Technology in Car Dealerships.
By NEIL GALE Saturday, February 26, 2011
Recently a client asked me, “How do I know if somebody snaps a picture of the QR code (fig.1 - Quick Response Code) in the ad I placed?” Well… there really is no way to know if a Smartphone camera takes a picture of a QR code. Smartphones must have a QR code application (app) installed to decipher the photo of the QR code. When the code contains a phone number that is auto-dialed that phone number would be tracked to that specific QR code, thus providing the metrics every dealer wants. There are quite a few free QR code reading and code generating apps available for the Android, iPhone and iPad platforms (I counted at least 18 QR code apps on the Android Market), so customers that are technology savvy can use the app for free and businesses can create QR codes on-the-fly.
Incorporating QR codes in your conventional marketing strategy is just one way to use Smartphones to communicate with a quickly growing segment of the public. Over 285 million people, over 91% of the population have mobile phones in the U.S. and nearly 40% of those phones can access the Internet. It's predicted that within the next 12 to 18 months the percentage of Smartphones will reach over 60% penetration.
There are many great Smartphone apps available today that truly engage car buyers, car enthusiasts, vehicle owners, car dealers and automotive industry professionals. The apps I’ve highlighted in this article only scratch the surface of what’s to come for mobile technology and application development in the near future.
Applications for Car Shoppers and Owners:
All car manufacturers look for ways to improve communication with owners and potential customers and to attract brand fans and car enthusiasts. Kelley Blue Book, a trusted resource that appeals to both the general public and industry professionals, has a free Smartphone app that lets users find the market value for vehicles, view videos and reviews and locate local dealers.
General Motors has Smartphone apps for vehicle owners including myCadillac, myChevrolet, myGMC, and myBuick. These apps display all the practical and functional features a car owner wants to see and provides the Owner’s Manual right on the customers Smartphone. Customers can locate a dealer, schedule service appointments or get roadside assistance when they need it. Also offered in the apps are a parking reminder to find your car in parking lots and access the OnStar MyLink service used to unlock the doors, remote start the vehicle, and check the vehicles status.
Ford has incorporated “AppLink” with their Sync system. Sync is an in-car connectivity platform that allows drivers to make hands-free calls, control music and other functions with simple voice commands. Owners of Android and BlackBerry Smartphones (the iPhone will soon be included) will get in-car access to such services as Pandora Media online radio and Stitcher Smart Radio with the Sync AppLink, which allows cars to run a variety of other Smartphone apps.
The Chrysler Group (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram) has new apps for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone platforms for some 2011 models. They provide vehicle operation, maintenance and warranty information, as well as product feature video demonstrations, connections with fellow owners via the company’s brands on social media sites, access to customer care and 24-hour road-side assistance and other features depending upon the model.
“CarLocate QR Scanner” is a proprietary Smartphone app by Reynolds and Reynolds that reads a QR code on the vehicle's window sticker (aka: the Maroni) and immediately links you to the CarLocate.com mobile site to view all the details about that vehicle. The customer must be at the vehicle to use this app, or the QR codes can be provided on a website like eBay or Craigslist (what a time saver!). With this type of app dealers can get 100% track-ability since the vendor will have website metrics to provide regarding how many records were viewed from your dealership.
The race is on. Smartphone apps are being developed at supersonic speed by automakers. Toyota now has an app allowing customers to get the latest Toyota info, live Twitter feeds and the ability to find the nearest Toyota dealership, which is perfect when traveling. Some of the latest Smartphone apps by manufacturers are: My Acura, Audi - CarMonitor, BMW - M Power Meter, Kia - Optimap, Lexus Enform Mobile, Mazda Assist, Mini - Mini Link, My Nissan Leaf, Porsche - gForce, Saab Automobile, Scion Owners, Smart - Smart Drive U.S., and Volvo On Call. These apps are continually improving with more options and features. Updates are pushed to the Smartphone via the application making it easy for vendors to provide the latest and greatest.
Applications for Salespeople and the Dealership:
General Motors has Smartphone apps for Cadillac and Chevrolet salespeople; called the Cadillac Mobile Workbench and Chevy Mobile Workbench. The content in these apps is not intended for use or viewing by consumers. The Mobile Workbench apps are designed to provide relevant tools and information to sales personnel from their mobile device. The apps are feature rich with the ability to locate a vehicle of interest in dealers inventory or from trading partners’ inventory. It displays available exterior and interior color choices, checks for current GM offers, compares vehicles against key competitors and displays the top ten selling points for each vehicle. There is a VIN barcode scanning function used to verify the dealerships’ current in-stock inventory.
“MobileAppLoader”, a company out of Canada, develops Smartphone and iPad custom apps for your business and car dealerships or dealer groups that can pay off big-time. For a one time investment under $2,000 and a small monthly charge of $35 or less, your dealership can have a full-blown application for the iPhone, iPad and Android operating platforms. Costs can be reduced by choosing one or more operating platforms. Included features will vary per operating platform. You can expect to see links and graphics for: Contact Us (Call, Directions, and Email), info links, a link to your online inventory (pictures, specifications, and vehicle details), a service appointment request form, an “about us” page and links to the social networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). You’ll be able to send visual alerts and notifications or appointment reminders to the customer. The customer can retrieve a history of past appointments dates, repairs, etc., a loan calculator, a settings link (Add to Contacts, One Touch Call), a news page about the brands you sell, and even a customer testimonial page. If the app is offered to customer for free it’s a win-win for the customer and the dealership. The dealership may be able to recoup some of the cost by offering the app for 99¢ or more if they believe that customers would be willing to pay for the app.
Applications for Dealership Wholesale Buyers and Used Car Managers:
There are some easy ways for car dealers to get instant information for their wholesale buyers, both in-house and when traveling. They can quickly appraise vehicles and determine retail market values (in real-time) using subscription based services and proprietary Smartphone applications.
“vAuto Inc.”, a company based in Oak Brook, IL., provides a sophisticated, real-time “Live Market View” for the used car market. If your dealership is using vAuto services to stock, appraise, price and market your used car inventory then this app is for you. Dealers are able to access CARFAX reports as well as all third party guidebook values including vAuto's real-time “rBook” (a retail pricing guide for identically equipped vehicles in your market). The vAuto app provides the ability to snap a picture of the VIN barcode with your Smartphone for instant decoding.
“Autoniq LLC.”, has a Smartphone app that uses a photo of the vehicles Bar Code to obtain pricing guides by Black Book, NADA, Galves, and Kelley Blue Book and market reports from every major auction in the United States. You can get a vehicles history report instantly by accessing CARFAX. This is a very useful Smartphone tool for dealers that send wholesale buyers to auto auctions. Besides the subscription fees for Autoniq, the associated CARFAX and/or other vehicle history reporting provider fees apply based upon the existing dealer agreement.
“Dealerslink, Inc.”, provides another option to read the vehicles Bar Code and buy used cars through their wholesale used car network. The “FastBook VIN Scanner” app allows a car dealer to scan the vehicle VIN bar codes with their Smartphone cameras. Once the VIN has been scanned, FastBook allows users to simultaneously book out NADA, Kelley Blue Book, MMR, Black Book and checks Carfax, AutoCheck, and Dealerslink for comparisons. Dealers can also buy and sell wholesale used cars by shopping online via Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Manheim auto auctions. It is a quick and convenient way to acquire inventory without the expense of travel and time away from the dealership. This may be the perfect solution for dealers with a small staff.
The new mantra should be: “Dealer Beware!” Smartphone apps are popping up like dandelions arming buyers with knowledge, information and pricing. Dealership owners need to be careful not to allow this new hand-held technology and an “app happy” staff to change your current business model or strategies. You’ll know when you reach the technology saturation point when you and/or your staff begin to focus on working these applications instead of using them as the tool they are meant to be. All too often using applications becomes the job.