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Latest UPS survey reveals what's driving online auto parts shoppers

What's Driving Online Auto Parts Shoppers survey

Understanding buying habits and preferences can help e-tailers boost sales.

Many people are keeping their cars longer and taking more of a do-it-yourself approach to maintaining them than before. That has turbocharged online auto parts sales estimates to more than $5 billion in 2014, a 16 percent boost over 2013 numbers, say industry analysts at Hedges & Company. The 2015 forecast: $6.5 billion.

"There's a huge opportunity to build loyalty in this space."

Double-digit growth in online sales of auto parts leaves brick-and-mortar retail sales behind. For 2013, in-store sales ended down 1.5 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The shift to online is an important industry trend. And to help auto parts sellers capitalize, UPS partnered with comScore to conduct the second annual "What's Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper" survey. Ioana Mazare, a UPS automotive marketing manager, says the five main characteristics of online auto parts buyers are that they're:

1. Distinct based on purchasing intent. "Upgrade buyers" look to enhance the performance or the looks of their ride, while "Replacement buyers" purchase products for repairs and maintenance. These two segments have unique purchasing preferences and behaviors. For example, "upgraders" are more likely to be tech-savvy Millennials; nearly two out of three will purchase using a tablet or smartphone. "Replacement" shoppers are typically older, and 40 percent are female.

2. Diligent with research. Compared with typical online shoppers, auto parts buyers don't browse. They know exactly what they want, and will conduct thorough research before buying. The top considerations are price, product availability and technical specifications. "They are diligent about research online, especially using online reviews, ratings and social media," Mazare says.

3. Decisive and willing to wait for their purchases. "Most online parts shoppers are patient when it comes to waiting for delivery," Mazare says. In fact, the study indicates a willingness to wait an additional four days if a retailer offers free shipping (whereas the general online shopper is only willing to wait two extra days for free shipping). "Millennials [ages 18 to 34] are an exception. They will pay extra for faster delivery, and prefer to have a specified delivery window," Mazare says.

Also, this decisive bunch rarely returns items. Only 27 percent of online parts buyers returned an item in 2014, about half the rate for general online shoppers. But when they do return something, three out of four parts buyers prefer to return to a local store, rather than ship product back. "Among Millennials, nearly 60 percent choose ship-to-store for pickup – and of those, 90 percent purchase additional items in the store," Mazare says. "That's an excellent opportunity to provide customers with flexibility and increase store sales at the same time."

4. Dedicated. They're frequent shoppers who make numerous purchases of auto parts online a year. They want convenience and flexibility.

5. Diverse. This is a demographically varied market when it comes to age, gender and location. An estimated 60 percent are male and 40 percent female. Some 44 percent live in suburban areas, 26 percent in rural areas and 26 percent in urban areas. Some 26 percent are Millennials.

"There's a huge opportunity to build loyalty in this space," Mazare says. She points to survey results showing that nearly 60 percent of online parts shoppers are going online frequently, making more than 5 purchases in a typical three-month period. Some 35 percent are "power shoppers" who buy even more online.

"To be competitive and positioned for growth, companies need to develop an online presence and to understand online consumers," Mazare says. "Our intent with this survey is to help give customers the kind of insight that will help them grow. We want to do more than move packages from place to place."

For a brief executive summary of the survey, click here.

Another example of UPS commitment to the automotive segment is participation in the 2014 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, to be held Nov. 4–7 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. UPS is an official sponsor of the show, and the preferred carrier for SEMA members. Visit us at Booth 30221 to find out more about UPS logistics solutions that can help fine-tune your business.

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