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Your website as a shop, not just a shop window

Consumers are prone to taking a protracted route when it comes to purchasing products. They still go out and browse the shops, but in today’s market place people are increasingly looking to the web to help research potential purchases and compare prices.

The UK is a nation of online shopaholics. Statistics released at the end of 2012 by Nielsen show that for groceries, three-quarters of us have chosen to avoid the check-out queues and have shopped online at least once. And the projections show that by 2016, around one quarter of all purchases will be made via the web in the UK (Boston Consulting Group).

e-Commerce has also defied the recession, showing strong growth compared to retail as a whole. According to Office of National Statistics figures, the second quarter of 2012 saw internet sales grow by 18% compared to the same period in 2011. Comparatively, when looking at all retail in its entirety, the growth was just 1.12%.

It’s clear that there’s money to be made by selling online, and automotive is no exception. Google recently reported that 49% of car parts and accessories purchasers researched online first. Halfords, Euro Car Parts, even Amazon are now offering consumers the opportunity to browse and buy parts for their car and people are embracing them.

This rise in the use of online shopping is potentially detrimental to franchised dealer operations, which have traditionally been key suppliers for OEM parts and accessories to car owners. But e-Commerce offers them a new opportunity too, provided they take the steps to grasp it.

Franchised dealers have been relatively tardy at embracing online parts and accessories stores, with just 33.5% of the top 200 UK dealer groups employing this asset. That’s 66.5% that are failing to compete on terms with the UK’s big suppliers.

A parts and accessories store is a crucial and undemanding means of creating sustainable revenues via the web. Like any other online shop, it will be available 24/7, administering sales and promoting product exploration whilst the dealership is closed – important given that the prime time for e-Commerce engagement is between 8 and 12pm.

Leading suppliers have removed the hassle for dealers wanting to create and populate their own online parts and accessories store. For example, it is now possible to order an online store – selecting from 31 catalogues representing 27 major car manufacturers – which is pre-populated and complete with images, product information and pricing. These stores can also be automatically updated as product lists evolve, making sure that customer satisfaction and retention is maximised through a favourable buying experience. The entire process of adding a shop to a dealer’s website – including customisation for a dealer’s brand – can take a matter of days and as soon as it’s live, a dealership can immediately begin making money.

In addition to a desktop site, it is hugely important to cater for mobile access, as more and more people use them as a means through which they can purchase goods.

Mobile device ownership is getting higher all the time with an expectation of 75% of the UK population owning one by the end of 2013 (Mobile Marketing Magazine). Visits from mobile now account for over 20% of all internet traffic in the UK and a similar proportion of owners are using their device to visit and purchase from online stores (Ofcom).

Modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers are catering for this with mobile optimised parts and accessories sites which sit alongside their desktop counterparts and perform the same role just as effectively.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: the UK car parts market is worth in excess of £12bn of which a sizeable proportion is consumer-led. If a dealer has an online parts and accessories store, they can make profit from the web – whether directly or through a consumer undertaking online research and subsequently buying in person. If one dealer doesn’t have an online store, potential customers will simply go to another that does.

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