Even as mobile browsing and pageviews among smartphone users have increased substantially in the past year, 89 and 127 percent respectively, according to M:Metrics, the development of mobile automotive sites has not kept pace.
Consumers who are looking to access third-party and automaker sites from their mobile devices have few to choose from and even fewer that offer an optimum experience.
Third-party automotive mobile sites are best for searching inventory
The few sites that are getting it right are those focused on classified listings. In-market automotive consumers looking to find decision-making advice are better served by their laptops. However, once it’s time to search local dealer inventory, their mobile devices can help them pinpoint what’s available in their area.
The mobile automotive sites with the strongest inventory focus are those from Cars.com and Vehix.com. Both list new- and used-car inventory search as the first two links from their landing screens.
Cars.com Mobile, which launched in June 2007, is the best site for consumers who wish to check out local inventory, find a dealer and get maps and directions. The site also makes it easy to quickly find the make you are looking for – the new-car listings screen displays multiple makes side-by-side. [Full disclosure: I am the former Managing Editor of Cars.com, a position I held until December 2004. However, I did not have any involvement with the current iteration of the Cars.com mobile site.]
The one advantage that Vehix Mobile, which launched in October, has over Cars.com is a cleaner interface. Unfortunately, I was unable to compare inventory results between the two sites because of “internal server” errors I encountered both times I tried to use the Vehix mobile site.
The company also touts its send-to-phone text messaging feature. Car shoppers accessing the Vehix site from their PC can click the “Send to my mobile” link on any vehicle detail page. A plain text message with basic vehicle details and dealer name and number is sent automatically.
The downside of doing vehicle research on Cars.com Mobile is that car reviews do not include pricing; you need to navigate to the new-car pricing section for this information. Other frustrations include getting used-car inventory mixed in with new-car search results. When searching for a new Mazda6, I had to refine the multiple-model-year search results — more than 200 “new” Mazda6s from the 2005 through 2008 model years were returned for my area — by adding a 2008 model year filter.
One of the best features of Cars.com Mobile is the get directions to a dealer functionality, which includes a map and turn-by-turn driving instructions.
Few options for doing in-depth vehicle research for mobile browsers
With mobile automotive sites primarily focused on inventory search and dealer locator tools, there are not too many places for mobile browsers to read reviews, get detailed pricing and research vehicle specs. The two major exceptions are the Car and Driver and Edmunds.com mobile sites.
The Car and Driver mobile site has helpful vehicle overviews, enthusiast and consumer ratings, detailed reviews, road tests and photos. However, consumers would be advised to take a pass on the dealer locator tool, which did not deliver meaningful results.
Both the Car and Driver and Edmunds.com mobile sites serve consumers who are looking for detailed vehicle research.
The Edmunds mobile site offers a wealth of information, particularly on vehicle pricing and specs, and useful tools such as a payment calculator. However, users may be frustrated by the multiple clicks required to select makes along with the commingling of editorial and advertising links on each car menu page.
One manufacturer’s success with its mobile site
In May 2007 Mazda Mobile was launched and since that time has attracted more than 40,000 unique visitors who have completed more than 38,000 buying-related activities, such as using the dealer locator and inventory search tools and opting in for the “Keep me updated” feature.
Although the number of mobile visitors to mazdausa.com pales in comparison to those who are accessing the site from PCs, the high level of buying-related activities taking place is a good indication of the intentions of these visitors.
In addition to providing in-market consumers with easy access to request a quote, search inventory and dealer locator tools, the site also makes it easy for mobile browsers to contact the company.
What this means for automakers and automotive marketers
Mobile automotive is about more than marketing and advertising campaigns. Even though the percentage of in-market consumers who now do vehicle research from a mobile device is still in the single digits, it will not remain so for long. Now is the time to start planning how you will serve your future customers who access your brand site from a mobile device.
In addition to Mazda USA and the third-party sites listed here, are there other mobile automotive sites worth mentioning? Please add your suggestions in the comments.
All mobile automotive sites mentioned in this article were accessed several times between June 15 and June 25 on a Motorola Q handset. Additional testing was done on a Nokia N70 and Sony K750 emulator.
Americans spend more than 4.5 hours per month browsing on smartphones; M:Metrics press release, 05.21.08
Car and Drive mobile
Measuring results for Mazda; iCrossing case study
Amit Aggarwal conducted a similar analysis of these five mobile automotive sites in April for the J.D. Power Online Automotive Review.