The Many Uses of Mobile Apps
Relevance in the Dealer World
Mobile apps have become a huge part of people’s lives. They entertain us, inform us, simplify daily tasks and help keep us organized. Applied to the world of the retail auto dealership, opportunities abound for dealers to harness the power of the app for their own benefit—both externally as a means of connecting with customers and internally by aiding day-to-day operations. Below is information on some of the providers serving the mobile space, and while it’s not an all-inclusive list, it provides a look at some of the options available to dealers.
Viability of Apps to Reach Customers
Are enough people using mobile devices to warrant app usage for dealers? Studies agree that around 90 percent of Americans have cell phones, and smartphones are increasing in popularity, causing a dramatic rise in the number of devices in use in the United States. Nielsen research from March 2012 revealed that 50.4 percent of Americans with mobile phones own smartphones, up from about 30 percent in October 2010. Add in the approximately 20 percent of Americans with tablets (according to Pew research), and the potential for reaching customers with apps is even more evident.
The next question is how often are apps actually used? The majority (64 percent, to be exact) of mobile phone time was spent on apps in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Nielsen.
Another legitimate question is, although millions of Americans have mobile devices, are they your customers? Nielsen’s “State of the Media: US Digital Consumer Report” (based on data from the third and fourth quarters of 2011) reveals that the majority of mobile device owners are indeed your customers. Ninety-four percent of smartphone owners are adults (18 and over), and 56 percent are at least 35 years old. Eighty-nine percent of tablet owners are adults, and 57 percent are 35 or older.
Now that you’ve seen the numbers showing mobile apps are viable avenues to reach customers, how do you use apps to connect with past, present and future customers? One option is to have an app specifically for your dealership.
Many savvy dealers already have a dealership-branded app, which their customers download to do things like search inventory, set service appointments and much more. Before delving into some of the options dealers have for app-building services, it’s important to consider the following questions: What do you want your app to do? How much do you want to spend? How hands-on do you want to be with the app?
The answers to these different questions are intertwined. For example, the amount of functionality you want an app to have typically dictates how much it’s going to cost. The cost can range from $11 a month to several hundred dollars a month, and some apps have one-time setup fees.
The app provider sitting at the less expensive end of the price-point spectrum is MobileAppLoader. The company offers apps for iPhone, Android and iPad platforms and has various packages and different levels of app functionality. The company’s least expensive app, has a number of functionalities a dealer might want in a mobile app. The company’s $11-a-month iPhone app includes: the ability to edit the app, a contact page, an info section, a link to your online inventory, an appointment request form, a services page, social network integration, appointment alerts, appointment history, a loan calculator, news, customer testimonials, and a parking marker to help app users locate where they parked their cars.
The Gold- and Platinum-level iPhone apps, which cost more, include the same functionalities, plus a couple other features. Push notifications are included in the Gold-level app, and the Platinum level includes chat and push notifications. Push notifications are similar to text messages, allowing the app to send notifications to app users. However, on iPhones, app users must opt into push notifications. On Android devices, opting in isn’t required, but users can opt out. Dealers can send out push notifications to let customers know about upcoming events, current specials, financing and more.
The next dealership app option is DealerBug. Owner Mike Jennings sees mobile apps gaining popularity akin to websites. “At some point, the vast preponderance of dealers are going to have these for their customers,” he predicted. Marketing used to mostly be push-oriented, he said, but now technology allows customers to “take control of the media they let into their world.” A dealership app must provide value to customers so they use it and keep it on their mobile devices. About his company’s app, he said, “It’s designed, from the dealer standpoint, to stay connected with the customers, and from the customer standpoint, it gives them some tools to manage their vehicle and some conveniences to help them take care of it and stay in touch with the dealer.”
Features dealers can include on a DealerBug app include: specials; coupons; service history; roadside assistance; service-appointment scheduling; an owner’s manual; storage of VIN, license plate, insurance information and radio/navi codes (for up to 4 cars); a “Sell My Car” feature (allows the customer to send the dealer information about his/her vehicle to see how much the dealer would pay for it); social media integration; and price quotes. The company can also add custom features for a dealership. For example, Galpin Motors in North Hills, Calif., has a restaurant in the dealership and wanted to incorporate the restaurant’s menu into the app.
To get a DealerBug mobile app up and running, it’ll take at least a couple weeks, and updates can be completed within two to three days, said Jennings. The two best ways his dealers are promoting their apps are marketing them via email and on their websites. He added that telling customers about it at the time of vehicle delivery is a successful promotion method as well. There is a setup fee, and the monthly fee per app (the company can do both iPhone and Android apps) is currently $79.
Another app option for dealers is the AutoMotionTV Dealer App. The orientation of this company’s app is a little different, in that users must turn their phones horizontally to interact with the app. However, it has many of the same features as other apps, including click to call, live chat, directions, hours, inventory (with images, video and 360-view options), push notifications, service scheduling, and reminders.
Dealers can also add custom buttons for things like roadside assistance and social media. Ben Anderson, president of AutoMotionTV, said any link a dealer currently has can be integrated into the app as a button. He said, “It allows dealers to use pieces of their e-commerce site already in existence [and] integrate them into the app, and all the lead generation features and tracking methods stay in place.” He said this works well with dealers who already have mobile-optimized sites.
The initial process of building the app is done by AutoMotionTV, and updates can be done by the company or the dealer. The dealership has access to an app administration portal and can make instant changes as needed. Anderson estimated that about 25 percent of the dealers use the app administration portal to make changes on their own, while the remaining 75 percent let the AutoMotionTV staff handle changes and updates (at no extra cost).
Another aspect of the app is promotion assistance. Anderson said, “A mobile app without effective promotion is almost completely useless.” The company creates a few videos previewing the app that the dealer can then use to promote the app on social media or via email. Also, the company provides a small snippet of code that is put on the dealer’s website to detect when a site visitor is using a mobile device and provide the user with the option of downloading the app. Anderson said this is the number-one way dealers get app installs. Another way dealers are promoting their apps is through the use of QR codes.
Anderson said dealers typically get about 1,000 app downloads in the first month or two of having the app. The current cost of an AutoMotionTV app is $249 a month, plus a setup fee.
Of the providers examined here, at the higher of the price spectrum is Dominion Dealer Solutions’ Be-Back Dealer Mobile App. Monthly fees start at $399, plus a one-time setup fee. The monthly fee rises if the dealer wants to add functions to the app.
The app offers customers options to view the dealer’s inventory, look up directions to the dealership, live chat, schedule service, view service specials, get repair estimates, sign up for service recall notifications, get trade-in values and payoff information, calculate new payments, find nearby gas stations, set a parking spot reminder, store insurance information, look up VINs, access CARFAX reports, track the service history for up to four cars, receive service maintenance reminders, access the dealership’s contact information, read customer reviews, and connect to manufacturer vehicle manuals.
While there are comparisons to be made between the various app providers, it’s important to note that they shouldn’t be viewed as apples-to-apples comparisons. Dominion’s app offers some rather robust features, including DMS integration, which other companies do not offer. Brice Englert, general manager for Dominion Dealer Solutions, pointed out that a dealer has a wealth of information in a DMS that can be utilized to make an app a more “useful experience for the consumer.” One example that is useful to both consumer and dealer is the service scheduling tool, which can be integrated with the DMS for an extra fee. When a customer uses the app to schedule an appointment, the appointment is immediately set in the DMS, whereas apps lacking integration typically have forms that email a service advisor to schedule the appointment in the system. “It’s easy to create a form. It’s difficult to actually integrate with the DMS every 15 minutes,” said Englert. The company is able to integrate with Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP and DealerTrack DMS.
While the integration is beneficial, it does lengthen the time it takes to get an app up and running. Ed Braunbeck, Dominion Dealer Solutions’ product general manager, said, “DMS integration is the longest part [of the process] … and can take anywhere from three to four weeks.” When you factor in the time to build the app and get it approved by Android and/or iPhone, a dealer could be looking at up to two months before the app is ready to go live. Other companies that don’t have the DMS-integration hurdle to clear can have an app done in less than a month.
The first version of the company’s Be-Back Dealer Mobile App was launched in February 2012 at NADA, and the company has plans to add more features in future versions, including push notifications, said Englert.
A different twist on customer-facing apps is App Your Staff by SynnApps Mobile. The company provides an individual apps each salespeople and service advisors, to help foster one-on-one relationships between dealership employees and their customers. Some of the app features include: personal QR codes that link to the app and can be used on business cards or websites, click to call, the salesperson’s/advisor’s in-store hours, appointment-setting, special offers, referrals, inventory, and directions. The App Your Staff apps are $199 to $299 per app for the first year, and are 50 percent off that for the following year.
The list of dealer-facing apps that are available is growing day by day, and the goal of this type of app is to simplify tasks for dealers and dealership personnel. There are two types of dealer-facing apps: 1) stand-alone apps that are products in and of themselves, and 2) apps that are extensions of other products and services. Currently, it seems most of the dealer-facing apps fall into the second category.
cDemo’s Mobile Inspector app is a stand-alone app that aids dealers in the vehicle merchandising process. Employees can use it to capture photos, video and vehicle data. It includes step-by-step on-screen instructions, so anyone in the dealership can use it to input information about the vehicle. Once all information is entered into the app, it’s uploaded to cDemo’s Web-based dashboard and automatically distributed to the dealership’s website and third-party sites or other programs like AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, vAuto, OVE.com, and more. The Mobile Inspector app is free to download, and dealers pay per car inspection. There are no other fees or contracts. An inspection on a new car is $2.50. For used cars, there are three levels—basic, enhanced and in-depth. A basic inspection on a used car is $2.50, an enhanced is $3.50 and an in-depth is $4.50.
The dealer pays for the inspections with credits they purchase from the company. Each credit costs 50 cents. Aleksandra Banas, director of new media at cDemo, explained, “The dealer purchases credits in our Dashboard. … The credits never expire. … When the dealer runs out of credits, they just load more on our backend system.”
DealerTrack eCarList offers TrueTarget Mobile as a stand-alone app for dealers. It’s a mobile version of the company’s TrueTarget inventory management offering, but dealers can opt to use just the app and not the full version. It helps with the inventory merchandising process, allowing dealers to do appraisals of cars with data from third-party sites like AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, eBay, NADA, Black Book, and more to determine retail market and wholesale values of cars. It can also help price cars, take photos of cars, examine data like market days supply of vehicles, choose vehicle options, create vehicle descriptions, and view inventory analytics.
According to the iTunes store, TrueTarget Mobile is free for CARFAX dealers with active CARFAX usernames and passwords, free for eCarList inventory management clients, and $75 a month for all other automotive dealers. DealerTrack eCarList’s website states that the optional wholesale books can be added for $50 per month, per book.
For dealers using CallSource’s DealSaver offering, the company rolled out a complementary app earlier this year that’s an extension of the DealSaver product. DealSaver uses CallSource’s call tracking and recording to review calls, identify lost sales opportunities, and notify managers within an hour, so they can follow up with prospects to try to save deals. Typically, users of the service receive these notifications via email, but users who also have the mobile app on their iPhones receive alerts, which include the caller’s name, contact information and a summary of the call to let the manager know what went wrong on the initial call.
“The goal of inbound phone calls is to set appointments,” said Pogo Parr, vice president of automotive at CallSource. “Our DealSaver team, which is actually listening to these phone calls coming in, will identify [mishandled calls] and will send out an actual DealSaver alert to the managers, general manager and owner that goes to their iPhones and inboxes.”
ShipCarsNow, an auto transport company, released a mobile app about a year ago that’s an extension of its main offering. The app is available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices, and dealers can get a transport quote, place an order, track their vehicles and get news updates. Registration is free; dealers just have to input their auction access numbers and accept the app’s terms and conditions. “At the time of the order and quote, we give estimated days to delivery. Once an order is made, we give an ETA date,” said Jeff Grandstaff, ShipCarsNow’s general manager.
Dealer.com has an app, Mobile Lot Capture, the goal of which is to help dealers merchandise their inventory more quickly. Dealers can scan VINs (which pulls up the vehicle information), upload inventory, photograph vehicles, update options and save to the dealership website. The app, which is currently available on iPhones, actually guides the user around the vehicle while suggesting which photos to take and how far the camera should be zoomed in. According to Dealer.com’s Facebook page, “It’s part of the new Digital Website Suite, and right now only dealers with the Suite can log in and use it. But all of our clients will have access to the app later in the year, after some new features are added (including Android support).”
vAuto offers mobile app versions of its inventory management tool on iPhone and Android. Dealers don’t have to pay an extra monthly fee to use the app, but there is a $1.99 download fee from both platforms’ app stores. Dealers can take vAuto into the auction lane and access CARFAX reports, third-party guidebook values (wholesale and retail) and data on other in-market vehicles, and they can create a shopping list of desired vehicles.
NADA offers a VIN Scanner app, which is free to subscribers of NADA AppraisalPRO and/or NADA Online. The app allows dealers to access used vehicle values on their iPhone or Android smartphones. Dealers can either scan the VIN barcode, type in the VIN, or select the vehicle make, model and year; then, they can view market data to help determine the value of a vehicle and make purchase decisions. For dealers who have an AutoCheck account, an at-a-glance vehicle history report will automatically appear, and the full report is available with one click.
Black Book has a similar lineup of apps for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows smartphones. The company’s iPhone app is called iUsedCar, the Android app is called My Used Cars, the BlackBerry app is called Black Book Used Cars, and the Windows app is called BB Used Cars. The iPhone and Android versions have VIN scanning capabilities and integrate with CARFAX and AutoCheck. The BlackBerry version has CARFAX integration, and the Windows version has CARFAX and AutoCheck integration. All the apps provide values for retail, wholesale and trades. All versions have a monthly fee for monthly value updates and a higher fee if daily value updates are needed.
Recently, in April 2012, HookLogic announced its mobile redemption app, AKA the AutoHook mobile app, which will allow dealership personnel to validate, redeem and measure incentives via their mobile devices. The mobile app works with the company’s corresponding AutoHook tool, which is an incentive-based lead-capture form presented to customers on dealership websites. Prospective customers must complete the form to get the incentive, which is typically a gift card or coupon. To get their gifts, they must bring a redemption code to the dealership, which is where the redemption app comes in handy. The redemption app is free to current HookLogic dealers and is available on iPhone and Android devices. At the same time the company rolled out the dealer redemption app, HookLogic made the lead-capture forms available on dealers’ mobile properties (apps and mobile websites) for a fee.
App Your Store
Look around at your dealership on a busy afternoon. How many of your customers have smartphones in their hands? There’s definite value in having a piece of real estate on customers’ phones. Next, look around your showroom on a slow afternoon, and count the number of employees who have smartphones in their hands. Are you giving your staff the ability to use apps for improving the way they do business?
Vol. 9, Issue 6