Can Auto Repair Find Its Online Groove?

It’s time to go from antiquated to automated. The April Omnicommerce Tracker features news on online-averse industries investing in new tech to keep up with competitors and rising consumer expectations. And for the Tracker’s feature story, Rob Infantino, the founder and CEO of auto repair marketplace Openbay, told PYMNTS his company is trying to bring repair shops into the 21st century with an OpenTable-influenced concept. Find that, along with rankings of 73 providers, including six new additions, inside the Tracker.

The auto repair industry has a problem. At least, that’s according to the entrepreneur looking to bring an OpenTable-inspired model to the auto shop ecosystem.

In a recent interview, Rob Infantino, the founder and CEO of online auto repair marketplace Openbay, told PYMNTS that auto repair shops waste a lot of time trying to acquire customers in the wrong ways. Most auto repair shops, he said, still seem to be unaware of the impact the internet can have on their business in the modern economy.

Mechanics often have a minimal online presence, if any, and operate instead on partnerships, referrals and calls for quotes from prospective customers. And in a recent interview, Infantino told PYMNTS that as he visited repair shops around the U.S. to conduct research, he noticed a common trait among calls from customers looking for a quote.

“The interesting thing was that you would actually watch the service advisor go screen to screen, or even book to book, and go on a manual calculator and take a few minutes to give a person a quote,” he recalled. “You’d hear that time and time again, and it’s a time-consuming process for the shop. And then we’d ask them how many of those customers they actually converted, and they said only 10 percent, in most cases. That’s a lot of time wasted for not a lot of customers, and it seemed like there had to be a better and faster way.”

Those experiences were the inspiration for the company’s newest products, a pair of subscription services for auto shops looking to automate customer quotes to save time and help convert more quote shoppers into customers. Called Benefit and ServiceAdvisor, the products compare service quotes 24/7 in order to increase conversion and allow customers to shop for quotes efficiently. The products are also designed to save shop owners time and money in the process while simplifying the quote shopping process for consumers.

Addressing antiquation  

Openbay was founded in 2011 and designed to connect millennial drivers with auto repair shops online. Unfortunately, many mechanics do not have a substantial digital presence, making it more difficult for them to connect with customers who shop online.

Infantino noted this was a particular problem for auto repair shops because of the typically high-priced nature of their services. Consumers in 2017 are educating themselves better than they have in the past, Infantino said, thanks to the freely available pricing information available online. This is especially true for transactions with big price tags attached, such as auto repairs.

For example, consumers often expect to be able to comparison-shop online by finding prices for comparable items or services before visiting a physical location. However, due to the time-consuming nature of getting a quote for specific auto repairs and the variable costs that are involved, like labor and parts, many shops did not have the ability to advertise their prices online.

“They just aren’t acquiring the online consumer, which is really the modern-day consumer,” Infantino said. “There are 91 million millennials out there who like to shop online and are used to immediacy and a high quality of service. They have high expectations around being able to push a few buttons and get results right away, and there were no tools like that for the shops.”

In February, Openbay hoped to address this issue when it rolled out its pair of subscription services after a pilot period in 2016. Their Benefit offering allows shop owners to give quotes quickly over the phone without having to waste time with calculations. ServiceAdvisor is a website plug-in that allows consumers to receive an online quote using the same technology.

“Auto repair shops have been kind of stuck in time for the past few decades,” Infantino said. “They have not really kept track of innovations in terms of getting an online user, so we thought this kind of subscription service could be a big opportunity for businesses in that market looking to improve what they do online.”

Racing into the present (and future)

Infantino and his team are hoping to bring the auto repair industry into the twenty-first century, he said, even if it is a few years late to the century. Along with Benefit and ServiceAdvisor, Infantino said the company is working to build more online solutions to help mechanics tap into the internet to acquire new customers.

“We want to do that part of their job for them — their skills are in repairing the cars, and this is about making sure they can do that without getting bogged down in other areas,” he explained.

Part of that will be automating more aspects of the auto repair process, like scheduling. Infantino said that he and his team are currently building an online scheduling solution that will allow prospective customers to get accurate estimates of how long a repair will take and to schedule the work through an online portal.

“The time management for repair bays is really awful right now,” he said. “What we want to build is something similar to what OpenTable offers for restaurants, where you can go see the schedule online and make an appointment that works for you and be confident that will be the right appointment and the repair will be done on time.”

With self-driving vehicles on the horizon, the auto repair industry’s race to catch up to modern-day online standards could very well be just the beginning of the race.

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