It’s not often that eCommerce companies critique the products they’re aligned with. After all, Dick’s Sporting Goods doesn’t rate NFL players, and Best Buy doesn’t wax poetic about the beauties of the Apple campus in Cupertino. Such tasks are usually left to their customers. But an eCommerce company in the auto parts category, PartsHawk, recently launched its new website with just such an approach.
Check out its review of the new 2021 Jeep Grand Wagoneer: “A late, looming addition to the SUV-as-limousine segment, a massive house size of a vehicle with no clear design connection to the long-lived and beloved vehicle it uses as its namesake,” says the review. “Maybe that’s for the best — a retro-themed update, complete with wood wallpaper, would have seemed corny and backwards.”
The post, one of hundreds on the company’s new website, shows the passion of the PartsHawk staff as it angles for one of the fastest-growing eCommerce categories. Recent data from the U.S. Census report show that digital sales make up 21.6 percent of total sales in the category, easily the highest of any reported. (The next highest is grocery, at 16 percent.) And it also communicates one of the reasons the category is so hot: In the automotive world, everything old is new again – as long as the right parts are available.
“Auto parts are extremely untapped and immature from an eCommerce perspective,” PartsHawk COO George Ali told PYMNTS. “It has gained a lot of momentum in the past five years or so, but it's still light years away of where it should and could be. So we naturally just matched our experience with growing up in that business back in the late 90s, when it was the Wild Wild West.”
Back then, Ali was SVP of merchandising at Systemax, where worked with manufacturers including Microsoft and Intel to develop sales and marketing business procedures and metrics. But even though the opportunity at PartsHawk is huge, nothing could prepare Ali and his team for the complexity of the auto parts business. The company’s inventory numbers 1.4 million different items, and what looks like a spark plug to the untrained eye can actually mean the difference between starting and stalling depending on the make and model of the vehicle. So when Ali talks about the importance of data to his company, he’s talking about more than just customer data: He’s talking about the kind of detail that can make or break the customer experience.
He knows that at least some of his competition comes from the local auto parts store, where an experienced mechanic is most likely armed with a catalog from which any order can be placed. Very few of his competitors go into the product detail and 3D photos that Ali and his team have installed at PartsHawk.
“We have to get as much information as possible into our site, because the customer needs as much information as possible upfront,” he noted. “A lot of it has to do with data. We have a support team that can handle answering through email, chat or phone, so it feels like the customer is talking to someone behind the counter. And then we have them in that PartsHawk funnel, and we're able to continue to serve those customers.”
Like most companies, PartsHawk has to reckon with Amazon. As PYMNTS reported, Amazon took 87.6 percent of eCommerce auto parts revenue in Q2. The next-highest category for the company was electronics and appliances, at 41.7 percent. Although Ali doesn’t call it his biggest competitor, he does say that Amazon – plus all the independent sellers on its site – presents unique issues in terms of product detail and consistency.
Ali also has unique ideas about getting his company in front of the right customers. Some of them are auto mechanics, some urgently need to fix their primary car and some are weekend warriors working on their latest project.
“These influencers – or gearheads, as they’re called – are primarily on Facebook groups,” he explained. “So they're in there all day long talking about whatever their love happens to be on their forums. So again, it's that segmentation of who we want to go after. We have to market where they are, so we're going to leverage social and use influencers. We’re also going to partner with YouTubers to help produce content for us. We’re going to be wherever these guys are primarily spending their time.”
PartsHawk currently has about 7,000 unique customers every month. Ali wants to triple that over the next year. He sees being direct to consumer as a distinct advantage as the used car market heats up, and as the pandemic has reintroduced owners to the cars they’ve always wanted to fix up.
“Part of the reason our business is up over the last six months is because people just couldn't go to retail,” Ali noted. “In addition to that, some people got furloughed, or were tight on cash. But some of them figured, ‘I'm home anyway. Let me go to my garage and fix the car that's been sitting there forever.’”