Tactics emerge to combat phone price surfing

Courting 'showrooming' shoppers

Tactics emerge to combat phone price surfing

Peter Chung arms each of his salespeople with an iPad mini.
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Dealerships are getting clever in the war on "showrooming," the retail phenomenon in which shoppers visit stores to get product and pricing information, then whip out smartphones to shop for a better deal elsewhere.

Peter Chung, general manager of Magic Toyota-Scion in Edmonds, Wash., arms each of his 30 salespeople with an iPad mini and hopes a shopper will pull out a smartphone or tablet.

That way, Chung said, the salesperson can synch up with the shopper to view a competing dealer's inventory and focus the sales pitch on why a specific vehicle at Magic Toyota is a better value.

"We see someone checking his iPhone, we say, 'Perfect. We want you to have all the information,'" Chung said. "Why run from it?"

Sellers Subaru in suburban Detroit has a large interactive touch screen in its showroom, said Joe Jackson, the Internet and marketing director for Sellers Auto Group. The screen not only informs shoppers about Subaru products but aims to keep them occupied and away from their own devices during lulls in the sales process, he said.

One digital marketing consultant even recommends providing open Wi-Fi in the showroom and on inventory lots for visitors to access, while strategically blocking the URLs of rival dealers.

Last month a study commissioned by Cars.com, the vehicle shopping site, found that showrooming happens routinely at dealerships.

Cars.com, working with Placed Inc. of Seattle, a company that tracks how customers use mobile phones in purchase decisions, found that 51 percent of the 1,170 shoppers who agreed to be studied over several weeks in the fall of 2013 used smartphones to compare prices and payments while on a dealership lot. About 29 percent checked inventory and 17 percent read vehicle or dealer reviews, the study found.

Of that group, 22 percent looked at vehicles at other dealerships, said Alex Vetter, senior vice president of Cars.com.

Of those who used their phones while on the lot, 62 percent visited other dealerships within a day, Vetter said. "You need to pay attention how you appear on mobile," he said.

Kevin Filan, a vice president at AutoTrader.com, said shoppers at a dealership often use mobile devices to verify prices and information they have received from salespeople. So dealerships need to make sure their numbers are consistent with data on third-party sites, Filan said.

Chung at Magic Toyota said he puts videos of vehicles and other auto-related subjects on his Web site so visitors may not feel the need to leave the site to get information.

The store also had its Web site vendors build the site with content and software code that gives it optimal placement on Google, Chung said.

Jackson at Sellers, which also owns a Buick-GMC store in suburban Detroit, said the stores pay a premium on Cars.com to get their inventory listed first on a Cars.com search in their geographic areas.

Jackson said the touch screen installed at Sellers Subaru is used frequently by shoppers who come to the store. The so-called Subaru Digital Showroom combines a 42-inch screen with an iPad application to provide videos and other vehicle information, he said. The screens now are in all 620 Subaru stores.

It doesn't prevent cross-shop-ping but fills time when salespeo-ple are fetching vehicles for a test drive or doing other tasks, he said.

Otherwise, Jackson said, "they might be shopping on their own phone."

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com. -- Follow David on Twitter and


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