The Car as a Store: A New Hope

When industry experts talk about retailers connecting with today’s mobile consumer, they are generally referring to customers who always travel with smartphones and tablets. But there is another type of “mobile” consumer touchpoint retailers should be targeting, and that is the automobile.

Study after study documents how traffic is worse than ever before as consumers move to distant, pedestrian-unfriendly “exurbs,” and road construction fails to keep pace with their migration patterns. In addition, cars now frequently feature built-in online connectivity to help drivers stay engaged with the online world even as they navigate the physical one. Retailers need to recognize this captive audience of mobile consumers and begin devising strategies that specifically meet the needs of customers who are traveling in cars. Here a few general suggestions to get you to the starting line.

It’s All about the Apps

Many automobiles let drivers dock mobile Internet devices directly to the vehicle computer system, or even provide online access via the car’s computer. Either way, consumers can increasingly use their cars as a truly mobile computing device, interacting with apps through a dashboard interface.

Retailers should respond to this new digital environment with apps that meet the unique needs of a consumer who is driving a car. Controls should be voice-based, and the apps also need to deliver information in a way that allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands upon the wheel. Drivers should be able to store as much personal data as possible on the app, so they can automatically make purchases of frequently bought goods or accept upsells and cross-sells. Simplicity is key; a car-based app should not be flashy or offer excessive consumer choices.

Location-Based Marketing – A New Outlook

Retailers can also use apps aimed at drivers to perform an expanded and tailored version of location-based marketing. While traditional location-based marketing is designed to corral consumers who are near or in your store with instantaneous offers, location-based marketing for consumers on the road entails a different outlook.

Obviously, location-based marketing for driving consumers can target a much wider area than location-based marketing for consumers on foot. This means location-based offers for drivers should be good for a longer period of time. It also means that retailers can make targeted offers that are less impulsive and have a higher price point, since the consumer will have time to think it over as they approach a store. Of course some products, like fuel, auto supplies and fast food, have a natural appeal to drivers.

Keep Customers in Their Cars

Everyone has stories about parking nightmares, and heavy traffic means many drivers are in a perpetually rushed state. As much as possible, retailers should allow customers to stay in their cars when they purchase goods. Curbside pickup, “carhop”-type food service, or digital downloads of entertainment content directly to a vehicle’s computer system are all examples of how retailers can best meet the needs of on the go consumers.

These services may not be appropriate for every retailer in every location, but certainly a store near a highway exit or in a downtown area with dense traffic and minimal parking could boost its appeal to drivers by letting them purchase goods ahead of time for easy, in-car pickup.

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