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What Drives the Most Phone Calls to Automotive Dealerships: Desktop or Mobile?

Blair Symes VP of Product Marketing, DialogTech

In the past two years the automotive industry has experienced a pronounced and well-publicized shift from desktop to mobile shopping.

Studies show that most shoppers run searches for vehicles and visit automotive websites on their mobile devices. Automotive manufacturers and dealers have responded by shifting the majority of their digital ad spend from targeting desktops and laptops to targeting mobile devices, especially smartphones.

It makes sense: if most people shop for vehicles on their smartphones, then automotive marketers should want most of their digital ads in general — and search ads in particular — to appear on smartphones.

But just because most activity and ad spend occur on one device, does that mean that most phone calls to dealerships — often the most valuable conversion generated by automotive websites — follow that same logic? And how does that answer impact how automotive marketers should approach digital advertising?

Those are the questions that DT University sought to answer in this study. We examined phone call data from the DialogTech voice management platform, which tracks, routes, and manages millions of calls each year generated by visitors to the websites of the world’s biggest automakers and dealerships.

The answers may surprise you.

First, Some Background Data on Automotive Marketing and Mobile

If you follow the automotive industry, the headlines are hard to miss: automotive advertising has gone both digital and mobile.

According to eMarketer, digital advertising made up 56% of all media ad spend for automotive manufacturers (Tier 1) and 66% of all media ad spend for dealers (Tier 3) in the US in 2015. That year the automotive industry in the US spent over $7.4 billion on digital advertising, a number that is expected to nearly double to $14.1 billion in 2020.

eMarketer US Auto Industry Ad Spending

(Image Source: eMarketer)

Of that $7.4 billion spent by the US automotive industry on digital advertising in 2015, 53% targeted shoppers on desktops and laptops. But 2015 would be the last year desktop would be king. In 2016, the US auto sector officially went mobile, spending 60% ($5.25 billion) of total digital ad spend to target shoppers on smartphones and tablets.

eMarketer US Auto Industry Ad Spending By Device

(Image Source: eMarketer)

The shift in ad spend from desktop to mobile seems to make sense. Studies show that 71% of people use mobile in the automotive purchase process, and 62% of all automotive searches occur on a mobile device. If people shop for vehicles on mobile, why shouldn’t marketers move their ad spend to target them in order to optimize ROI and customer acquisition?

To answer that, it helps to first understand why phone calls generated by digital advertising and automotive websites are such important marketing conversions.

Why Are Phone Calls Important in Automotive Marketing?

One would think that in today’s digital world, phone calls to dealerships would have taken a backseat in both volume and value to online conversions (web form fills, website chat, and emails). But that’s not the case.

According to Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, 25% of car buyers first contact dealerships by calling. Calls are the second most popular way shoppers contact a dealer before visiting, second only to unannounced walk-ins. In fact, phone calls surpass the combined total of all other conversions methods (email, chat, text, and social media).

Initial Contact with Dealership- 25% by calling

(Image Source: Autotrader/Kelley Blue Book)

So why are people still calling dealerships when researching online? The conventional explanation for this is the smartphone: people who engage with digital ads and visit websites on their smartphones contact businesses by calling. Calling is the easiest conversion path for smartphone users — it’s far more efficient than trying to fill out a form on your tiny smartphone screen and wait for hours or days for the dealership to call or email you back. So it stands to reason that smartphone shoppers want to call.

A study by Google supports this idea. It found that 39% of consumers who used their smartphones in the vehicle shopping process called a dealer.

What’s more, when DT University analyzed the outcomes of millions of phone calls to dealerships from automotive website visitors captured by the DialogTech voice management platform, we found that callers purchased a vehicle 10 times more frequently than people who filled out a web form.

Excluding walk-ins, calls are the most valuable conversion generated by automotive digital marketing, contributing to the most vehicle sales and revenue. And driving calls is therefore an important part of any successful marketing campaign.

But just because people call when shopping for vehicles on their smartphones, does that mean they don’t also call when shopping on their desktops and laptops? And which device drives the most calls?

People Shopping for Vehicles on Desktops Call the Most

To answer, DT University examined data from the DialogTech voice management platform on over 1.1 million phone calls generated by visitors to automotive websites (both Tier 1 and Tier 3) to thousands of North American dealerships. What we found was a powerful rebuttal to the popular idea that desktop is dead and automotive marketers must focus their efforts and ad spend on mobile shoppers. The data showed that:

54.8% of call conversions from Tier 1 and Tier 3 automotive websites were from shoppers on their desktops and laptops.

Contrary to popular belief, only 45.2% of calls come from visitors on mobile devices.

Broken out further, DT University found that 55.7% of calls from Tier 1 (manufacturer/OEM) websites and 53.1% of calls from Tier 3 (local dealership) websites come from desktops/laptop visitors.

The gap between desktop and mobile calls is even more pronounced during the automotive industry’s two peak sales seasons from March to May and from September to November.

Calls to dealerships by shopping device by month- DT University Study

This data should be an eye-opener for auto manufacturers and dealerships. When you ramp up digital ad spend during peak seasons to drive sales, don’t forget about targeting desktop shoppers: they drive the most calls and revenue:

First Peak Sales Season

  • March: 22.2% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile
  • April: 27.3% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile
  • May: 27.3% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile

Second Peak Sales Season

  • September: 22.2% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile
  • October: 22.2% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile
  • November: 56.4% more calls from desktop/laptop than mobile

When the data was examined based on the day of the week when shoppers call dealerships, some interesting trends appear. While mobile shoppers do generate more calls on the weekends, desktop/laptop shoppers drive far more calls during the week.

Calls to dealerships by shopping device by day- DT University Study

This insight into caller activity is valuable for automotive digital marketers running paid search campaigns, for example. Knowing which devices drive the most calls on each day can help you adjust ad spend to get the right ads in front of audiences most likely to call, thereby increasing your ROI.

A similar look at calls by time of day found that most calls during the traditional workday are from desktop shoppers, suggesting that people are shopping for cars at work on their desktops/laptops and calling dealers to ask questions and schedule test drives. Again, good insight to know to optimize digital ad targeting to get the most bang for your buck.

Calls to dealerships by shopping device by time of day- DT University Study

I hope this data from DT University helps provide some much-needed color and nuance to the “best practice” that automotive marketers should focus heavily on mobile, especially if they want to generate more calls to dealerships.

Yes, phone calls to dealerships are huge revenue drivers in the automotive industry. And yes, people shopping for vehicles on their smartphones call dealerships. But saying that smartphones are the reason why people are calling is too simplistic — people call when shopping on all devices, and they actually call most when shopping on desktops/laptops.

Pouring all your digital ad budget into campaigns that target mobile devices while ignoring desktop shoppers isn’t the best strategy to drive ROI, especially during peak sales seasons. Instead, learn from the data on when to target shoppers on which device, and you should see a nice increase in both callers and sales driven by your digital marketing.

If you want to learn more about measuring and optimizing phone calls from digital marketing, download our free guide, The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Call Attribution.

Learn more about call tracking and call attribution in DialogTech’s guide, The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Call Attribution.

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