Running a Shop Operations

Fighting Back Against Amazon

Order Reprints

Over the summer, I noticed a phenomenon at my shop that at first, confused me, and now, has me downright enraged: Nearly a dozen customers came in for service and instead of buying parts from my jobbers, they ask to buy their parts on Amazon—and even have the packages delivered to my shop! It’s insane, absolutely insane.

The reason it’s a problem is that Amazon is selling parts for less than I can buy at the shop level. They’re doing less than jobbers are on something! The other issue is that customers send their parts to me and if there’s a delay, I’m waiting on jobs, which is now costing me double time.  As small as it sounds, their packaging can also be huge for the size of the part, so it takes up room in the shop and we’re now frequently tripping over all of these boxes.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the issue that it could be the wrong part! Recently, I had a guy come in and wanted new wiper blades. He got them from Amazon and the wiper blades were wrong. He sent them back and ordered another set and those were the wrong ones, too! Now, I go to charge him $10 and he got mad that i was trying to charge him! 

Want to know why? Because he had no perceived value for our work at all. It’s embarrassing. To solve the issue, I gave him a $10 credit for the next time he comes in. But that’s only a short-term solution.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: Why even accept customer-supplied parts? They’re a pain! We do have a policy and it’s that I’m happy to do your installation but there is no guarantee on the accuracy or quality of the part. And regardless, we will still charge for diagnosing. If I’m doing it twice but your part is wrong, that’s on you. If i’m taking your car apart,  have to diagnose it. You have to talk about the fact that it could take longer, you can’t guarantee. However, the real reason we still accept those jobs is deeper: It’s an opportunity to educate.

With Amazon and the Internet’s prevalence, customers are diagnosing their own stuff and it’s creating a dynamic that the customer is as much of an expert as we are. I don’t have to tell you how misguided that is.

But here’s what we as independent repair shops have that Amazon doesn’t and that those customer-supplied parts conversations give us an opportunity to do: Capture people face to face, in real time and build authentic relationships. The way we put Amazon at bay is to help the customer see that they have choices. At our level, the indy shop is the main choice in service. That’s the value differentiator. No matter what the price is, you’re saying, “I’m different and there’s value to that.” That’s very different that what’s going on in the world right now. If we just focus on Amazon, we will lose. The make us not professionals and they devalue us. 

When they have a glitch or inconvenience, I am still here and still going to help you. It gives me on the other side of it, a great opportunity to show them the value that we provide. They tell their friends they went to us and had a great experience and now they’re friends are customers too. It’s word-of-mouth. As long as we understand the rules at the front, we’re able to have a good relationship. You just have to bring drivers to their senses.

Inside the shop, we need a centralized point of sale, at the point of need, at the point of service that needs to be provided. Everybody needs to have all of the tools at that moment so we don’t have to Google it. Otherwise, the customer feels it’s shady. If we come across as knowledgeable, then we can have a conversation. Up until that point, we’ll always have untrusting relationships. Inside the shop, there needs to be accountability. The source of the problem really needs to be buy in across the board. It’s part of being a pledged auto shop: You commit to the philosophy and make a promise to your community. Everybody is on the same page. Then you can have a conversation. 

The truth is, the faster we start sharing information as an industry, the next generation will have an easier time understanding it. That’s how we’re going to put Amazon at bay. We meaning you and me and my town and yours, one person, one driver, one auto shop at a time. 

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