Mobile-device sales exceeded laptop sales for the first time in 2012, and it’s estimated mobile will overtake fixed Internet by 2014.

If you own a mobile device – and really, who doesn’t? – this probably isn’t a big surprise. If you’re like me, the first thing you do in the morning is reach for your smartphone. Yet, most marketers still design e-marketing campaigns for the desktop PC era.

Automotive brands and dealers need to be where their customers are. Increasingly that’s on mobile devices. Our data show that in April more than a third of dealer emails were opened on a mobile device.

While many dealers believe only young car shoppers rely heavily on mobile devices, a survey found the average age of the mobile-device-wielding auto shopper is 43.

The survey also found that while shoppers utilized mobile devices to some degree throughout the buying process, they relied most heavily on them the closer they got to a purchase, especially for such things as locating and contacting dealers.  

According to the survey, 43% of shoppers use their devices on the lot, primarily to access pricing information, research features, read reviews, find dealership contact information and visit a dealer website.

Many people do all of the above before speaking to a sales associate.

Automotive marketers need to adjust to the new mobile reality. Websites and emails should be built using responsive design techniques to ensure they can be correctly rendered across the 11 existing web and mobile browsers, and optimized for easy viewing on a variety of screen sizes, including small smartphone screens. 

Yet most dealers persist with 10-year-old website designs, crowded with slow-loading manufacturer logos, tiny drop-down boxes that are hard to see and manipulate on a smartphone screen and wide tables that don’t translate well to the small-screen experience.

Also consider online chat. While some dealers seem to think it is passe, we strongly disagree. A shopper taking the initiative to chat with a dealer is almost always a great lead and probably near the end of a buying cycle.  

The reality today is that customers are as likely to be chatting from a mobile device as they are from a home PC. If you already have chat, consider making it proactive. Use a pop-up that invites shoppers to engage, instead of hoping they’ll click the chat button on your website. 

Many young buyers are more apt to read and respond to a text message than to an email. In fact, many don’t even use email. Dealers who haven’t worked short-message service campaigns into their marketing mix are missing out on an opportunity to connect with a larger audience.

The statistics are compelling. Text messages have a 99% read rate, with 90% of those read within three minutes of delivery. Outsell data show our dealers enjoyed a 31% response rate for their SMS campaigns in April. That’s a significantly higher response than we typically see from emails.

Many easy-to-use, cost-effective tools are designed specifically for dealers offering mobile-optimized email and SMS templates, ready-to-launch campaigns, live chat tools, and even brand-consistent content.

Digital-engagement technologies are advancing at a rapid clip. If your dealership’s website dates to more than four years ago, it’s considered ancient. If your e-marketing strategies and tactics are more than two years old, you’re probably not optimized for mobile.

Don’t be behind the times in an era where 99% of car buyers research online and 43% use their mobile device during the buying process.

Mike Wethington is CEO of Minneapolis-based Outsell.