The days of consumers driving around town to price-shop are fading fast.

They still may be out and about while comparing prices, but they are doing so on their smartphones and other mobile devices.

Smartphone sales are expected to surpass sales of standard computers in 2012.

Retail and service-business clients tell us that smartphones arm their customers with massive amounts of information. They have so much, they may be drowning in it.

“Buyers have too much information and not enough facts,” says one retail executive. But does that really matter if the consumer perceives that, say, your prices are too high?

Consumers use smartphones to cross-shop retailers simultaneously. They may look at a business website while negotiating on the phone with a competitor.

Dealers should think about how to prepare for success in this smartphone era because whenever new technology is embraced by consumers, new shopping habits evolve.

Here’s one already. According to several dealers we consult with, their buyers have begun shopping at odd times on nontraditional days. “Shopping” for a car now can occur in a moving city bus at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. Does your dealership have the ability to respond with adequate information at that time?

From what we’ve seen so far in regard to consumer habits, buyers are using their mobile devices to gather information and then economize their shopping time, not necessarily initiate a negotiation.

The goal of dealer principals should be to consider smartphone use while drafting marketing plans.

Here are a few recommendations:

·      Build a mobile website. Only 30% of American businesses have a mobile version of their website. If you don’t, expect smartphone users eventually to move on.

The mobile version needs to list information someone obviously would want. That includes an email and phone number with click-to-contact capability, new- and used-vehicle inventory, pricing, dealership directions and hours and video links to cars for sale.

Varying phone formats need to be considered when building a mobile site.

·      Promote the mobile page using local websites. Local television stations typically have high traffic on their websites and mobile sites that are promoted during programming.

Buy a link or push-down ad on these sites and direct buyers to your mobile page. Click-though rates of these types of ads sometimes go far beyond conventional digital-marketing performance.

·      Develop a reason to attract a competitor’s smartphone buyers to your website. If a buyer were considering doing a car deal across town, what message would make them change their minds and contact you?

What help can you offer this in-market car consumer? What exclusives can you offer beyond selection and price?

Remember, today they’ve got a supercomputer in their hands, and dealer information is free and easy. Dealers should make that information work for themselves as well as for their customers.

 (Adam Armbruster is a partner in the retail and broadcasting consulting firm of Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.)