While there’s nothing easy about selling auto parts online, wrangling product data is no picnic. One could say that managing product data is the hardest part of selling parts online (arguably). This is because product data is considerable, complex, and constantly changing.
Ecommerce platforms that are designed to manage automotive data do a great job of making a difficult problem manageable. Still, even the best options have data challenges. Here’s an overview of automotive product data challenges, with tips and suggestions for solving them.
What Makes Auto Part Data So Hard To Work With?
Auto part data is hard to work with because of the quantity of data and the complexity. Every ecommerce site has this standard product data:
- Brand name and manufacturer part number
- Part type (alternator, LED light, etc.), aka “Category”
- Dimensions and weight
- Product specs, description, and image(s)
- Warranty info and install instructions (ideally)
- Pricing data (wholesale and retail)
But with auto parts, things are a little different. Consumers want to find parts by year, make, and model, so we have all of the above plus:
- Fitment information (what the part fits), which can be trim level and/or engine specific
Fitment data is a doozy. Fitment data can be extraordinarily complex for each individual part. It can often vary by vehicle trim level, engine size, transmission type, etc. It can also change by model year. It’s not uncommon for a single part to have hundreds or thousands of pieces of fitment data to go along with all of the other information mentioned.
Fitment data is important, as year-make-model lookup functionality won’t work without it. Most consumers have come to expect this type of parts lookup system, so fitment data is all but essential.
Where Does All This Data Come From?
The short answer is “lots of places.” The longer answer:
- There are a variety of companies that offer product data to retailers on a subscription basis. Often with other features added in (like VIN or year-make-model lookup tools). You can find a list of companies here.
- There’s also the SEMA Data Co-Op (SDC), which offers product data to SEMA members free of charge. SEMA membership isn’t free, but it’s fairly cheap compared to some data services. Unfortunately, the SDC does not have comprehensive data (only it’s getting bigger all the time).
- Part manufacturers may provide data upon request, depending on how they choose to manage things. However, providing data directly to retailers is falling out of favor.
- You can create data yourself by referencing the manufacturer’s catalog. While this isn’t feasible for retailers with lots of products, it’s very feasible for small retailers who intend to sell a limited number of products.
One place you can’t get your data is from a part distributor. They will provide you with very basic data – manufacturer part number, part name, pricing – but they do this only to ensure that you order the part you actually need. They will not provide any of the “other” data you need, as they don’t have it.
Managing All This Data Without Losing Your Mind
Now that you know why the data is complicated and where to get it, the next question is: How do you deal with it?
First, get an ecommerce system that works with automotive data. “Universal” ecommerce systems – like BigCommerce, Shopify, etc. – are great for a lot of applications, but they are not ideal for auto parts ecommerce. This is because these universal systems do not have any sort of year-make-model lookup functionality. While this sort of functionality can be added, it’s usually a hack that doesn’t scale:
- Shopify has a tagging system that can be used for year-make-model searches, but it’s not workable when you have products with dozens or hundreds of fitments
- Categories can be used to mimic year-make-model setups in BigCommerce, but it’s not a perfect solution if you’re selling parts with lots of fitment options (only it’s fine if your fitment options are very limited)
Second, only carry the parts you really want to sell. Too often, we see retailers list products on their websites that they have no intention to sell. They do this because they have access to the product data, and because the incremental cost of adding more products to a website is small. But here’s the problem:
- Every part you list on your website has data that must be managed and maintained
- The more parts you list on your site, the bigger your database (and the slower your site)
- The more parts you have, the bigger the risk that you’ll sell a discontinued part, sell a part below MAP, sell a part with the wrong fitment info (and get a return), etc.
There’s this idea that listing more parts on your site equals “more hooks in the water,” but that’s short-sighted. Part retailers shouldn’t try to sell every part they can get their hands on, especially if they’re new.
Third, spend the time to curate your data. The data you get from the SDC or one of the part data providers is very basic. The descriptions are often generic. The photos are just OK. The fitment data can have errors, etc. The solution? Fix it.
- Write new product descriptions, not only because they’ll help consumers, but also because it will give you a healthy boost in search engine traffic.
- Take new product photos, zooming in on the details your consumers care about and showing angles other retailers don’t have.
- Flesh out product data by adding dyno charts, install guides, videos, etc. to your product pages.
- Review fitment info line by line and correct or double-check anything that looks wrong. Fitment errors lead to returns, which cost you money.
Ideally, you’d have someone who was managing your site full time, checking data on new products, taking photos, etc. whenever they weren’t filling orders and dealing with customers.
Product data is a big challenge in the world of auto parts ecommerce. Many people who are new to auto parts underestimate the complexity and difficulty of managing data, and as a result they tend to make mistakes. They choose platforms that aren’t compatible with their data, underestimate the effort required to a manage the data, etc.
The rules of thumb for data management are:
- Less is more. It’s far better to have a website with 1,000 products that are carefully curated than 100,000 products that have generic descriptions and suspect fitment info.
- Data takes time. You can’t just dump data into your site and expect good things to happen. Pricing has to be managed. Errors have to be corrected whenever they crop up. Etc.
- Convenience has a price. The best systems for buying and managing product data cost money. It might be “cheaper” to use Shopify and scrape all your product data from some website in the short run, but in the long run you’ll spend a lot of time laboring over these systems to get them to work.
The good news is that data is a challenge you can manage with a smart approach. Good luck!