In late 2013, Benjamin Blanco's boss asked him to find a digital-marketing solution to a problem: Customer retention at one of Andy Mohr Automotive Group's dealerships was underperforming.
Blanco, now the 33-year-old webmaster at the Indianapolis-area group, set about overhauling that store's service website, a project that soon expanded to the rest of Andy Mohr's nine dealerships. After studying Web designs from a cross section of big retailers -- from Pep Boys to Men's Wearhouse -- Blanco noticed a pattern: Most of them seemed to have coupons and special offers prominently displayed on their sites -- some splashed on the home page.
"We as an industry should ask ourselves why we continue to get beat by the independent service retailers," Blanco says. "Often it's because they're more innovative and show more attention to detail" when it comes to getting people into the service drive.
Blanco decided to display Andy Mohr's Web offers more prominently and improve their appearance on the site. He says nearly all dealerships use the same method to post special Web offers: Slap up a graphic version of a paper coupon for consumers to click on and print out. But Blanco knew that those graphics look lousy on smartphones, which now account for about half of the group's Web traffic.
Blanco, a Purdue University graduate in communications and self-taught computer programmer, spent a week trying to create a cleaner version of a printable graphic for use on the sites. Eventually, he told himself, "Curse the print button."
More research led him to an online report by Forrester Research that predicted an explosion in the use of mobile wallets, such as Apple Wallet and Google Inc.'s Android Pay. Then, bingo: Blanco found that mobile wallets also could be used for coupons and gift cards.
Today, the special offers on Andy Mohr's service sites include buttons to save to Apple Wallet and Android Pay. During a six-month test through October, more than 1,500 users downloaded an Andy Mohr coupon to their mobile wallets. About 17 percent of them redeemed a coupon.
Blanco acknowledges that those numbers for now are modest. But he says the feature is positioning the company for success in a future that favors brands that can forge digital relationships with customers.
"Consumers are saying, 'I'd rather do business with someone who will do business on my terms,'" he says. "And it makes using [coupons] more convenient and more fun."
In October, Blanco's idea was highlighted as one of five finalists at the DrivingSales Executive Summit, a dealership innovation conference in Las Vegas hosted by Drivingsales.com, a website for dealerships that serves as a social media platform.
There are other advantages over printed coupons, Blanco says.
The company has better visibility into which offers are most popular. And the dealership can update the digital offer even after it resides in customers' mobile wallets. It could switch from an oil change coupon to an alignment offer, for example, or extend the expiration date.
The mobile wallet helps transform a coupon from a scrap of paper to a connection to a customer that lives in his or her pocket, "a digital asset that builds trust and loyalty," Blanco says.
"Every three to five months, most people scrounge for a coupon for their oil change," he says. "I want to be there to answer that moment."