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Showrooming is a Very Real Problem for Car Dealerships, Too

63% use their smartphones while at an auto lot

Photo: Getty Images

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the harm done to big-box stores when shoppers check out merchandise in brick-and-mortar outlets, only to buy it online (often at Amazon) for less. Now, a new study by Placed Inc. shows that showrooming is also a factor in the biggest purchase many consumers will make: cars.

Placed measures the locations of mobile phone owners who have opted to have their whereabouts tracked, then overlays that information with survey data. For this study, commissioned by online auto marketplace Cars.com, Placed surveyed more than 500 mobile users who had visited dealer lots.

There's been an explosion of mobile phones and tablets, and it's changing the nature of car buying as shoppers are using their mobiles to research cars before coming to lots, the study found. Once on a dealer’s lot, they're comparing that dealer’s inventory and prices with online competitors. Among the study's highlights:

—Mobile users who are shopping for cars were 72 percent more likely to visit an additional dealership than non-mobile users were. Of those who did, 52 percent did so because of information they gathered on their mobile devices. 

—Eighty-one percent of car shoppers use smartphones to do research when buying a car, including 63 percent who use their phones while at a dealership.

—Mobile ads played a role in influencing shoppers, as 33 percent of them visited a competing dealership based on a mobile ad they saw while on a dealer lot.

Big-box stores like Target and Walmart have taken steps to curb showrooming, like offering products that can't be found elsewhere and in-store pickups that save shoppers on shipping fees. Similarly, auto dealers can counteract showrooming by matching online competitors' prices, having a strong mobile site and being transparent with shoppers, the study suggested.

“Retailers should take immediate action to make mobile a cornerstone of their marketing strategy or risk losing out to mobile-savvy competitors,” said Alex Vetter, svp at Cars.com.

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