Article > Opinion

Counter-Tech: Still Looking For It At AAPEX 2011

By Mandy Aguilar

Mandy Aguilar
One sure sign of the passing of time for my generation is how the best rock music of the past, even those obscure alternative bands that I craved as a teen, have now been redeployed in the 21st century as background music for our collective mass consumption.

The most scandalous version of this phenomena, is how Rock and Roll, which was once cool, rebellious and never mainstream, is now pumped through elevators as Muzak countrywide; at least there is still good cosmic karma about listening to “Stairway to Heaven” while riding an escalator down at a your local mall. Wikipedia does a great job of enumerating how Rock-Muzak has permeated our background while riding not only escalators, but hanging out at malls, transferring at airports, gorging on cruise ships or plotting revenge against “The Man” while on hold on the phone with your cable TV company.

None of these compares however with the pinnacle of all background rock music repurposing: the dentist’s office. A little more lodocaine with your “The Dark side of the Moon” while we almost finish drilling through the last of your molars Mr. Aguilar?

Did you notice this change while at AAPEX in Vegas this year? Rock Muzak was everywhere. On my last day in Las Vegas, I put on my newly minted reporter’s cap and visited both SEMA and AAPEX with an eye out to write a column for you folks on all the new tech I found there. Sadly, I did not find a much of it, certainly not at AAPEX. I did find some curious new tech trends at SEMA and hope to share some of those with you in a future column. As I was wrapping my day as a reporter in Vegas, super rock band U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” pumped through my hotel’s elevator as some weird mystic send off. I guess the rock gods still have a sense of humor even while quickly moving vertically from the casino back up to your floor.

Just like U2 proclaimed, I still haven’t found what I was looking for also at AAPEX. I had a clear targeted plan to search for two pieces of tech at this year’s show: eCommerce applications that incorporate traditional barcode readers on mobile devices and live chat modules to add to existing eCommerce platforms. I do not profess to even assume that I walked the entire AAPEX floor (even though, along with our guys, we seem to have logged close to 40 miles each while in Vegas as we were so audacious as to carry pedometers this year!) but for all I searched, I came up empty-handed.

Worse than empty-handed, most of the vendors I reached out to, kind of pushed me back saying these are features “customers are not requesting.” In many other industries and retail segments both of these features are enhancing the eCommerce experience for consumers and somehow we do not need then in the auto parts industry? Really? I, for one, am requesting them, dear vendors.

When I say I was looking for barcode reader eCommerce apps, I mean the kind that reads the UPC codes right off the box. There were plenty of the new and funky QR codes all over AAPEX this year, but those are only as good as the content they linked you back to; which by the way is often the wrong content since it basically takes you back to a website that is not formatted to be seen on the mobile device you used to scan the QR code in the first place. 

That UPC code is a powerful tool. Pharmacies have figured this out. At Walgreens, you can download a free mobile app that incorporates a barcode reader. When your prescription needs to be refilled, all you have to do is scan the old bottle and a text message is sent to you a few hours later with a friendly alert that your refill is ready for pick up. By doing this, Walgreens has captured me as a willing “trapped” customer forever. I would love to be able to do the same in our world. All of our customers often sell the last of an item they stock regularly and go into panic mode for having none on-hand; however, just as often they forget to reorder the part. What if we could give them a tool to simply scan any item’s barcode on their shelves with their smartphones and that would trigger a refill, just like a pharmacy. Refills are big business; just ask any family member who buys the same prescription month after month. How come we don’t see this in the auto parts industry?

Just like it is hard to find a barcode reader to sell more parts, it’s almost impossible to find a chat room app to connect back to your customers within your eCommerce platform. I’m a big fan of Land’s End, the famous mail order and now online clothing store. These guys have always been ahead of the pack in customer service. Their ability to chat with customers online is second to none. At any time while browsing their website you can click on their chat window to ask a live rep any sort of question you may have. They are so versatile at this that you can even just place an order while chatting!

Our customers often reach us via text message or chatting on public sites like Google Talk or Facebook Messenger. Those same customers spend eight hours a day logged to our eCommerce sites buying our parts, and believe it or not, at times they still need to ask us a question. More and more of these customers are looking for the ability to ask their questions while online and because we do not have a chat window for them, some have looked at alternatives elsewhere.

That’s where chatting will help us capture those customers by providing a service that will be genuinely our own with our own branding. For years we have all treasured that one employee who endeared himself or herself with our customers with their phone skills; now we need the same level of connection with employees who can chat live with a new breed of customers that prefers to engage us online.

Like we all know, AAPEX is a gigantic event, and even though I walked more than 40 miles at the show this year, perhaps I missed the right vendor with the solutions we all need. If that’s the case, make sure to share your comments by leaving a note below.

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