Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2013   by Tom Venetis, Editor

The Internet and the Aftermarket

Online searches should be an opportunity for service operations to differentiate themselves, educate vehicle owners

We all know the Internet and social media has changed how people interact with companies. The same is true for the aftermarket. Studies by Google and Experian Automotive show how rapidly vehicle owners have begun to use online seraches and social media to educate themselves about aftermarket products and services.

A thinkauto study with Google, The 2010 Automotive Aftermarket Study: The Role of the Internet and Search in the Automotive Parts, Tires, Services and Accessories (PTSA) Research and Purchasing Process, finds nearly a third of persons contacted in the study use online searches for researching such things as automotive parts, tires, services and automotive accessories. Of those, 60 per cent say they use online searches to research and to help make parts purchasing decisions for their vehicles.

Other key aftermarket parts searched by people include brakes, air filters and exhaust systems, fluids, lubricants and oils, batteries, engine and transmission parts and lights.

Danielle Russell, automotive industry director with Google says online searches are becoming a key factor is what she calls the ‘zero moment of truth,’ that point when “the consumer goes online and tries to find out as much information they can about a product or service they are about to have done, and then making that final purchasing decision. It is happening now much more often in the after­market business.”

“What consumers are doing now is using online searches to better prepare themselves and to educate themselves about their vehicles and the work they are to have done on their vehicles,” she adds.

This supports the anecdotal evidence that service writers have reported to SSGM Magazine over the last number of years.

Many service writers find today’s vehicle owner often come in having done a lot of research about their vehicle or the kinds of parts and service their particular make and model of vehicle needs. They often have a lot more questions for the service writer about the parts or service recommended, and will sometimes defer making a final decision on a service or part recommendation until they have gone home  to do more research; or in some cases, after they have reserached the informtion given to them on their smart phones right in the waiting area.

Russell says online searches are a matter of trust building by vehicle owners. People want to know that the parts to be used and the service provider who is offering to do the needed service and repair work is someone they can trust and build a long-term business relationship with.

“Once a vehicle owner trusts a service provider, research suggests (the vehicle owner) is willing to drive up to 10 miles to that service provider to get that work done,” she adds.

This is where it becomes important for service providers to work harder in differentiating themselves online. Online searches still tend to begin in a very general way. People will type into a search engine terms such as “Auto Repair” and then their location. This brings up hundreds of local service operations — and at a cursory glance — all on the same footing. Not one operation stands out from another. One way to differentiate one’s service operation is suggested in the thinkauto/Google study that looked more closely at what kinds of service work was researched in online searches. These include regular maintenance, installation and maintenance, brake repair, heating and air conditioning repair, steering and suspension and major engine repair. What needs to happen is for service operations to use these generic search criteria as an educational opportunity, to give vehicle owners information about parts and services that can then translate into them making a decision to send their business to your service operation.

Margot Weisz, senior product manager with Experian Automotive, an automotive data intelligence provider, says people in their online searches are looking for experts to help them understand what parts or services they need. As an example, Weisz points to how people search for information about tires or motor oils. They will often begin with a generic search, but then gravitate to trusted brands for information that can be used to make an informed decision.

“They are going to brands they know and hear about,” she adds. “Brand recognition plays a big factor and that has to do with the fact that with today’s vehicles, there is a lot (people) don’t know or understand, so they will go to trusted brands they recognize when they are looking for parts.”

The major producers of after­market vehicle parts and accessories then become experts to vehicle owners who will use the information provided as a means of educating themselves and then to make a buying decision. Google’s Russell says this is supported by recent research that shows people looking for videos and other information specifically to educate themselves on such things as oil changes and filters, for example.

It would seem that service operations that wish to differentiate themselves online should begin to offer information not just about their services, but focus much more on customer education and become trusted providers of information about vehicle operations and service.

Offering an oil change is one thing. Demonstrating why regular oil ­changes are important and then explaining how oil filters work will likely lead to more service work and better customer ­retention.

Videos, in-depth product information and social media can be used to build that education component.

“It is up to service providers to be able to educate consumers and that they should trust them in repairing their vehicles,” Russell says. “(Service providers) have to be more interested in just the sale for today.”

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