Over the last few years, we’ve seen a resurgence in the business side of the Internet, making it a valuable business tool in the automotive repair shop. Looking back from the late 1990s through 2001, shops were flooded by Internet sites promising to “revolutionize the aftermarket” and the way independent repair shops do business. Help shops? Yes. Revolutionize? Doubtful.
Ask most techs and they’ll tell you the Internet in the past decade has been pretty much a useful tool for seeking specific repair information or chatting through e-mail with fellow technicians on a hard-to-diagnose repair. However, on the business side, many shop owners were either scared off from the web following the big Internet bubble burst in 2001 or weren’t technically savvy enough to muddle through the web waters, thereby dismissing the Internet for its business potential and online buying possibilities.
But that is changing. Last summer, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) said about 73% of repair shops they surveyed expected their level of online parts purchasing to increase in 2005 over 2004’s numbers.
Babcox Research, the marketing and research arm for the parent company of Underhood Service, recently conducted a survey on Internet usage in the automotive industry. The results of the study not only help us create better features and articles to help you, our readers, but also give us a look into how our industry compares to other markets.
Looking at that data, we’ve found that 68% of repair shop owners who log on to the web use the Internet to locate parts and equipment. Nearly 50% of the respondents who have Internet access said that they use the Internet to conduct research on tools and equipment, and 40% said they research parts suppliers and manufacturers online.
What’s even more surprising is that when it comes to ordering parts and tools, 58% of the shops that use the Internet said they actively buy online, and 42% of these shops say they order over the Internet from their main supplier.
So why are shops starting to flock online to buy parts? There are a number of reasons to what I attribute the growth. One reason is that there are more shop owners and technicians today using the Internet, not only in the work environment, but in their personal lives as well. As techs and shop owners become more familiar with using the Internet for hobbies, travel and other general interests, this spills over into their business life. These techs may have used the Internet to buy personal items from various online auction sites, and now are finding that buying hard-to-locate parts for work (including restoration projects) can be done with the same ease.
Other reasons for the growth in Internet aftermarket parts ordering can be attributed to improved security for credit card purchases, as well as computer software to reduce or eliminate those annoying pop-ups.
Also, faster Internet connections and more powerful computers are making their way into repair shops. Where as dial-up connectors were the norm just five years ago, high-speed DSL lines are now used by nearly 50% of the shop owners/techs who responded to our survey. Dial-up modem usage has dropped to 28% of our respondents.
Finally, aftermarket suppliers are also returning to the mix, making the ordering process smoother. These days, many parts and tool distributors see the Internet as an important tool that gives value to every level of their distribution channel. As more suppliers and distributors add their cataloging online, the more we will see shop owners and techs taking advantage of the online ordering approach.