According to market researcher Hedges & Company, e-commerce car parts sales are outpacing brick and mortar and will reach $8.9 billion in 2017, with growth of 15 percent between 2017 and 2018.
Yet many automotive companies are resistant to these changes, according to a recent study by Sana Commerce on the state of B2B e-commerce, which evaluated 67 aftermarket suppliers and dealers. According to its research, nearly 35 percent of automotive companies have either just deployed e-commerce or have had e-commerce in place for under a year. Thirty-seven percent claimed a physical store was the most important channel in its sales strategy and fewer than 18 percent placed importance on the mobile channel.
Shop owners and parts companies alike are preparing for these changes, which include melding online and offline channels, and an increased importance on mobile parts ordering.
In a constantly evolving industry, here’s a look at these two major trends in the segment going forward:
Breaking Down Omnichannel Ordering
Chris de Visser, general manager for Sana Commerce, says a big part of the automotive aftermarket going forward will be omnichannel sales. An omnichannel network essentially allows the delivery of a consistent selling experience across offline and online channels, while factoring in the different devices that consumers use in the buying process (like mobile or computer ordering).
“Omnichannel means that, independent of how you have contact with your customer, the data and processes are all the same,” de Visser says. “It brings a uniform approach to buying or selling or buying, all driven off the same data.”
Overall, de Visser says that independent shops can benefit from this omnichannel buying process with parts.
“It’s a wider audience that’s available, and it lets you specialize in a specific brand,” de Visser says. “If you happen to be a mechanic specialized in older Mercedes, and you know everything about the parts, and years, you can become an authority.”
This is essentially what FRAM, a producer of automotive filtration products, offers with its services. The company has put heavy investments into delivering a streamlined system for customers to buy and search parts. While FRAM does not sell direct to customers through its website, it does offer a “where to buy” portal feature that directs customers to where they can purchase parts. This portal can find a specific part for a customer, then redirects them to stores like Walmart or online retailers like Amazon, where he or she can purchase parts.
The remodel also included an improved, mobile-friendly feature that shows customers exactly where they can buy their desired products. All of these aspects, the company says, were included to create a seamless and convenient online shopping experience for its customers.
Consumers like Bambi Crozier, owner of the Car Clinic in Lowell, Ariz., uses a combination of online parts ordering and ordering from her local parts shops. The Car Clinic services both foreign and domestic vehicles, and the majority of its parts ordering depends on the types of issues it experiences that month. For instance, if the shop sees a heavy import month, the vast majority of its parts will come from WorldPac, as that’s the best place to find the parts she needs. When classic cars come into her shop needing hard-to-find parts, she’s able to find them mostly through Moss Motors, and New York-based Atlantic British, two British part suppliers. If all else fails, she looks at eBay or Amazon.
She does however, say that the online parts ordering process has some pitfalls, like longer wait times for sites with rarer parts, and not having an ability to talk to someone face to face if a product doesn’t come through correctly.
The Rise of Mobile Ordering
de Visser also says that mobile ordering will be a major part of the ordering process going forward, although this is trickier with the automotive industry because of the complexity of parts ordering. De Visser says this is because many shop owners don’t always know the specific part they’re looking for, so on a computer, it’s easier to find specific information about the parts and see their options.
“Most people are in an office situation, and can just purchase something on a computer. If I’m ordering something more complex, most people would rather have a big screen,” de Visser says. “You don’t want to keep clicking on things, and going back and forth.”
Sana’s study said that 26 percent of the B2B organizations it looked at use social media as a selling avenue, with 32 percent using mobile apps and 32 percent using buy buttons in emails as a way to drive sales. He says that both shops can take advantage of the mobile ordering process as parts companies work to make the buying process more seamless.
With its new remodel, FRAM says its website is much more mobile friendly, that makes searching for compatible parts and connecting to a retailer much more streamlined and legible. The company made it so that, when looking for a part, users can get directions to the closest retailer and dial a phone number directly from their mobile devices, directly from the FRAM website.