Auto Service World
News   February 1, 2023   by Adam Malik

Online or in-store? What customers prefer in the aftermarket

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Despite some movement to more online purchases of automotive aftermarket parts and accessories — mainly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic — consumers are largely returning to old habits of going in-store to get what they need.

Speaking at AAPEX 2022, Nathan Shipley, executive director for The NPD Group’s automotive aftermarket practice, told attendees that consumers across all industries mostly preferred an in-store shopping experience, with 70 per cent of them doing so. As the pandemic grew, it become more of a 50-50 split.

But there’s a caveat, he noted. “There was all new demand for products that just kind of came out of nowhere and online definitely benefited from that as well. So it wasn’t a shift from brick and mortar per se. It was truly just new demand. And it went online,” he said during his Aftermarket Outlook 2023 presentation.

And since restrictions have lifted and those new consumers put their dollars elsewhere and traditional customers shop in-store again, trends are starting to move back to what was normally seen. Today, it’s about a 65/35 split in favour of in-store shopping.

For the automotive aftermarket specifically, 81 per cent of consumers will shop in-store compared to 19 per cent online today. Pre-pandemic, it was an 87/13 split. Keep in mind, the aftermarket was deemed essential and so stores were allowed to be open and shops able to work on vehicles.

What the overall number points to is a flattening of e-commerce growth, Shipley said during his Aftermarket Outlook 2023 presentation.

“We saw it prior to the pandemic; we’re seeing it now. In a lot of industries, they like being in stores,” he said. “They like touching, feeling. In our industry especially, it’s always been a big headline [that] folks like the expertise in stores, etc. So we’ve seen this flattening out with e-commerce.”

What COVID forced traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to do was accelerate their plans to compete with the online retailers who were already threatening their existence. Businesses figured out that they already have the most difficult and expensive part of the business covered — a physical location and the products inside it — and it was a matter of processing orders quickly enough to satisfy customers.

“You’ve got retailers that are saying ‘Hey, order by a certain time of the evening and we’ll have it to you the next day.’ So those types of things are helping stores overall,” Shipley said.

“Then you’ve got this story that e-commerce is flattened out. And it’s just consumers are shopping in-store, which is great if you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer.”

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