January 16, 2021


The car industry talks a lot about digital marketing and the importance of selling cars online. Perhaps it needs to get a bit more specific about the online platform, because among the many ways that Covid-19 has changed our lives is the rapidly rising profile of the smartphone as an automotive marketing and selling tool. 

Of course, American consumers depended upon their phones long before the pandemic spread fear around the world. But in the midst of the health crisis the smartphone has become nearly indispensable to those who are in the market to buy a car and, thus, to those who would sell one to them.

From vehicle research to price shopping to dealer selection, American car buyers are pulling out their phones to get information that will guide their buying process. Further, more and more consumers are using their phone to consummate the car purchase and schedule delivery. Not only can you research and buy a car from your couch in your pajamas, but you can now do it without logging on to your laptop or desktop. You can buy a car just like ordering a pizza or scheduling an hour on a municipal tennis court.

AdColony is a Century City, Calif.-based service provider that works closely with advertisers and publishers to help them maximize their smartphone campaigns and integrations. Its just-released study of consumer attitudes and behavior, Car Buying Survey 2020 (USA), details just how reliant consumers have become on the smartphones when it comes to shopping for a car. 

Instead of treating their phone as a supplemental research tool, consumers rely heavily on their smartphones for every aspect of the car buying process. A strong majority of respondents to the survey said they use their phones to research car models and specs (66%) and compare prices (74%). Once they’ve narrowed the search to their top choices, they then use their smartphones to find dealership locations (60%). 

“We’ve seen that consumers are becoming more acclimated to using their mobile devices to access important purchasing information,“ Jean Ortiz-Luis, marketing communications specialist at AdColony told Forbes.com. “For instance, the 2019 edition of this survey only saw 40% of respondents using their phones to find dealership locations. Over the last year, this jumped up by 20%.”

This begs the question are information providers keeping up with the information needs of shoppers with their smartphone offerings? Many of the largest third-party information providers in the automotive space — Edmunds, Cars.com and Kelley Blue Book — seem to pay much greater attention to their desktop offerings


Reader-Nominated Topic

For more than three centuries public transportation has helped both to shape and define the Greater Philadelphia region. Befitting one of the world’s largest cities, Philadelphia and its hinterland have been served by a bewildering array of transportation options, and these vehicles and routes have helped to define the extent of the region.

Public transportation – consisting of vehicles that operate on fixed routes used by the public – began in the region in 1688 with a ferry between Philadelphia and what is now Camden, New Jersey. This early line, though not a success, spawned additional ferry service and quickly established a Philadelphia hinterland in New Jersey. It was an early example of land outside Pennsylvania being tied economically and culturally to the city and established a precedent for southern New Jersey to develop in association with Philadelphia.

It would be more than one hundred years before local public transportation extended beyond ferries, but during the early nineteenth century an explosion of options developed as the city sought to expand both physically within the region and economically across the region and nation. In December 1831, Philadelphia ceased to be a walking city for those who could afford the fares of the new omnibus service in the city and its immediate suburbs in the county. The next year saw the introduction of commuter trains on the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Rail Road, which allowed the middle classes and above to separate home from work not just within the city but also in portions of Philadelphia County like East Falls, Germantown, and Chestnut Hill, and in neighboring Montgomery County. 

Not long after Philadelphia’s political consolidation in 1854, the streetcar, a technological change in public transportation, became the vehicle that allowed the city’s grid to expand throughout the once rural county. On January 20, 1858, the first streetcars in the region began to be operated by the Frankford and Southwark Philadelphia City Passenger Railway Company. These horse-drawn streetcars quickly replaced omnibuses as the streetcars were larger, quicker, and more profitable. Soon the streetcars extended throughout the region to areas previously poorly served by public transportation. Coupled with an expansion in commuter rail service, Philadelphia could justly claim one of the finest transportation systems in country by the time of the nation’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

Network of Streetcars and Trains

print depicting Cooper's Ferry

Cooper’s Ferry helped to establish an early transportation link between Philadelphia, all of New Jersey, and New York. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

By the 1880s, middle-class Philadelphians had a more-than-adequate system of horse-drawn streetcars and steam-hauled commuter trains to serve their transportation needs in both the booming metropolis and its expanding hinterland in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The lines of privately-owned streetcar companies occupied every major (and many minor) streets in Center City and extended southward, westward, and northward from the original urban core along the Delaware River into the adjoining neighborhoods. In addition to these routes centered on the business district, a large number of local lines operated in the