eBay Begins Selling Auto Repair Services

March 1, 2015
The online retail giant has begun selling services in a price-comparison format, and the industry awaits the possible ramifications

When corporate giants step into a new industry segment, the reverberations are often felt down to the smallest of businesses. So was the case when Devin Wenig, president of the marketplaces business for eBay, made a casual announcement that the Internet retail giant would start a test run of selling automotive repair services.

During a lengthy interview with Newsday last July, Wenig said that the company would begin the test in a handful of select U.S. cities last fall. 

Then, in September, eBay made an announcement in Germany that it had formed a partnership with U.K.-based Autobutler, a site that provides online repair quotes in a price- and services-comparison format. The companies joined forces for a similar offering through the newly created eBay Motors Werkstattportal. The service is available in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the U.K.

Through a company spokesman, eBay declined to comment on its plans for expanding the program stateside, but said further announcements are imminent. 

eBay is certainly far from the first to launch this type of online program. Companies like RepairPal, OpenBay, and AutoMD have had similar offerings (each with certain variations) for years. But throwing a name like eBay into the ring adds another element.

“More than anything, it likely grabs the attention of the average consumer,” says RepairPal CEO Art Shaw. “It just reinforces the trend that consumers are looking to the Internet more and more for finding services like auto repair. This is the way things are heading.”

The eBay Effect

Although unable to comment on the specific pilot project, an eBay spokesman was quick to point out the company’s already significant footprint in the auto industry. 

Some quick facts: More than 5.1 million passenger vehicles have been sold to date through eBay Motors, and today, on average, the company sells a vehicle every five minutes. eBay sells 1.5 million parts and accessories in the U.S. each week; 1.2 million are sold each week globally, via mobile devices. Roughly two-thirds of all U.S. transactions are delivered within three days. And more than 59 percent of eBay buyers shop via multiple screens, indicating price-comparison shopping.

To say that eBay is a newcomer to auto repair would be inaccurate, and adding service options on its site seems to be the next logical step for the global corporation.

The program launched in Europe is fairly simple: Customers enter in basic vehicle information, along with a description of the problem and the consumer’s ZIP code; the system churns out three selected shops from its network (built through Autobutler) and quotes on the repair; and the customer can select one of the options and book an appointment through eBay.

More Jobs or More Problems?

Shaw is not a car guy, but as the CEO of RepairPal, he has become intimately involved in the auto repair industry—and how the average vehicle owner views the average shop.

A recent RepairPal survey found that 81 percent of consumers want quality first; 7 percent said price was most important, Shaw says. However, a separate 2014 survey stated that 52 percent of all respondents believe they are “ripped off” at repair shops. Shaw says to keep that in mind: Those consumers weren’t stating a lack of trust, but more seriously stating they felt they’d been previously cheated. 

That’s the solution Shaw feels RepairPal offers through a shop-certification process, something that Autobutler has put together, too, in order to balance quality with price.

The average vehicle owner doesn’t understand the intricacies of a repair, but they do understand the effect it has on their bank account.

“We try to present them with the information of what a quality shop offers and a price range of what they can expect,” Shaw says. 

Reaction across the industry to these types of services has been mixed. A discussion on Ratchet+Wrench’s LinkedIn forum showed a wide range of opinions, as some shops have benefited and others have not. Parker Swift, CEO of Mechanic Advisor, an online database of shops now linked to consumers through a telematics device, says the disconnect often comes from shops finding additional vehicle needs.

“You get a quote online from a shop and they find a few more critical issues that need to be fixed and all of a sudden that repair bill is much, much higher,” Swift says. “[Online price comparison] can cause unrealistic expectations.”

Consumers, though, are flocking to these services, Shaw says. Before joining RepairPal, Shaw helped Charles Schwab launch its online financial service segment through its first website more than 20 years ago.

“People were hesitant at first; they were afraid of the Internet,” he says. “But as a vehicle for consumer’s gaining information, the Internet has become this wonderful tool. 

“When I came to RepairPal three years ago, I saw the transformation taking place in this industry. Consumers just want information, and this is the new way they’re gaining it.” 

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