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Aftermarket Business World – Technology Commentary

Author: Scott Luckett, MAAP

Vice President, Industry Strategy for GCommerce, Inc. 

In 1965, Gordon Moore of Intel, father of Moore’s Law, postulated that the density of microprocessors on a chip would double (due to miniaturization) every 18-24 months. Recently, it appears that Moore’s Law has expanded to include a doubling of major announcements relative to online commerce in a similar time horizon. The past month alone saw three historic items that anyone with an interest in doing business online should take note of.

The first announcement was that local web searches conducted on mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) will exceed those performed on desktop devices in 2015 (research firm BIA Kelsey). It’s no great surprise that any metric of mobile computing is racing past that of the desktop alternative. The surprise is in the time horizon. The first generation of Apple’s iPhone was released in 2007 and the original iPad made its debut in April 2010. In a fraction of a decade these, and similar, untethered devices have transformed the way people access the Internet and the way commerce is done. This transformative technology is particularly relevant to the automotive parts and service industry because our customersare innately mobile. And they are almost certainly untethered and away from a desktop at their time ofgreatest need for parts, service and repair. Besides, almost anyone under age 60 just prefers the convenience and immediacy of searching for product, mapping a store location and shopping for services from the palm of their hand.

What this demands from everyone in the aftermarket parts and service supply chain is that you look at your business from the perspective of your customer. Look at your web site on your smart phone or tablet device and ask if it delivers a satisfying customer experience. If product searches with images, ratings and how-to videos aren’t clearly rendered along with answers to common questions, store hours, location maps and phone numbers, then your site is of little use to over half of your customersand prospects. This observation applies to B2B customers as well as consumers because “a B2B customer is nothing more than a B2C customer who happens to be at work”. A new generation of buyers is bringing their search and shopping habits from home to the work place. Mobile is where everybusiness must double-down on their web investment and customer experience.

If more convincing was needed, take note of the change implemented by Google in April in how they rank web sites that are not “mobile friendly”. Google recently began penalizing sites that are not responsive to the size of the screen performing the search. A site’s ranking in organic search results will fall below that of a mobile-friendly site, all other things being equal. Mobile optimized sites feature less text, bigger buttons and links that are spaced in a way to be clickable. This is commonly achieved through the content management system (CMS) behind the web site. Alternatively, a second version of the site may be rendered for browsing by smaller screens.

Regardless of how you respond to the mobile-friendly imperative, it is critical that your web content be optimized for the way most of your customers are going to view it. Google has provided a page to test whether your site passes or fails the “mobile-friendly” test -https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

Finally, much has been written about the adventures of Amazon into industrial products distribution with the Amazon Supply B2B site. April saw the sunset of Amazon Supply after three years, due in largepart because it lacked marketing, product expertise and a direct sales force. In that same month Amazon Supply gave way to Amazon Business – a B2B marketplace serving the needs of both sellers (distributors) and manufacturers. In the words of Prentis Wilson, Amazon Business vice president, “Customers want the Amazon shopping experience when they’re buying for work and that’s what Amazon hopes to recreate with this reimagined B2B site”. Learning from the shortcomings of Amazon Supply, Wilson explained “We’re in the early stages of ramping up a feature called ‘Live Expert’ for technical questions answered real-time direct from the manufacturer, and detailed product content including technical specs, CAD drawings, hi-res images and how-to videos”.

The delivery requirements, vast parts catalogs and relationship-selling that characterize the aftermarket have kept the Amazon wolves at bay so far. But, Jeff Bezos is a relentless innovator and there is nothing in his mission statement for the Everything Store that excludes automotive parts and accessories. To remain relevant in the era of Amazon, Google and the rest, every business in the aftermarket value chain must come to work a little scared and paranoid every day. Look at your business like a customer would – online and with a mobile device – and ask yourself if this is the experience you want to deliver. Then don’t be afraid to invest, innovate and experiment ... because that’s what Bezos does continuously.

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