The Next Frontier: Selling Auto Parts Online

Smart dealerships see e-commerce as a friend – not a foe.

All dealerships – regardless of specialty or volume – would be wise to pay attention to this statistic: Twelve percent of online shoppers reported that they purchased automotive parts accessories in the last three months, according to the latest UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Study.

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Too often, auto dealerships focus solely on what’s sold on their grounds.

While that is a small percentage, it is growing as more and more consumers become accustomed to shopping online for things that once seemed immune to e-commerce – mattresses, for example, are even sold online.

A higher proportion of males, rural shoppers and, surprisingly, non-millennials (those older than 35) purchased automotive parts or accessories compared to their counterparts (the prized Baby Boomer age group has caught up to the modern era).

And one-third of these parts are being installed by someone other than the consumer, the UPS study shows.

Too often, dealerships focus solely on what’s sold on their grounds. But this shows there is potential for dealerships to capture a share of these parts installations.

Meanwhile, car dealers aren’t immune to price comparisons: The clear majority of consumers compare prices before making automotive parts and accessory purchasers, and two in five shoppers use coupons.

[Image: UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper]

Inventory transparency

The message is clear: With shoppers increasingly going online, car dealers need to invest more in web presence and search engine optimization. Being online is no longer enough.

Inventory transparency is critical due to the urgent need for parts and accessories, so dealers should show what’s in stock and keep it updated. If a shopper needs a certain car part, a quick internet search needs to lead to you.

This is even more critical when distributing through two different channels. Online purchases and in-store purchases need to be reflected. To a customer, there’s nothing worse than showing something is “in stock” in the online portal, only to drive to a store to find out the inventory reflected online is not consistent with what’s on the shelf.

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More than half of online automotive parts purchasers will go to a competitor’s website or app.

This is important also because a recent study by Credit Suisse showed that much of the auto parts e-commerce today is “buy online, pick up in store.”

The survey found that 68 percent of consumers picking up in store needed the part the same day, while 62 percent wanted to make sure the part was in stock before they drove to the physical store to purchase the part.

Combining inventory transparency with the ability to purchase online and pick up in store can be a winning combination for service departments. Almost six in 10 online automotive parts or accessory purchasers have used ship to store in the past year, and 31 percent plan to use it more often in the next year, the survey found.

What’s more, more than half of online automotive parts and accessory purchasers will go to a competitor’s website or app (dealers, take note: You are way behind in the app space) for the same or similar product when a product is out of stock or back-ordered.

Further, when searching for and selecting products online, online automotive part and accessory purchasers are more likely than non-purchasers to rate the following features as extremely important:

  • Ability to view items available for pickup today from a local store (24 percent)
  • Ability to buy online and pick up in store (23 percent)
  • Ability to reserve online and purchase in store (22 percent)

Marketplaces poised for growth

Almost four in 10 online automotive parts and accessory purchasers start on a marketplace. Meanwhile, a higher percentage of online automotive parts and accessory purchasers (relative to those who do not purchase auto parts online) purchased from Walmart and eBay, according to the Credit Suisse study.

Almost four in 10 online automotive parts and accessory purchasers anticipate researching and purchasing more on marketplaces in the next year (38 percent and 39 percent respectively), signaling plenty of opportunity.

Online automotive parts and accessory purchasers also cite free and discounted shipping, total order cost, delivery speed and broader selection within any given category as reasons for purchasing at a marketplace instead of a retailer or dealer.

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About 40 percent of automotive purchasers prefer to have their orders delivered to an alternative location.

Smart car dealers should consider how they deliver online purchases. On average, about 40 percent of automotive parts and accessory purchasers prefer to have their orders delivered to an alternative delivery location, and about one-third of their orders are delivered to alternative locations.

Among smartphone users, a higher percentage of online automotive parts and accessory purchasers research and purchase products on their mobile device.

More than four in five smartphone users use retailer apps on their device, and about half of these users rate mobile coupons, high-quality images, relevant product search, product reviews and access to loyalty points or status as important, according to the UPS study.

Half cite a faster experience as a reason for using a retailer’s app rather than the mobile website on a smartphone.

Online automotive parts and accessory purchasers are using their smartphones in store to conduct a variety of activities. The top activities conducted are:

  • Look up product reviews (73 percent)
  • Compare prices at the same retailer’s online store (73 percent)
  • Read product details (71 percent)
  • Access coupon sites or apps for in-store redemption (70 percent)
  • Search for specific products and possible alternatives (70 percent)
  • Compare prices at same retailer’s online store (69 percent)

Four key takeaways

The UPS survey found four key tips for anyone selling automotive parts and accessories:

Consider your marketplace strategy. Are you digital enough? A website won’t cut it anymore. You need to have something appealing, modern and fast.

Be smartphone compatible and consider a retailer app: Few people are shopping on home computers anymore. Your digital presence needs to include a smartly designed and attractive app with easy shopping and shipping options.

Have tools on your website and app that allow for inventory transparency and guaranteed delivery dates: Logistics matter in this space. Buyers of automotive parts and supplies want to know what you have on hand and when they can get it.

Offer pickup in store and ship-to-store solutions online: The days of we’ll call you to come get it are as extinct as the dial-up modem. Smart operators are offering consumers multiple shipping options – plan accordingly.

This article first appeared in Fixed Ops Magazine and was republished with permission.

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Darryl Barber is Marketing Manager for UPS's automotive segment.

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