Talk about frustration. You decide to test your engineering know-how by tackling that burned out clutch in your 1990 Toyota Celica but find yourself trekking from store to store unable to find a replacement clutch. Car part stores don’t follow a certain pattern. They are usually spread apart, forcing you to spend more time than previously expected in order to find a store that carries your part. Before you burst a blood vessel, you remember your smartphone and type out the words, “auto parts online” into a search engine, which brings you a host of results directing you to an online store that has exactly what you need. You’ve just been reminded that the auto industry is now making a name for itself in the billion-dollar e-commerce industry.
For brick and mortar (BAM) retailers, 2014 is not looking good. BAMs are clinging to life as they witness a decline in foot traffic as a result of a change in shopping habits. The financial meltdown of 2008 severely curbed consumer appetite. Five years into the recovery, many shoppers have yet to come back to the BAMs they once frequented. 2013 saw retailers getting only about half the holiday foot traffic as they did just three years earlier, according to a report by CNBC via ShopperTrak, which uses shopper-counting devices to track visits at malls and large retailers across the country.
We’re living in a time when shoppers expect to be able to shop 24/7, 365 days out of the year. The only way for BAMs to survive is to invest in all channels that serve customer demands. The automotive industry is now on the cutting edge of disruptive technology, bringing to life such technological dreams as the connected car. Not willing to be passive in the face of changing consumer-buying habits, General Motors Co. is planning to expand a new online shopping tool (called Shop-Click–Drive) that allows customers to bypass showrooms when buying new cars, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
While car buyers are choosier than ever before, they are also turning to do-it-yourself (DIY) maintenance by sourcing automotive parts online. Industry analysts at IBISWorld believe the online auto parts accessories market has a current global annual growth of 11.1 percent. Automotive e-commerce sites populate the Web like never before. Think of Auto Parts Warehouse, Pepboys, Partsgeek, and a new one that’s just out of the gate, TDI Bassline, an aftermarket automotive parts reseller.
One of the typical criticisms levied against online shopping is that consumers never get the opportunity to feel out a product and evaluate its quality before they purchase it. A comprehensive online product catalog can dispel this shortcoming by providing a wealth of information and product imagery to help potential buyers make up their minds without needing to touch the product itself. For online vendors, your product catalog speaks to your unique selling proposition.
TDI Bassline has built its own proprietary enterprise-level SaaS e-commerce product called Synthesizer, which, according to the company’s data scientist, Atif Zafar, can match pricing on any automotive product sold through its platform. When you click on the site’s store, it takes you to eBay, one of TDI’s partners, where you’ll find thousands of listings for automotive parts.
Atif said Synthesizer will serve as an automated platform for order processing, connecting the sellers to manufacturers, catalogs, and distributors. “We’ve automated many of the tools used by an e-commerce seller in this vertical. Think of Synthesizer as similar to other SaaS tools, like Salesforce CRM, Microsoft Project, or GoodData,” said Atif.
TDI Bassline is currently in phase 1 of its growth model and is using Synthesizer to push out as much product as possible with its existing partnerships. According to its website, it now offers more than 650,000 automotive parts (including OEM, replacement and performance products) and is on track at reaching more than 1 million.
Not only does TDI want to make the buying experience as seamless for the customer as possible, it also plans to develop Synthesizer as an interactive social media engine that helps facilitate dialogue between customers and guides those to the products they are looking for.
With the ongoing shift towards online purchasing, the auto industry realizes it can’t rest on its laurels. General Motors is actively lobbying dealerships to get on board with its ecommerce platform.
And who is GM targeting? Millennials. More than 70 million Americans were born in the generation after 1980, of which 95 percent use the Internet to shop for cars, according to highlights from the 2014 Automotive Buyer Influence Study produced by Autotrader.com. Millenials spend 83 percent of their shopping time online and 51% of their online time on third-party sites like AutoTrader.com
It will be interesting to track how well TDI Bassline integrates its social media engine into online shopping. Buyers have come to expect a congenial experience when buying online, and automotive parts are no exception. That positivity should be reinforced by any social media platform, enabling buyers to stay in pleasant communication with vendors once the purchase is done. TDI must follow the tenets of a good online customer experience:
- Make delivery easy and convenient
- Provide useful links and guides to automotive resources
- Offer the most competitive pricing possible
- Add a personal touch
If successful, TDI Bassline will give its competitors a serious run for their money.
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