If you’re thinking about starting an auto parts ecommerce business, you’re probably wondering about a lot of things. Some of the most common questions we get from people launching a business are:
- What are some popular auto parts ecommerce platforms, and which one is the best? What should my website look like?
- What should the business name or domain name be? How are we going to get part catalog data?
- Should we accept PayPal? Should we offer free shipping?
- How are we going to rank for an important keyword? How can we write hundreds or thousands of unique product descriptions?
Plus a few dozen things that aren’t listed here. Suffice to say, it can be overwhelming to contemplate a new ecommerce business.
Still, the simple fact is that you really only need four things to get your auto parts ecommerce business off the ground.
The Four Things To Launch A Successful Auto Parts Ecommerce Business
1. A Good Source of Parts You Can Make Money With
It might sound obvious, but you need a good source of parts to succeed.
Sometimes, that’s a distribution company that will drop ship parts for you. Sometimes, it’s the manufacturer. Sometimes, it’s another retailer that stocks parts and will let you buy at a discount to help them hit their buy-in requirements. Sometimes, you need to invest in inventory.
Whatever you work out, remember:
- You need to buy deep enough to make money. If you’re selling a product from a brand with a MAP policy, you usually have a pretty decent mark-up. But is everyone following map? If you’re selling product without a MAP policy, are you going to be able to compete on price and still make profit?
- Inventory is expensive. People don’t often realize that inventory is extremely expensive. When you consider the time value of money, products held for more than 60 days typically don’t make a profit. If inventory isn’t managed carefully, it will kill your business.
Finally, if you’re going to dropship, be aware that many distributors struggle with shipping the correct parts on time. It’s something to be aware of when you make promises to customers.
2. A Good Process For Order Fulfillment
Customers expect a lot:
- Fast, free shipping
- A box that contains the exact part they ordered
- A part that fits their specific vehicle
The problem, of course, is that all of these things are hard to do. Fast shipping requires great processes – you need to be able to pick, pack, and ship quickly and reliably every time an order comes in (same day shipping is all but required). And free shipping requires a detailed understanding of shipping options and costs. There’s an art to knowing the cheapest way to ship something.
Sending the customer the part they ordered is hard because your fulfillment staff has to be very attentive to detail. Making sure the part will fit the customer’s vehicle often requires customer follow-up to verify fitment.
Finally, an order validation process is crucial. Ecommerce fraud is increasingly common.
3. A Functional Ecommerce Website
We’ve written extensively about choosing the right ecommerce system for your online auto parts store. There are several system options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Whatever you choose, you’ll need to be able to accept payments online securely.
Additionally, it’s nice to have analytics to track and measure website performance, a system for making daily website backups (and keeping backups for several days), and a simple process for updating part data.
4. A Set of Policies That Protect Your Business and Instill Trust
It’s not glamorous or exciting to talk about, but a good return policy will save your company a fortune. Same goes for a good shipping policy. Problems with shipping and/or returns eat into profits, and many beginners overlook these policies. If your company doesn’t charge a restocking fee – or explain what the customer’s responsibilities are when the receive a damaged product – it will cost you.
Additionally, if someone is going to buy parts from a company they’ve never done business with, there’s a good chance they’ll read over these policy pages before buying.
One more thing…
Customers! You can’t sell parts online without them, and obtaining customers can be very hard.
- You can try to acquire customers by ranking #1 on Google for certain search terms, but this doesn’t happen quickly. It can take 18 months of work to get to #1 for even a mildly competitive search term.
- Social media marketing can be a great way to acquire new customers, but it’s time consuming and labor intensive. Some companies are better off putting their resources elsewhere.
- You can always acquire customers with PPC advertising, but the costs can exceed profits if you’re not careful.
There are other customer acquisition options – email marketing, affiliate marketing, co-marketing, traditional advertising (like TV and print) – and they all have their pros and cons.
While we’re obviously biased, we definitely encourage auto parts businesses to reach out to a marketing agency like ours before spending money on SEO, advertising, etc. There are a lot of options to consider, and some of them work much better than others.
Remember – No Genius Is Required
Reading thru all of this, some people will feel overwhelmed. This is understandable.
But the important thing to remember is that auto parts ecommerce is straightforward. While there are some complexities here and there, you don’t have to be a business genius to find success. You just need to focus on the basics, learn what you don’t know, and leverage experts at every opportunity.
And, if you’re just starting an automotive ecommerce business and looking for some marketing advice, be sure to contact us. We don’t charge anyone to pick up the phone!
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