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The Mad Rush To Secure Mobile Apps In The Automotive Aftermarket

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How many new mobile apps did you see at this past AAPEX and SEMA? Probably too many to count, am I right? After day one in Vegas, I soon realized I was going to be very busy if I intended to demo every new app out there. By the dawn of day two, I had given up my pursuit; there were just too many new apps to track. Our industry is in a mad rush to secure app space in as many mobile devices as we can, and it’s a great thing.

A detailed search of Apple’s iOS app store for the term “auto parts” now yields more than 250 apps available for download for both iPhones and iPads. The same exercise on the Google Play Android store also returns more than 200 apps. Less than three years ago, I did the same analysis for a presentation, and there were only 61 apps on Apple’s iOS store. Clearly, at least in terms of quantity of available apps, our industry is keeping up with the global explosion of creating small, dedicated software applications that run on a mobile device.

But what about the quality of the apps our industry is producing? This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Sadly, not all new apps out there are very creative or, even worse, actually useful. Many seem to be no more than a rush job to get out there in the apps market. Industry players feel the pressure to compete in this new digital arena; thus, many are happy just to stake a claim with nothing more than an app that is a link to their existing Web-based site (many of which are just not designed to perform on a mobile platform). Staking a claim in the digital landscape is OK; however, customers love their apps and have become so sophisticated in using them that the benchmark for usability has been raised way up there. Now, we have to reach way up for that bar to ensure customers not only download the apps, but actually use them to buy parts; otherwise, all that work lead to nothing more than eating soup with a big fork.

Regardless of the increased memory size of most smartphones and tablets, customers download a limited number of apps. The global average for downloaded apps per device is somewhere between 25 and 30 apps. That means that after customers download the top-ranked apps they use daily, like Facebook, Gmail, maps, calendars, ESPN and Candy Crush, there truly is a limited shot to get your auto parts app into any mobile device. To ensure success, a better mouse trap needs to be built, i.e. an app that truly makes customers buy more.

Easier said than done. Today, we are nowhere near that goal. As we all compete with each other for our customers’ eyeballs, we are creating apps that put a fence around our customers. But, not one of us can deliver every single part customers need, let alone deliver the complete buying experience, from look-up to delivering the parts in their shops.

My favorite show on the Food Channel used to be hosted by a fellow named Alton Brown, a witty character who got down to the science of cooking. One of his cooking quirks was that he hated any cooking utensil that performed only one task (you know, like a garlic press or an electric ice cream maker). He coined the term “unitaskers” to brand in shame such utensils that were good for just one thing and one thing only. I see a lot of unitaskers in the apps that our industry is putting out there and, like Alton, I think they are a waste of time and space.

Many apps out there are only good for looking up one brand or one category; classic unitaskers. Do any of us believe that customers will download and regularly use several different apps to separately look up and research different categories of parts? Probably not. App utopia would be to create an app that both drives business to you and unifies the customer’s needs — a true multi-tasking app.

Regrettably, I did not see one such app in Vegas this year. The good news is that we are creating lots of different apps that will help the industry figure out the solution that truly drives business your way. Creating and innovating with apps is a good thing, and we are all the better for it. Now, make sure you create that multi-tasker app before your competitor does!

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