AKRON—Nineteen months. That's the amount of time left before year-end 2011 when Nielsen Co. predicts smartphones will overtake feature phones in the U.S. market.
According to a recent survey conducted by the ratings company, falling prices for smartphones coupled with an ever-growing number of capabilities is creating a surge of smartphone sales in the U.S. market—something that businesses, including tire dealerships, won't be able to ignore.
“We are just at the beginning of a new wireless era, where smartphones will become the standard device consumers will use to connect to friends, the Internet and the world at large,” wrote Roger Entner, senior vice president, research and insights, Nielson's Telecom Practice division, in his report on the survey results.
“The share of smartphones as a proportion of overall device sales has increased to 29 percent for phone purchasers in the last six months and 45 percent of respondents to a Nielsen survey indicated their next device will be a smartphone.”
Moreover, according to the report, the percentage of people using their phones only for voice communications is 14 percent among new feature phone owners vs. only 3 percent of smartphone owners.
With smartphone technology becoming more and more popular among consumers, many tire companies are getting on board—the keyboard, that is.
“Without a doubt, smartphones are the next step in advertising,” said Chris Tolleson, owner of Richland, Mass.-based 49 Tire & Auto Service, which recently commissioned smartphone application designer MobileApp-Loader L.L.C. to create an application—or “app”—for its customers.
According to Mr. Tolleson, the app, which launches July 1, means that “customers do not have to bring in a coupon—they can just show me their phone.”
Customers of the single-outlet tire retailer also will be able to use the app to make service appointments and request quotes on tires, wheels and other products and services.
“Making the process of doing business easier for the customer should be a goal for all of us,” Mr. Tolleson said.
Tully Ryan, CEO and president of TireWare Inc. and e-commerce website TireMonkey.com, agreed and noted that companies should be using every resource they can to stay connected with their customers.
“It's just as important to give consumers as many options to connect and do business with you as it always has been,” Mr. Ryan told Tire Business. “Just because it's a new technology, is it any more important to utilize it than it was when we first came out with the Yellow Pages? No—you just have to evolve.
“I don't think it's any more important to utilize one technology over the other,” he added. “It's important for any business in their strategy to connect and give the consumers as many options as they can.”
In June, TireMonkey.com—an Internet-based tire retailer—will launch its own smartphone application, a video game that is primarily being used to market the company's e-commerce service as well its sponsorship of Mario Gosselin's No. 12 Chevrolet Silverado for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“What you're able to do (in the game) is you're able to drive his truck and pick up four tires while missing banana peels and potholes to deliver those tires to Mario,” Mr. Ryan said. Placed along side of the video game's road are “billboards” promoting various tire-related tips.
The app also features an e-commerce function that allows users to place orders for tires while they're not dodging digital road hazards.
Tire dealers aren't the only ones jumping on the smartphone bandwagon, as several manufacturers have recognized the importance of providing convenience for consumers, more of whom are connecting to the world through the devices in their pockets.
During its recent annual dealer meeting in January, Goodyear debuted its Microsoft Tag app for smartphones, which allows consumers to gain instant access to product information and a special Assurance ComforTred Touring tire video by taking pictures of special “tags” printed on various point-of-sale items.
“We're really learning here, so we're going to investigate using (the technology) online, in print and some other areas,” said Scott Rogers, chief marketing officer, North American Tire, consumer division, during Goodyear's annual meeting.
“But it's about the same with all our marketing and where we're headed with the website. It's about giving the consumer the information they want, kind of when they want it in the form they want it,” he said. “And the Tag technology right now—what we have at POS is just a short, quick video—but that can expand into a PDF of information, a coupon (or) whatever it may be.”
Building apps, however, isn't the only thing companies can do to cater to smartphone users. Several tire makers, including Falken Tire Corp. and more recently Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., have launched smartphone-formatted versions of their websites to allow for easier navigation on a smartphone.
“A lot of the Web now, with the pages you either have to increase the size or move them around on the screen,” said Joe Anzelmo, senior manager, dealer support. He worked with Toyo's Web developer to initialize an interface between the website's tire recommender feature and a mobile device, specifically the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.
Mr. Anzelmo said Toyo looked at doing something similar five years ago, but plans fell through because the company would have had to provide dealers with smartphones, which would have been too costly. With the growing number of smartphones in the marketplace, things have changed.
“The phones are so ubiquitous now,” he said. “Millions of people have them and they're already paid for.”
The new programming, called Tire Finder, recognizes an iPhone or iPod Touch and formats viewing for the device screen, Mr. Anzelmo said, but unlike an app it doesn't need to be downloaded. For the most part, it offers the same features as Toyo's main website, with one added benefit.
“The only thing that makes it a little better is the links,” Mr. Anzelmo said. “Say for instance, consumers check a shipment or a dealer, the links are active so if they want to call a technical center from the iPhone, they just touch the link for technical services, and it will call the office.”