Technology has triggered a fundamental change across nearly every major retail domain, except for one; automotive. While digital communication, B2B sales, and retail have witnessed changing trends due to technological transformation, the automotive sector has been relatively slow on the uptake in this regard. It had remained considerably consistent for over a century since the establishment of the first car dealership in 1898 in Cleveland, however, electronic commerce is set to change the way automotive retailing works. With consumer shopping trends continuing their steady shift towards the digital domain, e-commerce automotive aftermarket is all ready to rule the roost.
One of the biggest impacts of technology on the automotive domain has been observed in the automotive aftermarket industry. Automotive aftermarket refers to the after-sale market of the automotive sector. In essence, any automotive parts or components such as vehicle equipment, collision repair, service repair, replacement tires and other accessories sold after the sale of the original vehicle, are considered to be a part of the “aftermarket”. The automotive aftermarket encompasses companies involved in the production, remanufacturing, retail, distribution, and installation of replacement car parts, service repair, equipment, and accessories.
In the modern era, the emergence of e-commerce automotive aftermarket entities, such as eBay Motors and Amazon Marketplace have redefined the automotive sale experience for customers across the globe. From a customer’s perspective, such platforms deliver the ideal solution for customers in search of non-mission-critical and other discretionary parts, where they can browse through similar products, check reviews and avail quick delivery at economical price points. This ease and convenience are among the major factors responsible for elevating digital platforms like Amazon to great heights in the e-commerce automotive aftermarket domain in recent years.
For conventional automotive retailers and OEMs, on the other hand, the rise of these digital solutions has considerably disrupted industry trends. However, this does not necessarily spell trouble for these traditional automotive entities. On the contrary, leveraged correctly, e-commerce for automotive aftermarket can actually present a vast array of lucrative avenues for these retailers to establish a strong long-term presence in the aftermarket auto parts landscape.
How is e-commerce transforming the automotive domain?
Traditional sales models for the automotive industry have been predominantly dealer-based. From gaining information, to test drives, to transactions to servicing, nearly all activities associated with automotive sales and after-sales were carried out at the physical brick-and-mortar automotive dealerships.
However, these days, many customers are turning their focus towards e-commerce automotive aftermarket for their retail experiences, given the convenience, speed, and autonomy provided by these platforms. In fact, a 2019 study conducted among 1,089 vehicle shoppers suggested that nearly 49% of consumers are open to purchasing their new vehicle completely online.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that e-commerce seems to be really coming into its own and eliciting a massive transformation across the automotive sales spectrum, for sale/lease of vehicles or parts alike.
Some automotive industry players have already begun to respond to this change in consumer interest. Porsche North America, Tesla Inc., Lynk & Co., and Rivian Automotive Llc are among the major companies that have initiated the direct sale of vehicles to the public through an online platform.
Similarly, dealers are also acknowledging the merits of e-commerce for automotive sales. For example, the Las Vegas-based Findlay Automotive Group has established an entirely digital car purchase program designed specifically for customers who prefer to shop from the comfort of their own homes rather than make a visit to the dealership. (Source: www.digitalcommerce360.com)
Traditional retail, fully-online, or omnichannel – the basic business-channel conundrum are automotive aftermarket players facing
Despite the massive digital influence of technologies such as e-commerce on automotive buying behavior, there is still a major chunk of the customer population that prefers the human element and tangibility of an in-person experience, when it comes to the actual transaction. In light of these trends, several modern online-only automotive aftermarket retailers are working towards striking up alliances with physical suppliers, service providers, and manufacturers, to deliver an omnichannel experience, otherwise known as bricks & clicks business model.
In essence, a bricks & clicks model involves the operation of a retail company via an online or digital store (clicks) as well as a physical establishment (bricks), thus combining both into a single retail strategy.
A notable example of this includes automotive part dealers delivering targeted content on their websites to ensure buyer engagement while directing them towards in-person retail centers to carry out activities such as purchase completion and test drives. Continental AG, for instance, has introduced a new e-commerce automotive aftermarket portal, which contains bundled information regarding the company’s entire product and service portfolio. The portal consists of a comprehensive digital catalog of various Continental brands and products, allowing customers to easily identify the correct part from the selected range. Furthermore, the platform also facilitates seamless integration between the customer and the right contact person for specific product and service groups. (Source: www.continental.com)
The COVID-19 impact and the road ahead
In the automotive sector, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has triggered a tremendous, long-term disruption, creating an economic upheaval that is fundamentally different from anything observed during previous crises. Aside from the decline in GPDs, which is typical during economic downturns, the impact of this drop is considered to be two times worse than during the last recession, with a longer impact and extreme uncertainty over the upcoming years.
For example, nationwide lockdowns and physical distancing measures across the globe have marked a sharp decline in both customer foot traffic, as well as VMT (vehicle miles traveled). Also, with social distancing directives keeping populations largely housebound and the subsequently low vehicle density, collision rates have witnessed a massive decline. For instance, in Seattle alone, collisions have decreased by around 50% during the government-induced containment efforts, including travel restrictions. These conditions, alongside a potentially slow economic recovery trajectory, indicate that automotive aftermarket demand may not return to pre-pandemic levels for years.
That said, the rising affinity of customers towards online purchases may generate lucrative opportunities for novel e-commerce automotive aftermarket business models and service solutions. Several key businesses and consumers have already begun their transition towards e-commerce for aftermarket auto parts, a trend that is expected to persist in the foreseeable future.
Should automotive aftermarket players take strong long-term efforts now to enhance their business through e-commerce and adapt to the so-called “new normal”, the industry could likely make a stronger comeback from the crisis in the years ahead.