Retail Front

Have Phone, Will Shop at Car Dealerships

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The new reality: Kids sleep with their smartphones, and adults wield them at dealerships.

My wife gave in. She stood out among the last holdouts who claim all they need is a basic phone to make and take calls. Hello? 

Now, Jackie uses her smartphone to surf the web, text, watch videos, listen to songs, take pictures – all that good stuff. Oh, and to make and take calls now and then. She also uses her smartphone as an alarm clock.

So do lots of young people, says Jeff Cole, the University of Southern California’s director-Center for the Digital Future. “Ninety percent of teens sleep next to their phones.” It’s phones as security blankets.

“Fear of missing out on something is one reason teens sleep with their phones,” Cole says at a recent J.D. Power automotive conference.

But basically they’re using them there as alarm clocks, as well as in lieu of watches once they get their butts out of bed. “It’s hurting the economy of Switzerland,” Cole quips of youthful watchlessness.  

That’s nothing to yodel about, but some watchmakers are not too hurt by the shift to smartphones as timepieces. “It’s not a problem for Rolex,” Cole says. “No one is wearing a $10,000 Rolex because it keeps better time.”

Let’s not just pick on the kids for becoming smartphone junkies. When Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in Lower Manhattan a few years ago, the big fear among residents wasn’t that unrefrigerated food would spoil. “It was that they couldn’t recharge their phones,” Cole says.  

More and more people rely on smartphones and other mobile devices to car shop at home, on the road and even in dealerships.

Of online vehicle shoppers, 28% are using smartphones at some point. That’s a 40% increase from two years ago, according to a J.D. Power study.

Forty-two percent of car shoppers now use multiple devices, including laptops, computer tablets and smartphones, an AutoTrader study says. That’s up from 23% in 2013. Today’s 42% use mobile devices the most.

AutoTrader predicts multi-device usage will reach 80% in five years.

Trending too is the increase in customers who use the Internet to vehicle-shop right at the dealership. They’re not hauling in desktop computers to do that. They’re whipping out their phones.

Dealership personnel must get used to it, Arianne Walker, a senior director at J.D. Power, tells WardsAuto.

Still, some dealership folks find it disconcerting when a customer wields a smartphone like a weapon which, in a way, it is if you consider the power of information.

A finance and insurance manager beefs about doing a product presentation for a customer whose smartphone seemed sewn to his hand. Every time the F&I guy quoted a price, the customer started thumbing his phone to comparison shop.

That got annoying after the fourth or fifth time, says the F&I manager.

Customers with calling cards saying “Have Phone, Will Shop” present a new challenge to dealers. But Cole says auto retailers have more important matters to worry about, like Amazon’s goal of global domination, as a retailer anyway.

“Amazon is trying to take over the world, and it’s succeeding,” he says. “Its goal is to sell every auto in America online and turn dealerships into service centers.”

Every auto sold in the U.S. going into an Amazon shopping cart seems farfetched. But Cole says, “There is a long list of businesses put out of business by Amazon.”

I’d like to say more on this. But my phone tells me I’m late for an appointment.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com          

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What's Retail Front?

Blogs about automotive retailing, commenting on news impacting the business of selling vehicles.

Contributors

Steve Finlay

Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for WardsAuto.com. His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.
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