From omni-channel purchasing to expanding social media, online auto parts buyer preferences are shifting, according to a new UPS study.
Online auto parts purchasing is a booming business, with consumers spending more than $5 billion in e-commerce sales last year, according to Hedges & Company. And with figures expected to top $6 billion in 2015 and $7 billion in 2016, that popularity is only projected to climb.
"Omni-channel sales is taking effect in the automotive industry more so than in previous years," says Laura Karpovage, UPS integrated communications manager for automotive.
But while sales are expected to skyrocket, the reasons online auto parts buyers purchase in the first place – and their preferences when doing so – are not as predictable, as the UPS "What's Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper™" study shows.
According to the study, auto parts retailers need to provide a seamless shopping experience across devices and locations (from home to store).
"Omni-channel [including brick-and-mortar retail stores, e-commerce sites and marketplaces] is taking effect in the automotive industry, more so than in previous years. Retailers that can take advantage of this environment," says Laura Karpovage, the UPS integrated communications manager for automotive.
The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to provide a seamless experience. Here are some additional ways your buyers' preferences are changing – and how you can keep pace.
Automotive parts buyers are searching for the best deals, with 93 percent opting to comparison-shop before making a final purchase. They look at price (with 52 percent citing price as a top reason), as well as product selection when selecting where to shop.
"Just having a website with product listings isn't enough. Detailed product information and clear images on your retail website are equally important," Karpovage notes.
Additionally, a consumer's shopping cart experience influences the decision to buy. According to the new UPS study, 83 percent of the auto parts buyers in the study said they abandoned their shopping cart. The top reasons for doing so were understanding shipping costs.
"If shipping costs are higher than expected or are not clearly outlined, shoppers will leave, and if your website is not easy and convenient or product is not available, they'll hop to a competitor's," Karpovage warns.
Increasingly tech-savvy buyers
With the rapid expansion of e-commerce across all sectors, auto parts buyers are becoming increasingly reliant on online reviews, e-mail offers and social media to help drive purchases.
According to the study, 71 percent of respondents consider product reviews the most influential piece of content on a retailer's website, and 52 percent are more likely to make a purchase if they receive e-mail offers with discounts.
"It's important for retailers to provide shoppers an opportunity to leave product reviews on their sites," Karapovage says, "as well as capitalize on the audience's interest through incentives."
The study also found that auto parts buyers were avid users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, relying on their mobile devices and social media accounts to receive deals – and to shop.
"This is new from previous years," Karpovage says. "People are researching on the phone while shopping in the store or while at home. Having a seamless experience across locations and devices is important."
Additionally, auto parts buyers are interested in knowing when their order will arrive. Specifically, 63 percent prefer to receive their package's estimated delivery date and tracking number in real-time.
"This represents a great opportunity for retailers to stand out by providing an exceptional post-purchase experience," Karpovage says.
Demanding delivery and return options
Shifting buying preferences don't stop once the credit card is swiped. Online auto parts consumers are demanding a wider portfolio of delivery options, particularly for in-store pickup and returns.
Although making their purchases online, 83 percent of respondents would prefer to return items to the store, and 93 percent said they would likely make a new purchase while in the store for a return, according to the study.
Auto parts buyers are also becoming increasingly autonomous, as well. Customers are buying more replacement parts instead of upgrade parts (66 vs. 59 percent last year) and installing more parts themselves (66 vs. 62 percent last year).
Buyers are diversifying
While the notion of auto parts buyers evokes a particularly distinct kind of consumer (middle-age, male), the study found that the industry's prevalent type of consumer might not be as predictable as previously thought.
"One of the things we found surprising last year was the number of women," Karpovage says. "So make sure your site is catering to both women and men."
She adds: "At this point, millennials have overtaken the baby boomers as the largest demographic group. They are the future for all retailers. They are always on and always connected, so having that seamless omni-channel experience is critical for connecting with this group."
Download the 2015 "What's Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper™" Study.
View the study highlights.
Connect with us at this year's SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show in Las Vegas, Nov. 3-6. The UPS booth is #32229.