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Opinion

How Many Choices Does a Customer Really Need?

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I was recently at a trade show and as I made my way through the hotel lobby I stopped to buy a cup of coffee. As I stood in line, I noticed I had the usual three choices – small, medium and large. Which to choose? I had to consider how thirsty I was, how much money I had and how much time I had available to drink the coffee (taking into consideration the “cool down” time). But honestly, I didn’t really care about any of these things; I just wanted some coffee – right away.

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Did the coffee vendor need to stock three different sized cups and three different sized lids? He also offered many different flavors and types of caffeinated drinks. Having a vast selection can be good as long as the customer values it.

While attending trade shows and seminars in this industry, there is always discussion about the complexity in the marketplace brought about by the increasing number of vehicles on the road. Cars and trucks are lasting longer and the sales of new vehicles continue to stay hot. For parts manufacturers and distributors, this means they have more and more SKUs in their line. If you have parts catalogs in your shop, I am sure you have noticed the space needed on the countertop continues to grow. It’s not just the growing number of different types of vehicles on the road that adds to this burden, it is also the need to offer the shop and the customer a choice of parts.

Call it what you want – good, better, best, white-box, private label, brand name, OEM, aftermarket, value line – when there is a need to offer a selection of parts, the whole system of manufacturing and distributing parts gets a lot more complicated.

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In a recent survey of repair shop owners, we asked the question, “Please tell us how you handle the issue of offering different price points or different quality grades of parts when you estimate the jobs listed below to your customer (some call it good-better-best).”

The results in the chart from the 165 shop owners who responded to the survey indicate that nearly half the shops do not offer a choice of parts to the customer. Is this wrong? Is this fair to the customer? Does the customer really want a choice? Are they even qualified to give the correct answer? (I’m sure you love it when they say, “Just put on the cheapest one.”) Is this because your parts supplier doesn’t offer you a selection?

All I know is there is a whole lot of money invested in offering a wide selection of parts for all the makes and models of vehicles on the road today, and it appears that half of it is wasted. In other research studies we have conducted, nearly 75% of shop owners claim to install the brand of part they trust. I applaud this. After all, the shop is held accountable when the car or truck isn’t running right, and therefore its staff should be the one to decide on the type of part to fix the problem.

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Offering a choice to a customer base that doesn’t desire one, or is unable to intelligently differentiate between the choices, is horribly inefficient for everyone in this industry. Should shops offer a choice? Or, should the number of choices made available to the shops be eliminated? Share with me your thoughts on this topic. If you offer a choice, what type of choice is it and what is the typical outcome? If you don’t offer a selection, why not?

By the way, I bought a medium-sized coffee because I had the exact change.

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