Online ordering is a great way of marketing your products to both commercial and retail customers. It’s a convenient way for them to engage with your store and your merchandise on their own terms.
For the customer, there are many advantages to using your online portals over calling or visiting your location. They don’t need to leave their shop or home, they don’t have to wait on hold and they don’t need to rely on your personnel to guide them to the correct parts, pricing and availability information.
Convenience, Speed, Availability
Online ordering attracts the sort of consumer who is in search of convenience, speed and availability. These are the people who don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time in-store or on the telephone. This could be a commercial account that wants minimal interruptions to their workflow and needs parts found, quoted and delivered quickly. It also could be a retail DIY customer with very well-defined needs, shopping for a specific brand or price point, or simply researching a future purchase.
For the store itself, online ordering may reduce the number of incoming calls or “drop-in” visits, and it may expose your store to new clientele who might not have otherwise purchased from you. You may consider fewer calls and visits as a negative outcome, but in reality, both of these outcomes can actually improve profitability.
Existing customers who have embraced your online resources are still buying – they’re just buying differently. By placing their own orders remotely, they’re also giving your parts specialists an added opportunity to serve another customer (on the phone or in person), and to perform daily storekeeping tasks. A reduction in commercial phone traffic also allows your in-store personnel to spend additional time working on more complex parts requests, and helping close sales with those customers who require additional attention.
There are drawbacks to online sales. Online shoppers don’t get your closely managed “in-store” experience, and they may receive less exposure to your other products, services and marketing. This has more impact on the retail trade, as commercial customers are most likely contacting you to fulfill immediate and specific needs, and are less interested in impulse items or the attractiveness of your plan-o-grams.
For both types of customers, their “relationship” with your store might be put at risk if they don’t feel connected in a meaningful way. It’s important to use these online purchases as a gateway to building confidence and recognition for your store as a partner in vehicle repair and maintenance.
Offering your inventory online also represents an implied “commitment” to the customer. Online pricing and inventory availability must accurately reflect what’s actually on your shelves. Accurate inventory counts are crucial to any store operation, but some online sales also require an added element of scheduling. When an online platform allows for the customer to order non-stocked parts to be delivered from your DC or another store location, it creates an expectation of arriving at your store on schedule. The online portal has made the customer a promise that your store now must fulfill.
Acknowledging or accepting any incoming order must be done promptly, and final processing or delivery of that order must be completed as promised. Keeping the customer informed in the event of any delay is even more crucial to online success, because of the “remote” nature of the transaction.
It can be extremely frustrating to get a quote or place an order and then discover that the part is out of stock when you arrive to pick up the merchandise. This becomes even more of an inconvenience if the part has been ordered and pre-paid online. Many online-purchase platforms place a preauthorization hold on the purchaser’s credit/debit card. Depending on the card issuer’s policies, this “hold” may not drop from the account immediately. For some customers, this may prevent them from having enough money in their account to purchase the same part elsewhere until those funds are released. The repair can be delayed, and often, blame for the situation is assigned to you for “holding their money.”
The final consideration when choosing to steer customers toward your online offerings is the customers themselves. We all have that customer who never seems to give us the correct application information, or even worse, insists that you send “both options” when a choice exists between two parts. This sort of customer is not the ideal audience for online ordering or “self-checkout,” as you may find yourself processing a large number of returns for unwanted or incorrectly ordered parts. It also will increase the number of “second deliveries” required to complete the job, and overstock for parts that are returned to the store.