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Consumers use smartphones for far more than making calls these days—they’re texting, emailing, playing games and surfing the Web. Roughly 55 percent of Americans own a smartphone, a number that’s expected to exceed 75 percent by 2014, says Greg Pitstick, CEO of Social Club Rewards, a provider of marketing services to repair shops throughout North America.

The trend is causing businesses across all industries to update their marketing plans. They’re integrating mobile advertising strategies because tapping into the mobile market requires a new way of thinking.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 55 percent of today’s smartphone owners use the devices for Internet searches—three times higher than in 2009—and 31 percent use the device as their primary source for accessing the Internet. In addition, a recent Pew study found that 86 percent of smartphone owners used the device within the previous 30 days to decide whether to visit a business.

Pitstick says this is a trend that shop operators can’t afford to ignore. Consumers search for auto repair services through their mobile phones just as much as other industries like restaurants, salons or spas. Pitstick says one-third of all Internet searches for “auto repair” and 80 percent of Internet searches for “oil change coupon” are made through mobile phones.

That’s a huge sales advantage for repairers, Pitstick says, because consumers searching the Internet on their mobile device are looking to buy. Nine out of every 10 mobile phone Internet searches results in some type of action, such as a website visit or phone call, he says.

“People are action-oriented when they get on their phone. They don’t browse auto repair on Google for fun. When they’re searching, they’re looking for something they need now,” Pitstick says, noting that consumer coupon redemption is 10 times higher with mobile coupons compared to traditional print coupons. “The closer people are getting to buy, the more they are doing it from their mobile phone. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that every shop owner, even small shops, have a good mobile presence.”

But Pitstick says a majority of repair shop operators are missing out. Some are ignoring the mobile trend and others don’t know how to capitalize on it.

“The whole [marketing] mentality for local shop owners needs to change, just like it did with the revolution of the Internet. Now people are accessing
your business through their phones,” Pitstick says.

There are several tactics that shops can implement to market to smartphone users. They can improve their presence on social media platforms, implement mobile Web applications, offer mobile coupons, get placed in online business directories, or participate with Google’s paid advertising to become highlighted in geo-based mapping features.

Those are all valuable investments that will offer fruitful returns, says Anne Lazo, owner of marketing firm Eagle Soars Consulting. But she says if your shop is new to the mobile market, the first place to start is developing a mobile-friendly website.

“When people break down on the road, they use their smartphone to look for a repair shop,” Lazo says. “Consumers must be able to access your website and easily find information they need.”

When creating a mobile website, Lazo says shops can’t just redesign their existing website to be viewable on a smartphone. It should be very simple and easy-to-use, and include basic shop information such as store hours, directions, contact information and services offered. There are many online marketing consultants and companies that can assist with this.

Lazo says the website should also be formatted to use with smartphones. It must have clickable icons for consumers to directly access maps and GPS services, schedule appointments, make phone calls or send emails.

“We survey a lot of consumers,” Pitstick says, noting 85 percent of auto repair shops do not have mobile-friendly websites. “When they’re out and about, they want to be able to call you, find directions to you, schedule an appointment or see your hours.”

Pitstick says the mobile marketing trend is good news for shop operators. If it’s done correctly, the effort can deliver larger returns with smaller investments compared to some of the more traditional marketing strategies.

“It doesn’t take very many jobs for mobile marketing to pay for itself,” Pitstick says. “One more repair a year covers the cost to develop a mobile website.”

With 30 percent of consumers searching for repair providers from their smartphone, Pitstick says it’s a no-brainer to initiate tactics for them to find you before the competition.

“This trend will only get stronger moving forward,” Lazo says. “Marketing to mobile users boosts the professionalism of your shop and sets you apart from other shops not doing it.”

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