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Car shoppers’ use of smartphones at dealerships grows dramatically

J.D. Power report underscores importance of mobile sites.

LOS ANGELES — More than half of consumers who use smartphones to research a vehicle before buying do so while at a dealership, J.D. Power’s 2012 Automotive Mobile Site Study found.

Nearly a third of vehicle shoppers who intend to buy or lease a new vehicle within the next two years visited mobile versions of automotive Web sites via smartphones to research a vehicle purchase, up from 24 percent last year and 17 percent in 2010. Of those consumers, 53 percent looked up vehicle information while at a dealership.

The trend underscores the importance of so-called mobile sites — Web pages designed to be viewed on a smartphone’s small screen — to manufacturers and consumers alike, Arianne Walker, J.D. Power’s senior director of media and marketing solutions, said in a statement.

More important, less satisfying

“As shoppers increasingly use their mobile device to gather information during the shopping process and even at the point of purchase, the importance and value of mobile Web sites to both manufacturers and shoppers alike grow exponentially,” Walker said in the statement.

But consumers were less satisfied with automotive mobile sites designed for smartphones than with Web sites designed to be viewed on desktop or laptop computers and tablets, such as the Apple iPad.

The study found that more than two-thirds of shoppers using smartphones visited mobile sites of automakers and third-party sites alike. Two-thirds of shoppers researched vehicle pricing information, while more than half looked up vehicle specifications, photo galleries and reviews. Nearly half of smartphone-wielding car shoppers used their devices to compare vehicles, the survey found.

More content

Automakers have taken notice. The survey found that the mobile Web sites of automotive brands provide more content than previous versions, more closely replicating content available on traditional Web sites designed to be viewed on desktop computers. Layouts are also more dynamic, with more images and links compared with the simpler, text-based mobile sites of just a few years ago.

U.S. consumers were most satisfied with the mobile Web sites of Acura and Kia, the study found. Acura’s mobile site won high marks for its content while Kia’s site was praised for its speed and appearance, J.D. Power said.

In the site rankings, Mazda’s came in third, followed by GMC’s and a tie between Jaguar’s and Ram’s.

Overall, consumers were more satisfied with the average non-premium brand’s mobile site than with those of premium brands. Non-premium makes scored higher than the industry average, while the average premium make’s mobile site ranked lower.