In the next few years businesses are likely going to be communicating with customers more through handheld, mobile devices and online social media services than they are through direct face-to-face communications. Morgan Stanley in April of last year released a hefty 87-page in-depth analysis that looked at online trends over the next few years. What should of particular interest to readers of SSGM is the focus on mobile Web usage. The researchers at Morgan Stanley predict by 2014 there will be more mobile Internet users that those using the traditional desktop computer for Internet access. Along with this growth will be an increasing amount of online commerce happening through mobile devices, driven by an ever-improving range of wireless devices, increasing wireless bandwidth and a rapidly growing number of services that connect customers and business rapidly over these devices. Deloitte Canada Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions recently released its 10th annual report looking at technological trends for this year, and the results were also quite interesting. According to the study’s researchers, 2011 will be a “tipping point” for non-desktop PC technologies. The study predicts that more than half of all devices sold this year will be other than a traditional desktop, with a growing market segment for ‘tablet’ PC technologies. The reason is many users of tablet computers will find that they are more than just neat devices for fun, but are useful for conducting business of all sorts, including mobile electronic commerce. Trends overseas point to the growing importance of mobile e-commerce. Currently, four per cent of total online sales happen over mobile devices. In Japan, the share of e-commerce done over mobile devices rose from 10 per cent in 2006 to nearly 20 per cent last year. So what does this mean for Canada’s providers of independent automotive service? As mobile communications continue to expand, along with mobile technologies and services, businesses savvy enough to use them creatively will succeed in catching people’s loyalty and dollars. One can see this with automotive vehicle purchases. Larry Futers, managing director of the Toronto-based 7 Communications, a marketing and communications firm, has been helping luxury vehicle makers – such as Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen – tailor their marketing and sales messages to Internet- and mobile-savvy car buyers. Futers finds up to 50 per cent of online dealership traffic today happens on a mobile device. What people are accessing through a BlackBerry, iPhone or other Internet-connected handheld device is strategic sales information, such as inventory availability, sales contacts and locations from which to buy the items desired. “Customers today have a limited amount of time and the window of opportunity is short. Irrespective of whether that customer is buying a high-end car or a regular car, that customer will make a decision in three weeks,” said Futers. “The mobile device and its attendant services are used to speed up the purchasing process.” Futers added that businesses today have to begin thinking of mobile devices as more than just communications devices, but devices whereby people conduct both their social and business life. “My mobile device is my life-blood and if you can make it easier to shop with my mobile device, I will more likely reward you with my business.” The challenge for businesses such as independent service shops is how to reach out effectively to potential customers who rely heavily on mobile technology to conduct work and life. The first thing is to realize that users of mobile technologies are not interested in seeing an exact reproduction of your existing Web site. Remember, mobile devices are just that: small and made for rapid use. They are made to be mobile. People are not sitting in front of a 21-inch, high-definition flat-panel computer monitor at home. They are instead using a smaller screen so information must be presented to them in a way that facilitates fast navigation and rapid, clear presentation of critical information. That might mean making sure what that customer sees is contact information, a means to book an appointment and an application for finding where your service shop is located. Simply, your mobile site has to convey the essence of your company rapidly and allow your customer to interact with your business. They are not going to spend time scrolling through different screens or squinting to read small type. Customers want specific kinds of information that allows them to make buying decisions. To give an idea of the kinds of information that people are looking for which help them make a buying decision, it might help to look at the most recent Think Auto with Google study published by Google Canada. The fourth done by Google Canada, the study examined the behaviour of those looking to purchase luxury vehicles. But many of the findings are applicable to the independent service market. Deepak Anand, account executive with Google Canada said the most interesting finding is people using mobile devices to research and make vehicle purchases are already well-along the way to making that purchase. “We find that on the mobile side that people are looking for dealerships, looking at inventories, where the dealership is located and directions to that dealership,” Anand said. “They are already at the last step of the sale.” According to Anand, many are also using the Web-connectivity of their mobile devices to search for third-party, independent information to help make an informed decision about their upcoming purchase. The most common form of third-party information looked for is video, those produced by ordinary people. “When you go to YouTube, for example, you can see reviews from the car companies, reviews from professionals whose job it is to review vehicles and then there are reviews from ordinary consumers,” Anand said. “What we have found is that people are just as likely to watch a video review from a regular guy as they are to watch a video from other professionals.” Online video drives people to look for more information and plays a significant role in influencing buying decisions and branding. Along with video, social media is playing a larger role on mobile in helping build brand awareness and driving sales. Service shops will need use video, combined with social media, in order to reach out to customers, to cut through the clutter of the thousands of marketing messages produced each day, in order to bring those customer into the shop.