Advances in technology have made it possible for merchants to sell cars directly to consumers online, with a user experience that’s as seamless as ordering a salad for lunch. Choose a make and model. Pick a colour. Choose manual or automatic transmission. Throw in a speed limiter and alloys wheels for good measure. Then, simply add it to your cart, partially trade in your old car, and either choose to have your new wheels delivered straight to your door, or click and collect it at your nearest car dealership. Bish bash bosh.

The automotive eCommerce industry is due to surpass $12 billion in sales this year, with projections that the market will reach a whopping $19 billion by 2022. However, the opportunity to make your mark on an industry that is experiencing, first-hand, such a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour (i.e. buying cars online), comes with its fair share of challenges, particularly in the case of the automotive parts category.

Here are the 5 most common challenges facing automotive merchants in eCommerce:

Challenge #1: Huge SKU Counts

As an automotive merchant, you can literally be dealing with SKU counts in the millions. And as every year turns over, so too does inventory. However, the sheer volume of products to manage is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s the complexities that come with fitment data that really throws a virtual spanner in the works.

The particulars surrounding automotive products don’t always fall within the ACES and PIES industry standard, meaning that incomplete data is making product information an inconsistent nightmare for eCommerce managers to deal with. More often than not, we’re talking about old-school, complex, and messy spreadsheets, here. If data isn’t clean, not to mention formatted in a clear and consistent way, selling auto parts online is a massive mountain to climb.

Typically, fitment data refers to (but is CERTAINLY not limited to the following):

  • Brand/manufacturer name
  • Category/part type
  • Weight and dimensions
  • Product description
  • Product images
  • Installation information
  • Warranty/assurance information
  • Price

The importance of accuracy

It’s absolutely imperative that this information is 100% correct and up to date at all times, due to the nature of the automotive industry. If your fitment data is off, a year-make-model lookup feature won’t work on your online store – an absolute must-have for users.

Let’s not forget that automotive shoppers typically buy products when it’s a necessity – i.e. when they need a specific part for their car. It’s not the type of experience whereby consumers spend hours browsing an online store just for fun, adding random bits and bobs to their basket, or ‘treating themselves' to a specific item.

The most subtle differences in product information between two auto parts can lead to confusion, increased returns, and an overall rubbish customer experience.

Customers need to be confident that they are purchasing the correct product from your store. Another challenge to consider is that even if all of your product data follows a specific format and template – how easy is it going to be for you to edit existing products or, indeed add new products to your online store? 

In order to keep the wheels turning on your PIM, your eCommerce platform needs to have a flexible data structure, as well as a strong back-end piece of integration with server-side lookups.

Challenge #2: Dealing with dropship partners

It’s highly unlikely that automotive merchants will have all of the inventory needed to supply their customer base in a single or central warehouse – let’s not forget we’re sometimes dealing with millions of SKUs, here! Naturally, using dropship partners is a great option for retailers, but what if you have a central warehouse AND a bricks and mortar presence, along with dropship partners – how can merchants track inventory at any given time, as well as manage multiple fulfilment points, not to mention handle returns? 

The most effective way around this is to use the distributed order management method, whereby within your eCommerce platform, stock is synchronised from all locations and updated in real-time, and fulfilment is managed through a series of rules and triggers. This means that orders can be split if necessary and fulfilled from more than one place for a single order. It also takes the complexity out of returns, especially when dropship partners are in the equation.

Challenge #3: Non SEO-friendly product pages

Although the same token goes for all industries, effective SEO is vital to the success of any automotive online store. It’s a highly competitive space that’s continuing to grow exponentially, so having your products found by customers is key.

Once again, we’re back to the notion that customers who are in the market for automotive parts specifically are typically ready to buy when they seek out whatever product is they’re looking for. They are usually on the hunt for something that’s very specific to their needs – think less ‘car parts for Peugeots’ and more ‘H7 (499) Dipped Beam (Headlight) 2009-2012 for Peugeot 207’).

Ensuring that your URLs contain product-specific information and not just SKU numbers or product codes is crucial for SEO. That, along with your keywords, title tags, meta tags and category descriptions being in tip-top shape will all pay off in your bid to be found by the right people at the right time.

Challenge #4: Lack of personalisation

While the automotive industry certainly does veer on the side of need as opposed to wanting from the customers’ perspective, there is still a massive upsell and cross-sell opportunity that merchants are often not taking advantage of within their online stores.

User experience and personalisation go hand in hand here. If a shopper visits your online store and searches for a product using year-make-model lookup, doesn’t it make sense to serve them products that are specific to that vehicle/model first every subsequent time they visit your site or browse further category and product pages during that session? Similarly, enabling product recommendations on smaller ticket items such as accessories (bulbs, wiper blades) really gives merchants the opportunity to increase average order value, as well as plant the seed in the customer’s mind that they should return to your online store if they ever need to buy X,Y, or Z.

Personalisation should also be synchronised across all channels – not just your online store. For example, if you’re serving recommendations based on customer searches and preferences on your store, those same preferences should carry over to your app, too. Avoid some of the most common personalisation pitfalls around retargeting, if you are running online campaigns. There’s nothing worse as a consumer than being followed around the internet by a product that you’ve already purchased!

Challenge #5: Not enough valuable content

There are two things that are generally top of mind for the automotive shopper – safety, and ease of use/installation. Therefore, it’s really worthwhile to have customer reviews, as well as valuable content that goes beyond your run-of-the-mill product descriptions plugged into your online store. 

We’ve already touched on this, but it’s so important for customers to have confidence that whatever product they purchase is 100% fit for purpose. Therefore, to tackle the challenge of high shopping cart abandonment rates, merchants should incorporate product reviews into their online stores. Another way to make your online store stand out and support the customer decision-making process is to include valuable content on your product pages – e.g. step by step how-to videos, installation guides, etc. The more context that you can apply to your vast library of products to make it easier for the user to gain that sense of confidence, the better results you will see overall.

Although there are multiple challenges for automotive merchants, if you can overcome these common roadblocks, your online store will be fuelled for long-term success.

Find out more about how the Kooomo platform can work for your automotive store. Get a demo today!