Mobile Marketing for Car Dealers

Car Dealers & the Suite of Mobile Apps

 Using mobile apps in the car buying process has empowered many consumers, arguably giving them an edge over some auto dealer salespeople.

 With apps like cars.com and Edmunds, car shoppers can find cars for sale from dealers around them based on location, calculate monthly payments and see the current market value of a  vehicle.

These apps can be very powerful tools in the car buying process. (I researched and bought my last car exclusively through the cars.com app, researching and locating the vehicle we wanted  and then driving a few states away to pick it up.)

In this approach, the consumer has total control, at least until the actual transaction. The consumer still has to go through the process of negotiating price, perhaps arguing about the actual value of a trade-in and maybe considering finance terms.

One of the largest car retailers in the U.S. took an interesting approach in tackling the issue of streamlining the process by mobile-arming its sales staff with mobile technology linked to that of the consumer.

With more than 100 dealerships in 15 states, Sonic Automotive in Charlotte, NC, wanted to make the interaction between customer and dealer more seamless, with salespeople not having to leave the customer to ask a manager for additional information.

Sonic took the obvious step of creating a consumer app so shoppers could at least see what cars were available throughout the entire dealer network.

The company also launched a series of apps for the people who work at the dealerships, setting up more of an end-to-end mobile commerce system.

The key is giving the consumer and salesperson access to the same information. In the sales process, this can translate into the salesperson getting an appraisal via the app rather than having to go ask that person in the back room for a price to be relayed to the consumer.

The consumer app, Sonic Auto Search, runs on iOS and Android, while the dealers use iPads and iPhones.

“It’s a suite of connected apps,” says Alex Bratton, CEO of Lextech, a mobile app development company in Illinois. “The salesperson is empowered.”

Bratton, whose company developed the apps, told me the idea was to link B2B with B2C, by tightly integrating the dealer and consumer apps.

In the case of Sonic, there are five separate but interconnected apps, says Bratton.

  • Virtual Lot, which shows the entire car inventory of all the dealers.
  • Sonic Inventory Management, essentially a car appraisal system.
  • Service Pad, which facilitates service appointments.
  • Mobile Business Intelligence, a dashboard for individual dealer comparisons.
  • Sonic Auto Search. The consumer app for car searches.

When a salesperson is speaking with a customer and enters data into any of the apps, the information is automatically shared with the other apps.

While this mobile apps approach is only at one particular chain of car dealers, it is yet another example of the potential end-to-end nature of mobile commerce.

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