It's back to the future for car shoppers, who now much prefer to contact dealerships with an old-fashioned phone call rather than via the Internet.
Two years ago, Internet sales leads were gaining on phone leads, dealers and digital marketing vendors say. But ubiquitous smartphones changed all that.
"Our phone calls are going through the roof," said Mark Holian, general manager of Gulf Coast Auto Park's Ford, Nissan and Toyota stores 40 minutes from Houston.
Today, most car buyers carry smartphones. And it's easier to use a click-to-call phone link in a dealership ad than fill out a Web site information form or send an e-mail, said Holian, whose stores sold 304 new and used vehicles in May.
Holian is among many dealership managers who have beefed up phone sales training and call monitoring.
Phone leads are up 46 percent vs. Internet leads over the past two years, according to data compiled this month for Automotive News by ADP Digital Marketing, a unit of ADP Dealer Services.