Auto Parts Aftermarket Online, e-Commerce and all that PART 1: What’s it all about and why should I care?

Reprinted from Undercar Review magazine – April 2014 issue 

By Jim Gurieff of PARts Australia www.partsdb.com.au

PART 1: What’s it all about and why should I care?

In 1997 the Australian new vehicle market was around 650,000 units and of that, Falcon and Commodore platforms accounted for over 200,000 or 30% of the total new cars sold.

Jump to 2013 and the number of new cars sold was over 1.13 million and of that, less than 70,000 were Commodore or Falcon based.

Meanwhile, the AAAA reports as part of its latest industry report – “Workshops and repairers crave an integrated vehicle and product fitment lookup with VIN and service data as part of a point-of-sale solution.”

With over 200 unique new models added to the Australian market in 2013 we now have one of the most diverse vehicle markets in the world spread over a relatively small volume base. With the demise of local manufacturing and an inevitable pure import market the industry has to adjust to knowing more about more vehicles at an increasing rate.

At the same time, the range of product available today is more diverse than ever before so accurate and timely service and product information is even more important.

Customers Looking For Outcomes

To add another layer of complexity, our customers are using the web more and more for product reviews, service information and price shopping for products and services while increasingly demanding of the way in which this information is provided. I want it now and when  it suits me.

So back to the question, why should I and the undercar industry care?

Because every industry needs to adapt to the changing environment and the connected digital world is accelerating the rate of change.

We are product and service providers and we need to remember that the end user customer or consumer is actually looking for outcomes and not just parts or service. They are most often driven by the need to repair a fault, pass registration, upgrade their vehicle or any number of other actual outcomes.

It’s rare that a vehicle owner wakes up one day and thinks that replacing their muffler would be a good thing to do that day. So when they do think about the problem, potential outcome and solution, all the industry players need to be ready to provide the answers and solution.

In simple terms, it’s about giving the customer what they want. A simple enough statement but not always considered by some in the aftermarket parts industry.

The following has been put together in conjunction with one of our digital and online specialist marketing partners, Enform Networks. This 2-part summary pulls together research, advice and case studies from various sources to help explain the current environment and the where the market might be headed.

The last few years have seen an explosion in online retail sales of auto parts. Major players like Amazon and eBay are enjoying  significant growth in many sectors of online retail sales and that clearly includes auto parts and related products. IBlSWorld reports a 13.3% annualised growth in Australian online automotive parts and accessories sales between 2008 to 2013 while US numbers are even stronger.

Clearly we are seeing a migration toward online fulfilment of retail consumer demand while trade and reseller purchases are moving toward closed user group solutions offered by the industry wholesalers and their business-to-business (B2B) portals. Many of the same wholesalers are also offering retail solutions to complement existing bricks-and-mortar or physical services with many more building virtual stores and online outlets that often exceed the service delivery offer available through their retail store fronts, try free shipping direct to the customer’s door!

Future projections are equally bullish with continuing double digit growth expected across all categories with reports specifically mentioning traditional “hard parts” categories including undercar brakes, shocks and suspension.

So it’s not just “S & G” lines (as the hard parts purists sometimes call accessories) but all manner of parts. This is an important misconception that poses one of the biggest threats to traditional parts sales and service thinking and is just one area of Significant risk to parts suppliers and sellers.

Along with our online specialist partners, we try to help our clients adapt to the changing nature of customer expectations and their channel preferences because after all, it’s about giving the customer what they want and also where they want it.

It’s natural to resist change. This applies to every level of the distribution chain and across all industries but some businesses are more resistant than others.

The area of data standards is particularly tough as suppliers and sellers struggle to defend and justify their own carefully cultivated data silos. Having worked in the aftermarket for a few decades, I’ve seen the changes to fitment cataloguing and product data creation and management.

Once the digital age picked up speed in the ’90s, we saw the beginning of the age of data-divergence as more and more suppliers and sellers built their own data solutions imagining that this would somehow provide a significant and durable commercial edge. In many cases it did and some of these are still working well however for many others, it proved to be a distraction and a costly diversion from the core business of making, selling and servicing parts.

Parts

After all, how many different versions of a Commodore VT 6 cylinder sedan data record do we really need?

The ’00s saw a maturing of the discreet data silo model as more and more sellers realised that having “another industry standard” that their suppliers would need to contribute to was actually working against them both in terms of cost and support. Meanwhile, the European parts suppliers created the Tee Doc industry standard (as one example) and the AAIA in the US launched the ACES/PIES system to help their industry.

The last few years have seen an acceleration towards standardisation with more and more suppliers and sellers adopting some sort of standard, a time of data-convergence. This is good news for both the industry and consumer and helps the aftermarket compete better while supporting the aims of programs like the AAAA Choice of Repairer campaign.Which leads us back to the real point and reason for the automotive parts aftermarket, selling more aftermarket products to auto parts consumers!

Online channels are not a silver bullet to rescue flagging sales. It’s a different way to market and requires different skills and resources and doesn’t suit all types of products. However, according to the National Australia Bank, the value of annualised online retail sales for the 12 months to end February 2013 was $13.1 billion or 5.9% of all retail spending with a year-on-year growth of 19%.

If you don’t have an online strategy or your strategy is not delivering that sort of growth rate, you’re falling behind. Embrace the opportunity and make sure you’re visible where your customers are.

Next time we’ll look at some practical ideas, suggestions and case studies to help you think about a strategy that suits you.