Auto Service World
Feature   July 10, 2018   by Adam Malik

Connecting the dots between online & retail

Jobbers need to invest online, but also in store ‘to complete the circle’

Remember the good old days where you’d go to a store wanting to buy something, search and search and search for it, find it (hopefully), pay for it and leave?

Those were good times, right?

Well, that was just a few years ago and consumer habits have changed dramatically. Nowadays, a customer’s journey “is a whole ecosystem of experiences,” said John Kinsella, vice president and senior consultant at FitForCommerce, a consultancy company in the field of e-commerce and omnichannel businesses. “There are all of these touch points.”

Customers bounce around from mobile experiences to browsing websites on their computer to calling a contact centre to checking out social media to e-mail. And they’re not just doing this with your brand – they’re bouncing in and out of yours, checking out your competition and third-party resources.

So they may start on Company A’s social media page before heading to its website to find the product that interests them, then jump to a reviewer’s website to research the product further, then back to Company A’s website to have another look at the item to make sure it’s exactly what they want and then to a competitor’s website to compare prices. They might call Company A to get more details and then call its competitor, Company B, to see if their advice matches up or is better. Finally, after all of that, the hope for Company A is that the customer comes back to them to buy the product, whether it be online or in-store.

Exhausted yet?

“The takeaway from this is: The path is not linear,” Kinsella said. “The customer is not coming in on a straight line like when I was a kid and buying bubble gum. They’re going all over the place and they’re super informed. They know they can look inside and outside your brand, check product information, prices, ratings and reviews.”

“Most important to this whole process is making sure that your brick-and-mortar and your e-experience is connected with each other perfectly – one starts a transaction the other one completes it.”

— John O’Dowd, NAPA

Buying automotive parts is a little different than buying a pair of jeans. The customer’s journey in the aftermarket world is not yet the same and figuring out how to make it similar to other industries is still a work in progress.

“I don’t think any of us have got the full answer yet,” said John O’Dowd, Montreal-based vice president of marketing at NAPA. “Where it’s going to end up, we’re just not sure.”

That’s because the business of selling automotive parts is an operation steeped in a century of tradition. So while other industries like clothing and electronics may be moving to a digital-focused environment to sell their products, the aftermarket may not follow suit in the same manner.

“If you’re dealing with automotive parts, it’s application-driven,” O’Dowd said, predicting that the market will likely end up somewhere between a full online experience and the traditional one with an engaged, end-to-end supply chain.

“I think the solution for our business, at least from our perspective, will end up somewhere in the middle and maybe a hybrid,” he added. “We may have some products that we do the true online experience with customers, and then a large proportion of product that ends up with you reserving online – you even pay for it online – but come and pick up in-store so that we can help you out with some tips and help to put it together.”

In mainstream retail, such as clothing stores and the like, strategy around brick-and-mortar stores is changing, such as reducing inventory since more purchases are being made online. In auto parts sales, it’s a different situation since adequate product stock needs to be on hand for more immediate sales. But adding a pleasant online experience for your customers makes them more likely to shop with you.

“Most important to this whole process is making sure that your brick-and-mortar and your e-experience is connected with each other perfectly – one starts a transaction the other one completes it,” O’Dowd said. “If you want to complete the circle, you’ve got to make sure that both of them deliver a world-class customer experience. If there’s a failure at any point in that circle, well, obviously you’re no better off.”

Read the full feature as part of our 15th Annual Retail Intelligence Report from the June 2018 edition of Jobber News. 
Click here to view the entire issue.

Investing online is a must these days – that’s where most customers connect with your business first – but investment in your physical locations is also necessary.

“We need to deliver on the retail experience. As much as we think we’re doing a great job with our transactional website which has a lot of information, we set the table for when they walk into the store,” O’Dowd said. “Their expectation is, ‘While that website is neat, it’s got everything I need, so let’s hope I get the same experience when I get to the store.’”

Your staff is best suited to know what will help boost the experience of customers in-store, Kinsella said. Your counterpeople see and hear from customers all the time, so they should know what they can do to make the customer experience that much better. The idea is to be a destination and a resource for customers for not just products, but inspiration.

Customers also want you to give them solutions quickly. You have just a couple of seconds to grab their attention online and show that you are capable to give them what they want.

“They want to understand what you’ve got, and get to their product in a minimum number of clicks,” Kineslla said.

O’Dowd agreed. “They don’t want to spend hours there. They know what they’re looking for and they just got to find it.”

Today’s competition isn’t just the other jobber down the road – it’s anyone who offers a better experience. Customers are being shown a positive experience by big online retailers. They want to have a similar experience anywhere they shop, whether it’s for clothing, appliances or auto parts.

“If you don’t create that great experience, that fun experience and that easy experience on the website to start with, certainly [the customer] will end up somewhere else and they’ll go to another site where they make it easier than you,” O’Dowd said. “So the competition then becomes: Who’s got the nicest, who’s got the easiest site to manoeuvre and who’s got the most inventory. Because, obviously, you’ve got inventory and you’ve got pricing that you’ve got to think of. You have to deal with that plus make it easier for customers.”

There’s another part of the equation to consider. Having stuff online is nice, but it’s one end of the experience.

“It’s also about the delivery experience,” Kinsella said. “By this I mean: how are you serving the sale around things like buy online, return in-store [or] buy online, pick up in-store? Give your customers online the ability to pick a store and look at what the inventory levels are so they can manoeuvre effortlessly between the channels. These are different ways you can differentiate.”

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