Dealership Marketing

Mobile Websites vs. Mobile Apps. Which One For The Dealer?

Dealership Mobile websites vs. Apps.

You can read countless articles on this topic. It’s a subject as polarizing as a sports boarder battle. There are plenty of examples of companies using mobile websites or apps exclusively, while others opt for both options. Which mobile strategy is the best route for the dealer? Mobile websites? Apps? Both?

First, let’s look at some current market data:

Do users prefer apps or mobile sites?

Percentages in available studies conflict, but the results show that some users prefer apps while others want a mobile website experience. A recent Adobe article points to 66% of mobile users preferring to surf via mobile browser rather than mobile apps: In contrast data published by Zoken last month points to app usage growing as compared to the mobile web: In summary, some users opt for a mobile web experience when consuming information while others prefer an app experience. While it’s hard to nail down percentages, the takeaway is that there is a strong demand in both categories.

Do more mobile websites or apps exist?

TapTu’s fourth quarter report of the mobile web shows over 440k mobile sites now exist: http:// “Mobile site” in this context is defined as a touch friendly site, optimized for today’s touch screen mobile devices. The total number of apps for all mobile platforms exceeds 500k: iPhone’s iOS claims over 250k apps, followed by Android recently cresting the 100k mark: With more and more companies opting to create both a mobile website and a native app, look for these stats to increase in the near future.

Time spent within mobile sites vs. apps

While the browser on a mobile device used to account for 70-80% of total internet usage, apps have reduced that number in recent years to just over 50%: In fact, studies are only able to track total browser usage, not just mobile website usage. As such, we are unable see a direct comparison. One stat has increased – time spent within apps. Think of this stat as the website equivalent “time on site” metric. This “stickiness” is aided by the fact that native apps are installed on devices, not just browsed. Having an icon installed on the user’s home page is a clear advantage and is a key reason mobile apps hold an upper hand in this area.

Pros and Cons. Where apps shine and mobile sites excel.

Mobile Websites: As mobile sites have evolved over the years they have become excellent sources for quick information. Hours, directions, inventory, etc loads quickly and is easy to navigate on any mobile device. Mobile sites are cross platform compatible, allowing users on just about any touch screen mobile device to access information.


  • Quick, easy access to information on the go
  • Cross platform compatible, no download needed

Mobile Apps: Apps have always been about experience first, information second. Typical app users expect a certain level of interaction and, in many cases, some level of entertainment value. Additionally, app users tend to spend significantly more time within an app vs a mobile site visit. Apps are installed on a device, creating a potential longer-term opt-in relationship channel.


  • Interactive experience, unique user interface
  • Extended time-on-site metrics/user
  • App install = long-term relationship potential

The Combo. Mobile Sites within Apps.

Some of the most successful apps feature an interactive front end with drill-down access to additional information. Nike ID’s app draws the user in with an immersive app experience, then capitalizes on opportunity by offering the user the option to purchase. The Hyperlite app allows the user to browse wakeboards, bindings, and accessories in typical app fashion while utilizing Hyperlite’s existing mobile site to provide product details and purchase options. Some of the best app experiences engage, immerse, and then push the user to a call to action mechanism.


  • Interactive app experience teamed with drill down access to additional specifics or information.

What about the dealer?

In summary, the industry battle of apps vs. the mobile web is far from over. Which option will dealers see the most success from? Dealers are reporting a rapid increase in mobile device traffic to their websites. In response, both apps and mobile websites are being created to capture visitors. I believe we’ll have a much clearer idea of dealer ROI in this arena within the next 9-12 months.

How are you implementing an app or mobile site with your dealership?

What specific results are you experiencing?

What’s your opinion on the future of mobile web and apps in the dealer market?

With my personal experience, and I feel most others, I will download an app for a site that I tend to visit often (eBay, Amazon, Facebook, etc). For sites that I rarely visit, I will use my mobile browser. With that thought in mind, my gut feeling is that most dealers should focus on mobile sites over apps as our consumers do not visit an automotive site unless they are looking to buy (every few years) or need to schedule service. It seems like the apps I have seen out there are mostly downloaded by the folks that work at the dealership, and not by the shoppers we want to engage.
You can make a mobile site and it works on every phone there is... Or you can try and create mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile 7, etc, etc.... can you afford to make them for every platform and keep up with the changes?

Mobile apps allow you to access the camera and maybe send them push notifications. Otherwise there isn't much of an advantage.

You also can't measure page views/usage very well on mobile apps.

Ask people to bookmark your mobile site and it will create an icon in their menu just like a mobile app does.
We actually have both a mobile site and apps for iPhone and Android right now. We do a couple of updates a month on the app and get some traffic with it. We also are seeing more and more people scheduling service appointments through both the app and the mobile version of our website.

The app does tie into our mobile site so it is working great for us. I am seeing increased traffic on our mobile site month after month and shows that more and more people are surfing on their phones.
Mobile apps also lock you in to a specific vendor who made the app and they have you trapped for life basically.

Mobile sites can be changed at anytime between vendors
@matt...unless you pay to NOT have their advertising which we did.
We have an App and a mobile site. Since we launched the App we have seen our mobile visits increase 110%. Mobil sites are pretty bland. Our strategy is to market the App heavily on our site, with email, and print advertising, entertain them with the app, give them informaton and videos with the app, then drive them to our site. The younger generation seems to like texting more than talking on phones, they also surf considerably more than previously with their phones. We want to cover all bases. When they are in the market we want to be ready.
  • M
  • November 9, 2010
It's good to see that there are some guys out there who track well enough to see the value in their apps and mobile sites like @Jim Bell.

With so many of us obsessed with our mobile devices today (personally I live on my iPhone 4 so I fall into this category) it would seem like every dealer should have, at a minimum, a mobile site that will allow a consumer to search & browse their inventory as well as set a service appointment.

If they really aren't going to invest any more time into tracking the results but want to make sure they're not missing out on folks who do it all on a mobile device, this should be enough shouldn't it?

The thing I always find humor in is when dealer friends of mine jump on the mobile site/app bandwagon and expect some grand increase in sales just because they have these up and running.

That's like putting an extra driveway into your dealership parking lot and expecting more sales because of it.

Your mobile site and mobile app, in my humble opinion, are two more 'virtual driveways' for a consumer to 'pull in' your dealership. They're supposed to be a fast and easy way to get information and contact you if they want to.

Can you make them into more and get better results? Sure you can. But with most of us not honestly tracking, measuring, monitoring, training, adjusting, tracking & measuring get the picture....since most of us in this industry aren't tracking and adjusting in a way that will make a difference...adding a mobile site or mobile app are basically good ways to add another entrance to the dealership just in case a customer happens to be driving down those virtual roads.

I love the article Ben, thanks!
@ Kevin: My research has confirmed your points. The "stickiest" apps tend to be those the user has reason for multiple visits (social media apps, shopping, travel). Also, an interesting point can be made for an app's home screen placement and it's effect on increased usage and multiple user visits. More and more mobile sites are capitalizing on home screen placement - we'll see how this affects the future numbers.

On the flip side, an interesting example of how VW used an app to &ldquo;create a reason&rdquo; for multiple visits (app video game) and tied back $4m in revenue to the app: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

@ Jim Bell &amp; Mike Maher: Great to hear some relevant experience from dealers.

@ Mat: Great analogy. Mobiles sites or apps should be considered an accessory to a well-rounded marketing strategy. What dealers should be paying attention to is how many visitors are using each &quot;driveway&quot;. Let those numbers guide your efforts in mobile marketing. Jeff&#039;s post earlier this year is of particular interest: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
In these early years of App development, it&#039;s a closed garden that doesn&#039;t allow for quick implementation. I expect in the next couple of years (months?) that we&#039;ll start to see &quot;throwaway apps&quot; that can be made quickly and easily and run on a deck that&#039;s already developed for the different app platforms.

In other words, similar to how the Internet works today, you will be able to go to, let&#039;s say, a universal car sales app that is attached to multiple dealers in your area. Rather than being dealer-specific, a buyer would be able to install the app, do their business with access to tons (every?) of dealers in their area, and then uninstall the all when they&#039;ve bought.

Otherwise, mobile website and traditional web browsing on mobile devices is still the way to go in my opinion.
  • J
    Jerry Evans @inspire
  • November 10, 2010
Great comment stream Gentlemen, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I was a mobile site advocate, and to a certain extent, still am. It is far easier to create and is cost effective.

I am leaning towards Apps more these days, I really like the Contemporary Motor Cars iPhone App as an example.

I have a question for you. Who do you envisage using your mobile site/app? Is it those customers that deliberately come to your lot when you are not there, to browse uninterrupted? -The Racoon Shopper?!

Let them access the information they need with a QRCode that leads them to your Inventory Listing on your mobile website or App. Info, photos, comparison suggestions, special offers and links back to your website for other services can all be downloaded into their Smartphone.

QRCodes can also be primed to send SMS, phone contact, and provide accurate metrics.

The decal is the size of a windshield price sticker, can be Branded and instructions on how to scan included. Most new Smartphones come with the Barcode reader as standard.

Airlines use them for boarding passes, Google Places use them, they are part of the Mobile Web evolution and are widely accepted by GenYs. Thoughts?
  • A
    Alex Schoeneberger
  • November 11, 2010
I see more potential for ROI with apps when you use it for scheduling service visits instead of showing inventory (but you should still do both). Because the app is there on the smart phone until the user deletes it, they will probably continue to use it when they need to get their vehicle serviced.

If the Service Writer had a smart phone and showed every customer coming through how easy it was to schedule an appointment and their paperwork had the name of the app with a short list of benefits, it would also help drive adoption.

From that standpoint, apps are great for customer retention, but not as good for gaining new business. The person who is browsing for a car or a place to service their vehicle from a mobile device is probably more likely to look around with his/her mobile browser than download a dealer-specific app - especially when they haven&#039;t picked which dealer they want to be a customer at yet.

All of that leads me to say that you really need both.
You could schedule service visits via a mobile website.... doesn&#039;t have to be an app.
Here is a great article on this topic

The iPhone app is the Flash homepage of 2010
<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
Wow, that article should be a must-read for all of us in the community. I know that I am getting lots of sales calls from vendors who want to build apps for us, but this answers the question for me. Thanks for sharing Matt.
I think that there is room for both; however the more practical approach for your average dealer seems to lean towards the mobile site. In the end the goal is lead conversion. Unfortunately most examples of mobile sites that are now being used are bland and simply fulfill a void as a better choice to having the full site appear on a four inch screen. Apps are likely to be the next &ldquo;bright shiny object&rdquo; at the end of the watch chain being demo&rsquo;d to the GM and recent statistics shows that 70 &ndash; 80% of uploaded apps are deleted.

We have had the fortune of being an integral part of the development of both of the mobile sites that we are using for our two stores. We chose Mobile Fusion because of the flexibility they gave us in growing and expanding the use of our mobile site, for example the future and integration of QR codes is something that was important to me. Both sites are appealing and functional lead conversion tools.

The one thing that I don&#039;t hear people talk about when the mobile site subject comes up is phone calls. Is it too obvious? We received over two hundred calls from the tracking numbers on our John Marazzi Nissan mobile site last month, 60/40 Sales to Service. I am also encouraged by the page views and time on site. We chose to split the baby with iPad users by feeding our site horizontally and our mobile site vertically. We are adding a &ldquo;See Full Site&rdquo; button at the bottom of the screen.
As a vendor to OEMs I have promoted both apps and mobile web &quot;apps&quot; over the past year. But now I am a mobile web proponent and this information was great! Anything out of the OEM changes the day it is released. Apps take too long to update even with web components. The vendor independence is something I don&#039;t promote - but a great reason to go with the web approach. In our business the current thought is all websites should start design as a mobile site and then move to desktop. The numbers say more users access the web on a mobile device than the larger screen devices.

The QR code concept is so powerful, it&#039;s a no-brainer, but still hard to sell to clients. Mobile for the OEMs is great for performance enhancement - ie reference or simple training. Everyone here seems to be way ahead of the manufacturer in understanding the power of mobile - make my job easier and share this great knowledge with your OEM.
Most of the dealer apps I have seen have the same (if not less) functionality than the dealer&#039;s mobile site. I would agree with a combination assuming the dealer app meets an entirely different purpose - such as personalizing my data and allowing me to schedule service appts.
The apps that I like best allow me to do specific tasks such as downloading audio books. I generally have to interface with the main website first and then use my app to complete the task.

I&#039;m pleased how well our own WordPress sites show up on smart phones. People need to be sure that their video shows up - not all video is compatible with all smart phones.

Charlie Seymour Jr
<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
Definately think that mobi sites are the better way to go. You are going to have much more natural traffic flowing to a mobile site than you will ever have of getting your customers &amp; non-customers alike to find and download your app. Good post &amp; comments...thanks all
  • J
    Jim Bell
  • June 22, 2011
Since Jeff is wanting to bring this conversation back to life, I will start it out. We have had our mobile site up for a year now (went live last June). So far this year, we have had a 200% increase in traffic over the last 6 months of 2010 in just the first 6 months of this year. If someone says that people aren't using their phones to shop, they are lying.

One stat that threw me back in my chair at DD was that 93% of the cell phones in the U.S. are smart phones. Of those, 37% were using their phones to surf at home over their home computer. Guess it's good to have your site mobilized.

As far as the app is concerned, we are seeing an increase month over month on the iPhone side of things. I can't see the usage of the Android version. Being able to push notifications is great, but you have to use those notifications and be careful of the amount of notifications you are pushing out. The usage is going up, and we are seeing more and more service appointments with the app. Was it worth it? I think so. I have even had a few customers hand written iPhone app on my sourcing sheet that is filled out by all of our sold customers in F&amp;I. it's paid for itself.
Our traffic is so strong lately that it's totally challenged my thoughts of how important mobi is to shoppers and where it fits in the marketing priority list.

Wait till 4G hits! It'll create another wave of usage.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 22, 2011
Jim, my reports on mobile usage almost mirrors yours. However, as of 3 months ago, Android took the lead over iphone (with my Benz dealer being the exception where iphone is still number 1).

Where did you hear the 93% stat? That sounds way to high compared to other studies and stats I have read recently. I would say this could be correct for major metro areas.

No app here, and there is a thread on the blog I believe that dives into this conversation. Use our new Power Search to find it. :)

I love the idea of push notifications and service scheduling.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 23, 2011
Came across this relevant article -

I am a serial internet entrepreneur and looking for larger dealerships interested in co-developing a high-impact cross-platform site written in a contemporary way that fosters both browsing and engagement - effectively turning Autotrader on its head.  

Over the past few months, I have been interviewing top development teams from San Francisco to D.C., and know what it takes.

Imagine your customers being able to browse inventory that your sales team uploads from any device, where customers can bookmark favorites and quickly engage with the proper sales member.

I have authored a book on Adwords, have Adwords certification and am well versed in SEO. This product will capitalize on that knowledge.

If you are interested or represent an interested dealership, I can be reached at @K7marketing.