Auto Aftermarket Shifts Gears

Online shopping creates challenges, opportunities for retailers

The automotive aftermarket is in the midst of an unparalleled shift in how retailers interact with their customers.

Once a safe-haven for brand-loyal relationships, immediate access to research and shopping options are transforming the automotive aftermarket business.

According to UPS’s What’s Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper™ study, which was conducted by comScore, 70% of shoppers select a retailer based on price. These consumers have become so conditioned to price-based shopping that 75% will leave a website to comparison shop compared to just 40% of general retail shoppers.

Online shopping has created a cultural shift that presents a tremendous opportunity, but aftermarket retailers must respond to changing customer preferences and behavior to take full advantage.

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What hasn’t changed is the consumers’ desire to have a connection with the people and companies where they buy their auto parts.

At the top of their wish lists, consumers want intuitive websites with detailed product information to research specifications, pricing, warranties, shipping costs, and return policies. According to the comScore research, 83% of consumers say they compare prices online while 62% prefer to buy their auto parts online.

Consider that while researching and making a purchase, 47% of shoppers said they want to see what the price would be with shipping costs included. Sixty-one percent said they do not proceed to checkout if shipping costs are higher than expected.

The findings clearly indicate that retailers need to raise the bar and provide customers with an exceptional buying experience. Many retailers are meeting these ramped-up preferences and benefiting from enhanced sales and loyalty. A deeper understanding of the customers’ empowered shopping habits promises even greater opportunity.

According to the online shopper study referenced earlier, there are five characteristics, or drivers, of automotive aftermarket shoppers: Distinct, Decisive, Dedicated, Diligent, and Diverse.

Distinct, Decisive, Dedicated, Diligent, and Diverse

Understanding your shoppers’ psychographics is perhaps more important than knowing their demographics. Whether they’re buying replacement or upgraded parts and accessories, these shoppers know what they want. They take the time to research their options, find the best price, and evaluate their overall experience.

There are two Distinct groups, Replacement and Upgrade buyers.


Click to download the What’s Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper Study

Replacement buyers are highly focused and typically know what they’re looking for, while Upgrade buyers are more likely to be power shoppers who make nine online purchases in a typical three month period.

They are Decisive shoppers who rarely return items, but when they do 76% prefer to return their online parts purchases to a store.

Online auto parts customers show a Dedicated commitment by waiting up to eight days to receive their purchases. They are Diligent with 92% comparison shopping online and 75% leaving a website to pursue other purchasing options. Online auto parts customers also are a Diverse group; 40% of whom are women.

Meeting these consumers on their own terms demands that retailers offer them intuitive website navigation and detailed product information supported by good photography and a clearly marked returns policy.

Only 27% of online automotive parts shoppers return products compared with 62% of general retail online shoppers.

What’s more, 67% of online automotive parts customers will shop more with retailers that offer hassle-free returns policies. If an item needs to be returned, 76% of online automotive parts shoppers prefer to return the item to a store compared to 24% who prefer to ship the item back to the manufacturer. A returns policy that balances product price point, cost to return, profitability, and customer value is key to winning and maintaining their business.

Upgrade vs. Replacement Buyers

Upgrade (performance parts and accessories) and stock replacement parts consumers are quite different. The challenge is to find common and efficient ways to serve them while providing what feels like a customized buying experience.

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Online shopping has created a tremendous opportunity that requires actively responding to customer behavior to fully harvest its benefits.

Millennials, aged 18 to 34, currently compose 41% of buyers who are upgrading their cars with performance and other premium parts and accessories. They primarily use their tablets and mobile phones (63%) to research and shop, with 61% doing their research on social media sites and 49% using mobile apps.

Sixteen percent prefer faster delivery compared to 4% for other age groups. They represent retailers’ best advocates in promoting your service and parts by sharing their experiences on social media.

Replacement parts buyers, meanwhile, tend to be 45 years of age or older. They know exactly what they’re looking for, shop for the best price, and will wait longer for their parts to arrive. They’re not as likely to promote their experiences on social media. Seventy-four percent purchase from domestic retailers compared to 57% of upgrade buyers.

These buyers also have some striking similarities. In addition to an excellent online buying experience, both want the ability to pick up, and if necessary, return their orders to a local store. When they’re in the store, both groups tend to purchase additional items.

Millennial consumers in particular say they prefer to pick up their online orders at a local store 59% of the time, and once there will purchase additional items 9 out of 10 times.

The opportunity is clear. The divide between brick-and-mortar and automotive aftermarket etailers is gone. For retailers who deliver an outstanding e-commerce and local retail experience, the growth potential is nothing short of outstanding.

CaptureAutomotive parts customers value the relationships they have with their local parts retailers, but their loyalty shouldn’t be taken for granted.

That means providing a high level of service. For example, websites should highlight service-oriented features such as a shopping cart that denotes shipping options. Aside from free shipping, the most important thing customers want to see early in the process is how much it will cost to ship their order.

In general, automotive parts shoppers are patient, willing to wait eight days to receive their package. Millennials, meanwhile, are willing to pay for faster delivery and a specified delivery window so they make the best use of their time.

All of these options should be readily available and viewed as part of the customer’s parts buying experience.

For the retailer, this includes increased accuracy when managing inventory levels at the local retail location, regional and national distribution warehouses, and custom special-order items.

Working with your logistics provider to improve your inventory and shipping management system can provide visibility to historic and projected shipping costs. Armed with that data, retailers can chart customer purchase patterns and develop incentive programs that drive additional business.


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It’s clear the way automotive aftermarket parts are being purchased has changed. Price, availability and convenience are critical components of the sales experience. What hasn’t changed is the desire from consumers, who are often passionate enthusiasts, to have a connection with the companies and people from whom they buy their parts. goldbrown2

 Click here to download the 2014 What’s Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper™ report, media executive summary and infographic.


Brian Littlefield Brian Littlefield is the director of marketing for the aerospace, automotive, and industrial manufacturing and distribution segments at UPS.

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