The automotive industry as a whole is constantly adapting to new technology. There are a lot of different products and services that fall under the umbrella of the “automotive industry,” but today we are going to focus on one specific area: the online automotive parts vendors and their customers. As someone who sells auto parts online, you may be wondering what the big deal is with mobile apps? You may also be wondering, “Do I need a mobile app?”

This article is going to take an extensive look into why the answer to that question is a loud and resounding YES.  The key points covered are as follows:

  • How has online shopping affected the auto industry as a whole
  • The Mobile Trend. (Who’s Using Mobile Apps in Auto)
  • Do online auto part shoppers care about mobile apps?
  • Get To Know The Online Automotive Parts Shopper
  • What Makes Mobile Apps So Special?
  • How do I get a mobile app?

 

How has online shopping affected the auto industry as a whole

The internet becomes more and more accessible with each passing day; with this new access comes new consumer behaviors. Consumer across all industries are becoming more accustomed to ordering what they need or want online. People are getting used to having access to a database of products at their fingertips. This has specifically affected the auto industry in a robust way; according to Internet Retailer for the 2015 fiscal year, online sales accounted for 90.9% of sales, up from 89.5% in fiscal 2014. Additional research from Statista states that retail e-commerce revenue from auto and parts sales amounted to 36.1 billion US Dollars in 2015 and projects that it will reach 57.4 billion dollars by 2019.

When you take into account the multitude of online shoppers purchasing products or services online and pair that with the amount of smart phones owned by consumers (2.7 billion to be exact, with 5.5 billion projected by 2018) you begin to see why the mobile trend has emerged. A study conducted by IHS Automotive in 2015 brings some insight. When Colin Bird, a senior analyst in automotive software apps and services at IHS Automotive was asked about the data he said, “Among new car intenders, nearly 90 percent of those surveyed currently own a smartphone. Not surprisingly, these devices have wide implications for consumer behavior while driving and influence consumer expectations on how vehicles and apps should integrate with them.”

 

The Mobile Application Trend.

Smartphone usage is at an all time high. According to a Gallup survey, almost 75% of Americans check their mobile device at least once every hour. Further analysis reveals that a whopping 90% of the time spent on a mobile-phone is concentrated around the use of mobile applications. Americans are now spending more time on their phones than watching television; the smartphone has pulled us away from the screen in our living room to the screen in our pockets.

It’s not wonder 30% of all commerce in the US was taking place over mobile devices in 2016! Internet Retailer projects that mobile commerce, or m-commerce, will grow nearly three times faster than US e-commerce overall. With the high use of mobile apps and increased purchasing power, companies that release a native apps for their customers have the best chance of gaining a competitive advantage. Strike while the iron’s hot!

If you’re looking to stay in business, you need to follow your customer. The data shows consumers are quickly moving towards what integrates seamlessly into their lifestyles. You guessed it, mobile apps.

Some good examples of companies in the automotive industry who have hopped on the mobile app train are the big name brands (Audi, BMW, and Land Rover to name a few) paving the way for smart or connected automobiles. Their new cars also connect to the consumers lifestyle via a mobile application that allows the driver to control features like: locking and unlocking their car, parking location, interior temperature control, picture destinations, check their fuel level, or receive dashboard alerts. All of these features are adding to a personalized user experience for their consumers.

 

Do online auto part shoppers care about mobile apps?

When it comes to automotive parts and accessories, you’re going to want to keep an eye on the consumers between ages 18-34, better known as the Millennials. As the Millennials comes of age, so does their buying power. According to a customer experience study conducted by comScore in 2014, 28% of the automotive segment is comprised of millennials. This same study also revealed that, “Millennial shoppers use their smartphones and tablets more than any other age group to make online purchases for automotive parts and accessories.”

percentage of devices used to buy online auto parts

What’s Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper:  A  customer experience study conducted by comScore

A study released by Oracle in 2015 entitled “Millennials and Mobility: How businesses can tap into the app generation” only further solidifies that data. Suhas Uliyar, VP Mobile Strategy and Product Management at Oracle put it best when he said,

“An engaging and personalized user experience has become the new weapon in the battle to attract and retain millennial customers. Businesses that cannot add value for customers with a more convenient, functional, and relevant mobile experience have little chance of coming out on top.”

The Oracle study found that 73% of Millennials like the ability to purchase a company’s product or service using a mobile app. Over half (54%) of surveyed users felt a poor app experience would put them off using a company’s products or services and 4 out of 10 said they would be less likely to recommend a company to others if an app experience was not up to their expected standards.

 

Get To Know The Online Automotive Parts Shopper

The comScore study also looked at what really drives the automotive parts online shopper. They broke down customer motivations into two distinct camps: Replacements Buyers and Upgrade Buyers. According to this study Upgrade Buyers “…tend to be millennials (41%) who purchase automotive parts and accessories online to change,modify or improve appearance, function or performance of their vehicle. They tend to be more tech savvy and more likely to make an online purchases using mobile phones or tablets/ereaders.” Both the replacement buyer and the upgrade buyer usually begin their research by going straight to the retailer or manufacturer’s website.

 

*What’s Driving The Automotive Parts Online Shopper: A Customer Experience Study Conducted by ComScore                      

We spoke with two millennial car aficionados to see what their buying journey was like and compared it to the data from the comScore customer experience study. Both John David and Matt Alexander enjoy collecting cars, working on cars, and talking shop on a regular basis. John David has a particular attraction to Volkswagens and Matt Alexander likes to swap out different models as they peak his interest.

 

SEMBA: When you’re looking for a new part for your cars how do you usually start your search?

John David (JD): I almost never go in store. I often find that sometimes you’ll get a great person and sometimes the retailer isn’t passionate about the same things that I am passionate about. For example, if I am working on a foreign car and they are passionate about domestic there is not a connection. Unless I’m in a time crunch, I always go online.

SEMBA: Where are you when you usually start your search?

JD: A lot of the time we’re in the shop working on a car and I’ll start searching on my phone.

Matt Alexander (MA): It depends on where I’m at. If I’m at work I’m on my laptop so I’m going to start there, if I’m anywhere else I’m going to use my phone. More than likely I use my phone when in the shop. Sometimes when I’m working on stuff or hanging out with other car friends someone says, “I wonder if I can get…” and you just start searching.

SEMBA: Once you’ve done your research how do you typically complete your purchase?

MA: A lot of times you have to end up going to your desktop because stuff sucks on  your phone. Just last night John David was trying to add something to his cart and there was an ad that was blocking the drop down button.

JD: A lot of the websites are responsive unless I’m working on the older beetle then they are older shops. It is super frustrating and sometimes deters me from buying.

SEMBA: What affects your purchase (price, shipping, delivery)?

MA: How bad you need or want that part. If you really need a part quickness of shipping is important if you’re not in a hurry then the price of the item is important.

JD: There are two different scenarios: “I want” vs “I need.” If you’re in a “need” situation the speed of how quickly you can get it to me is much more important. It’s a time crunch when it’s broken and you need to fix it.

SEMBA: What’s a good example of a positive online shopping experience you’ve had?

JD: A few weeks ago I was searching for motor mount bolts. The GTI uses what are called “stretched bolts” and they are one time use. When you take them out you have to get new bolts or hardware to replace the stuff you previously used. I got on UROtuning to purchase the bolts and as I was looking at the stretch bolts for the motor mount there was a suggestion that said “people often buy this with…” It was there that I saw that they sold a kit that had exactly what I needed. I added both to my cart, purchased, it was shipped that same day, and I got it a few days later.

MA: I was looking for springs. I was on my laptop since it wasn’t a part that I needed and was more a part that I wanted. I searched Google and my search brought up a conversation about springs on a car forum. The care manufacturer had posted a deal within the forum and that’s where I went and how I got them.

SEMBA: What do you look for in an online retailer?

MA: The parts I need and customer service.

JD: A lot of people now don’t have inventory but the ability to fill orders quickly. Even if you’re not on a time crunch it’s nice to know that they are assertive. Also, customer service and what I mean by that is that if I have a problem or a question and I send an email a quick response is ideal; don’t leave me hanging for a few days. Oh, and tracking numbers!. Some places don’t worry about that and it’s pretty unacceptable to not have a tracking number. We’re all used to Amazon by now so it’s expected.

SEMBA: If there was a mobile app available that offered a seamless buying experience would you use it?

MA: It depends on how loyal you are to the place that sells the parts. It might be a tough sell to get someone to download an app if they are not a loyal customer.

JD: Yeah if ECS Tuning had an app I’d download it. You’ve got to get someone to the point where they are loyal enough, you have fair pricing, good shipping, and a wide selection of parts. I also think it’s nice when the checkout has paypal, because it remembers my info and autofills it for me. There are so many apps now the experience has to be worth it.

SEMBA: Do you have go-to websites when you start searching for a new part?

MA: The model of your care really dictates where you shop, a lot of places specialize in certain makes and models. I do have one place I used to go to all the time when I was working on a Nissan it was called Enjuku Racing.

JD: For Volkswagen (VW) I go to ECS Tuning, for aircool stuff I use URO Tuning, for Porsche/VW/Audi Black Forest Industries, for Subaru I go to Subispeed, and maintenance stuff I check Autozone, O’Reillys, and Advanced Autosports.

 

What Makes Mobile Apps So Special?

Mobile applications are not just a rising trend at this point, they are the preference. As we mentioned above, a study from Nielsen on mobile media time shows that consumers spend 89% of their time on mobile within a mobile app. So why would someone choose to use an app over using their web browser on their phone?

There are actually quite a few factors that come into play, but at the end of the day mobile applications are the key to unlocking two things: a more personalized experience that is also engaging to the consumer. Since mobile applications live in your customer’s pocket, and are used within their mobile device, you can then use multiple marketing tactics to put your brand’s purchasing journey at the top of your consumer’s list.

So what type of “marketing tactics” can you tap into? What are some of the features that would set you apart? We thought you’d never ask.

Take something simple like a customer loyalty program. This is a proven marketing tool that has helped businesses gain repeat customers, and according to Nielsen, “64% of consumers say loyalty programs influence where they do business.”

So, what if your mobile application kept track of the purchases that would eventually add up to a reward for your consumer? No more paper punch cards. No more plastic cards that you carry in your wallet.

Now, take that one step further. What if your mobile application then tapped into the geo-location capabilities of your customer’s phone? Now your app can text them a special offer for a product that they buy on a regular basis. Or even better, it’s sends them a push notification notifying them of a sale. Let’s take this hypothetical scenario and give it a real life use-case.

Remember our conversation with the two millennial car aficionados from the Get To Know The Online Automotive Parts Shopper section of this article? Let’s solve some of their purchasing journey woes.

Let’s say John David is in the shop working on his Volkswagen GTI. He’s working on the car and realizes he needs to replace the stretched bolts. He pulls out his phone and opens up the ESC Tuning app (hypothetically, this app doesn’t exist…yet). Here are a few features ECS Tuning  could enable to make John David’s life easier and in turn make him a loyal customer:

 

  • Logging In: He’s used this app many times before and has opted in to saving his login credentials so there is little to minimal input of information and quickly logs in. His purchasing history is saved within the app and easily accessible, so he can quickly find the stretched bolts and kit he bought last time within the “purchase history” feature.
  • Geo Location: What if John David needs this item TODAY? The app can use his geolocation to show him the closest vendor within the ECS Tuning network that has what he needs. With a quick tap of a button he can purchase the item and pick it up in-store a few hours later.
  • Payment: Did we mention he opted in to saving his payment information within the app so he didn’t even have to pull out his wallet? There’s also an option to use his digital wallet with something like Apple Pay.
  • Order Management: He can view his package delivery date and tracking information right within the app. Not only that, he can opt in to push notifications or text that alert him when his package has arrived.
  • Special Offers and Discounts: Since he’s purchased through the mobile app 10 times in a row he get’s a 10% discount exclusive to mobile app users! Yay! Oh, and he gets points towards a voucher for $25 to use on a big purchase in the future.
  • Have a problem or Issue: He can now chat directly with a customer service representative within the app. He can send pictures of a broken product or item that arrived in the mail. He can ask them questions about how to install the item or ask about the exchange policy.

Does all of this make a difference? The proof is in the pudding my friend.

The real magic lies in push notifications and geolocation. Oracle has done some extensive research regarding mobile engagement focused on these two features. They found that:

  • 68% of consumers who have downloaded apps have enabled push notifications. Among younger consumers (18-34 year olds), it’s nearly 80%
  • 70% found all types of push notifications including order updates and location-based messages to be valuable
  • 50% of people say the #1 reason they download apps are to receive discounts and special offers. Push Notifications work.

As you learn to use these new tools to your advantage, remember to tread lightly. You will need to find a balance between the fine line of helpfulness and overbearingness. More than half of millennials (56%) cited that they do not appreciate communication from push-notifications that is irrelevant to their needs.

Once you hit the sweet spot, you will see your effort start to pay off. According to a study by IHS Research, approximately 132 Billion mobile apps were downloaded worldwide in 2014 with a revenue of $25 billion, and about 90% of that revenue was attributed to in-app purchases or subscriptions.

Customers appreciate the ability to use a platform that is built for their device. Websites, and even mobile responsive websites, simply display the information resized for a smaller screen. They do not provide you customers an experience that is inherently designed for mobile. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that betting on HTML5 (the code that builds mobile responsive websites) was his biggest mistake with mobile. Give your customer an experience that doesn’t make it hard or tedious for them to use your services, and if you adapt faster than your competitors they will thank you for it! Are you ready to build your mobile app?

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How do I get a mobile app?

There are many avenues that could get you to having a mobile app. We’d like to share with you the path that we think will bring you the most success. Enter SEMBA.

SEMBA does all of the heavy lifting for you, and we do it in such a way that allows you to have a mobile platform with the snap of your fingers. How do we do this?

SEMBA offers various pre-made mobile application templates that are tailored to your specific business’ needs. These templates allow our customers to change the appearance of the app to their brand identity (think: colors, logo, and the overall look and feel) while simultaneously providing you the functionality you need for your day to day operations.

The templates that we offer that are specifically designed for the online auto parts retail industry come with two different business models in mind. We have an app template for the retailer who is selling parts to smaller shops (also known as business to business) as well as an app template for shops who sell directly to the end user (also known as business to consumer).

The Business to Business Template (B2B)

Features for B2B businesses:

  • Account management – you can have multiple customer accounts for all the auto part retailers you work with.
  • Client-Team Logins -Each client account you create (as the mass retailer) can have the capability of creating multiple logins for the employees on their team who will be using the app
  • Customer specific pricing – when you create a new client profile, you can adjusts the pricing to the prices you agreed upon during negotiation
  • Buying on terms – you can create a sales order with immediate payment or with accommodated payment terms according to your agreement with each client
  • Request a sales quote – customers can fill out an RFQ directly within their shopping cart
  • Mobile bill pay –  Your customers can pay invoices directly through the app
  • Product Catalog – catalog within the app to browse inventory
  • Customer Care – they can communicate and send an email to you right from the app
  • Push Notifications – push notifications are sent to your customers when invoices are issued, when invoices are due, and for targeted marketing offers.


Online auto parts retailers that sell to other smaller auto part shops can also participate in a referral program with SEMBA. We have the capability of creating a mobile app that is branded for your clients, and pulls the product catalog information from your mobile app. This creates a mobile applicatio network that is interconnected and makes ordering faster. To learn more about that contact info@sembamobile.com

The Business to Consumer Template (B2C)

Features for B2C businesses:

  • Shopping Cart – just like many other online shopping platforms, your customer can place things into their virtual “shopping cart” while browsing your product catalog
  • Saved List – repeat order template
  • Offers/Deals – create and manage special offers for single or bundled items
  • Tracking an Order – customers can track their order via a tracking number
  • Order History – customers can view what they have ordered in the past
  • Push Notifications – push notifications are sent to your customers when invoices are issued, when invoices are due, and for targeted marketing offers.

To view a full list of SEMBA features click here.

What’s the benefit of using SEMBA?

Remember what we said about doing all the heavy lifting? Well, we meant it.

First off, by opting to use our premade templates you are not starting from scratch. Building a mobile application is no easy feat. Some companies decide to build one in house, which also means hiring a team of tech savvy individuals who will write the code and maintain the software over time. Others opt for having an outside company build them a custom app, but once the app is “finished” there is no one on their team who knows how to update it, add new features, or even trouble shoot problems.

SEMBA has not only built the application for you, we are also ready to help you maintain and manage the infrastructure necessary to keep your mobile app in great shape. We take care of worrying about things like hardware, servers, software updates, and adding new features.

Did we mention we also provide integrated ecommerce platforms? That means ONE platform for both your webs store and mobile application.

One of the cool things about the SEMBA platform is that we also build ecommerce websites. Why is that important for you? When you have both your website and your mobile application hosted on the SEMBA platform there is no additional integration needed;  that means that they can seamlessly “talk” to each other.

Since both you webstore and your mobile application are using the same platform, you can carry the same functionalities or features available on your web store over to your mobile application.

Not only that, but when your website and your mobile app both use the SEMBA platform you can assure that your brand identity is consistent giving your customers a similar user experience both on their desktop computer and their mobile devices. If you are interested in learning more about this option contact info@sembamobile.com.