content is overwhelming for the size of the device, Flash video won’t play, etc.” He added, “A mobile site is optimized for the viewing area. By displaying the relevant information in a format that fits the screen correctly, you will engage the consumer for longer, creating more opportunities for a sale.”

Many dealerships have already moved into the realm of mobile sites. Jason Pappas, operations manager for Copeland Toyota in Brockton, Mass., said, “Toyota presented their statistics for their mobile websites, and the choice was clear. Consumers are using mobile sites when they are out shopping for a vehicle. Our regular website was accessible via a mobile device, but impossible to navigate.” Copeland’s mobile site, designed by XIGroup, has been up and running since November 2009. He reported that the site had over 7,000 visits in 2010.

Trevor Fagan, marketing director for Land Rover Las Vegas, said, “With the immense growth of smart phones in the marketplace, it was something we couldn’t ignore.” The primary website of the dealership was accessible by mobile device, he said, “However, there were still formatting issues with the smaller screen sizes of the phones.” The dealership’s mobile site, designed by eBizAutos, has been up and running since the end of 2010.

What Needs to Be on My Mobile Site?
Mobile sites are about striking a balance of providing a rich experience for the mobile user without pushing so much information onto the site that it slows load times. So what does a dealer absolutely need to have on their mobile site?

High said, “An address that links to the mobile device’s map, a clickable phone number to connect you to the dealer, and the hours the different departments are open represent contact information a dealer must have on their mobile site ... The last thing you want [shoppers] to do is struggle to find you.” He added that things like vehicle videos can enhance a mobile site, but “you have to be careful that you don’t forget the size of the canvas you are working with.”

Murray believed the most important aspect to incorporate into a dealership’s mobile site is the ability to utilize a mobile phone’s capability to touch to call a phone number. “Making it easy to take action and call the dealer is critical.” He added that inventory should be well-represented on the mobile site, including pictures, information and pricing.

Ruszczyk said “designing for speed” is paramount when designing a mobile site. He said, “Due to varying device and network capabilities, a mobile site must, in general, load quickly.” He said it’s important for dealers to include inventory, contact forms and directions, adding that things like specials and promotions can also provide valuable content. He added, “Presenting the user the choice to access the dealership’s full site is also essential.”

Pappas stated, “We wanted our new and used inventory online ASAP … This allows customers to shop our dealership when out walking the lots of other dealerships.” Copeland Toyota’s mobile site also allows users to make service appointments, get directions, view hours of operation and contact the dealership by e-mail. While having the service department available via the mobile site was a priority, Pappas said sales was the top priority because “most service tasks can be accomplished by” calling the dealership. 

Fagan said the priorities for the Land Rover Las Vegas mobile site were similar, with the ability to view new and used inventory and schedule service appointments at the top of the list. The store’s site also gives shoppers the ability to view specials, get directions, access the parts department and contact the dealership directly. He stated that the content for the mobile site is pulled from the dealership’s existing desktop site and is optimized for mobile browsing by their site provider.

Likewise, Pappas said Copeland’s mobile site requires no extra steps on their end when content is added. “Our system simply passes all the content from our main website to our mobile website … It is the same data feed.” One drawback, however, is the current inability to distinguish which Internet leads come from the mobile site and which come from the regular site. Fagan reported a similar limitation but said he did know that service scheduling has already seen an increase through the mobile site.

Pappas said that thanks to a dedicated phone number posted on the mobile site, they were able to determine that the mobile site was one of their top four ad sources in terms of phone calls.

What About an “App”?
What’s the difference between having a mobile site and having an app (shorthand for “mobile application”) for your dealership? Ruszczyk explained, “Mobile sites are websites optimized for mobile devices, available to anyone searching with a mobile browser. Mobile apps are programs that a user must seek out and install, and they may not be available for every mobile platform.” He went on to add, “Apps are mostly used for social networking, weather/news/sports, and games and not for online retail.”

Pappas reported that Copeland Toyota has an iPhone app, which was available about a year before launching the mobile site. They are currently looking at developing an Android app as well. He stated that the functionality of the iPhone app makes certain tasks, such as service scheduling, a little easier. It can save the customer’s VIN, for example, eliminating the need to re-enter it when scheduling subsequent service or maintenance visits.

However, he noted, “I can tell you [the app is] not nearly as successful as the mobile website.” He added that the iPhone app was much more difficult to maintain due to Apple’s strict regulation of apps. Something as simple as updating a link means the app must go through Apple’s entire approval process again, something Pappas said takes both time and money. He believed the mobile site was more advantageous in terms of overall accessibility and reaching the general public, while the dealership’s mobile app might be better suited for existing customers who plan to do regular business with the store.

How Much is Too Much?
When it comes to mobile sites, less is often more. Trying to cram too much into a mobile site can slow load times, and trying to make the mobile site experience mirror the desktop experience too closely can lead to difficulties in viewing and navigation. Stated Ruszczyk, “Anything that begins to affect the speed of the site [is too much]. If it causes the page to load too slow, makes it too hard to contact the dealer or find the priority data on the page, it is too much.”

As High previously noted, dealers mustn’t forget the size of the canvas they’re working on. He stated, “A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t have to zoom in on any content to push a button or read text.”

Murray agreed. “That’s the issue with a non-mobile-optimized site. It’s too hard to get to the info you are looking for [using a mobile device] … Understanding your users and proper design matters,” he said. “Because the screen is small, we have to … find creative ways to put into the forefront the known usability pieces that are important. We have to focus more than ever on minimalistic design.”

Neither Pappas nor Fagan have ruled out adding more to their respective dealerships’ mobile sites in the future if it proves feasible, but for now, they are satisfied with the mobile experience available for their dealerships’ customers. “You can quickly get in over your head trying to add more and more features to the site, trying to make everything available to the customers, at which point you over-complicate the site and start losing your ROI,” said Fagan. “As the technology and capability of the phones increases, [the site] will need more. However, we feel it does a good job now of presenting the customers with the information they are looking for.”

Related story: Incorporating QR Codes into Dealership Marketing

Vol. 8, Issue 3

About the author
Kimberly Long

Kimberly Long

Assistant Editor

View Bio