More car shoppers turn to mobile apps


SAN JOSE, Calif. — If you’re shopping for a car, your first stop may be your smartphone.

As consumers grow increasingly comfortable buying smaller items such as clothes and concert tickets from their mobile devices, some are also using their smartphones and tablets for big-ticket purchases like cars.

“There’s this huge upheaval in terms of mobile usage and mobile behavior,” said Jeff Birkeland, vice president of product management for High Gear Media, which publishes The Car Connection site and app. “People are looking to not only research cars, but actually take action and connect to a dealer and do some business on mobile.”

Online companies are putting the entire car shopping experience on a mobile device, replacing the lengthy weekend trudge between dealerships with an afternoon on the couch with an iPad. The shift to mobile, tech companies and car salespeople agree, has armed consumers with more information and resources to prepare for what is for most of us a sizable and emotional purchase. Shoppers can research their new and used car purchases before going to the dealer, and with some mobile apps, even buy a used car.

With growing interest in car research apps, mobile devices are expected to become a go-to resource for 87 percent of car consumers, according to a 2012 study from Briabe, a mobile advertising company that surveyed more than 1,600 people planning to purchase a car within 12 months.

The mobile app from Menlo Park-based The Car Connection offers vehicle ratings, reviews, buying guides, connections to local dealerships, financing and insurance advice and recall warnings. The company, which also has a desktop website, gets about 35 percent of its traffic from mobile, Birkeland said. That number spikes on the weekend and during televised sports events — especially the Super Bowl — when car advertisements air.

Edmunds.com, the online car-buying guide headquartered in Santa Monica, saw its mobile website views increase six-fold from March 2011 to March 2013, and its separate mobile app saw 14 times as many views over roughly the same time period.

“We’re definitely seeing the shift to mobile,” said Stephen Gandee, vice president of mobile and personalization at Edmunds.com. Visitors spend an average of four minutes on the website, but about eight minutes each time they open the smartphone app and 12 minutes on the iPad app, he said.

Shoppers aren’t using mobile only for car research — they’re buying used cars on their smartphones, too. eBay (EBAY) sells more than 11,000 pre-owned vehicles each week through its online auctions to shoppers using their mobile device, and traffic is so high that the company created an eBay Motors app, according to spokeswoman Amanda Coffee.


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