Using personalization in auto parts marketing

Thanks to ever-advancing technologies and data collection tools, it’s possible to market to specific individuals in a personal way. The industry calls this “personalized marketing,” and while it’s not a new concept (direct mail was using personalization decades ago), today’s version of personalized marketing is…personal.

  • Websites can identify consumers by name, city/state, vehicle make/model, social media network use, etc.
  • Pricing and special offers can be altered based on the consumer’s individual pattern of website use
  • Certain products can be moved to the top of search results based on the consumer’s search history

and so on. While many marketers love these personalization capabilities (though not all), consumers are sometimes turned off by personalization due to privacy concerns and/or general cynicism.

In this post, we evaluate the pros and cons of personalization and make some recommendations.

Personalization options and opportunities. © iqconcept

What Kind Of Personalization Are Retailers Doing?

While there are lots of things that fall under the guise of “personalization”, most types of personalization can be categorized by their technical challenges. Basic personalizations can be done with existing systems, while advanced personalizations often require a marketing personalization software system.

Examples of basic personalizations:

  • Using customer first and/or last names in emails
  • Suggesting related products and/or upsells based on what the customer has added to their cart
  • Retargeting/remarketing advertising that may or may not include images of what products the customer viewed on your site
  • Abandoned cart emails (only, in fairness, some ecommerce systems don’t support this feature, so it could go under “advanced” too)

Examples of advanced personalizations:

  • Using the customer’s name and/or location on product pages
  • Pre-selecting the customer’s vehicle details based on previously stored year, make, and model information
  • An automated email that’s triggered based on consumer behavior (Did the customer just look at brake pads? Send them an email about brake pad deals or special offers)
  • Coupons or special offers that generated automatically based on the customer’s behavior (Have they looked at a product page more than 3 times in 24 hours? Offer them a coupon)
  • Personalized product pricing based on consumer behavior (Are they a loyal customer? If so, increase the price)
  • Customized search results based on products the customer has looked at (and often informed with AI/machine learning models)
  • Customized/personalized website imagery (based on the customer’s vehicle), customized website menus/navigation, etc.

Again, the main difference between a “basic” personalization and an “advanced” personalization is technology – most of the basic personalizations can be done with most of the popular ecommerce platforms and marketing tools. Most of the advanced personalizations require marketing personalization software.

Customized search results, imagery, and coupons all zero in on that particular customer.

Which Parts And Accessories Etailers Are Making Use Of Personalization?

While almost all ecommerce websites are using some type of personalization, there are some good examples of personalization auto parts and accessories retailers can reference.

Advanced personalizations, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. On the pro side, advanced personalizations:

  • Can help consumers who are feeling overwhelmed by choices narrow their options to only parts that fit their vehicle;
  • Can help the customer remember your brand name
  • Can help the customer decide to purchase more products (and do so more often)
  • Definitely help retailers better understand their customers, as personalized details are typically used in reporting and analysis
  • May help the retailer improve ad targeting/performance, on it’s important to test personalized targeting and/or ad creative against non-personalized creative.

On the con side, advanced personalization:

  • Has a technology footprint that can get expensive and/or challenging. For example, efforts to block 3rd party cookie tracking have required personalization software companies to re-invent themselves (at least to some degree)
  • Some consumers are bothered/concerned/offended by personalization, as they view it as an invasion of their privacy
  • Many of the best consumers in auto parts and accessories (in terms of revenue) own more than one vehicle. If a website automatically shows the customer parts based on a stored vehicle fitment, it could close off potential sales opportunities.
  • Depending on execution and the customer’s sensibilities, personalization can come across as manipulative and or fake.
  • Personalization systems often require significant effort and investment – it’s rarely as easy as installing some javascript on the site. Very often there are server-side code requirements to get these systems working.
  • Personalization software can get expensive, depending on which platform(s) is/are used.
  • Many personalization software companies “lock-in” their users by making it extraordinarily difficult to leave after setup.

Like all marketing “stuff”, there’s a lot to consider with personalization. As you’ll read below, we believe that – when it comes to advanced personalization – the cons outweigh the pros in most cases.

How Spork Uses Personalization

Here at Spork Marketing, we have been slow to hop on the advanced personalization bandwagon. This is intentional:

  1. We don’t know how good of a fit advanced marketing personalization is for auto parts ecommerce
  2. There are some technical challenges that are hard to overcome with most parts ecommerce platforms
  3. The ROI is often middling

To the first point, we’ve found that many online parts and accessory buyers shop for lots of different vehicles/applications. This is partially because auto enthusiasts tend to have multiple “projects”, and partially because enthusiasts often like to help friends and family make online purchases. These enthusiasts make up a surprising portion of sales revenue, and it would be a mistake to focus or narrow their experience based on past behavior.

To the second point, most of the auto parts ecommerce platforms we like have limited compatibility when it comes to advanced personalization. While this is changing, it’s slow going.

To the last point, the ROI of many advanced personalization tools is mediocre. Popular tools like Hubspot or Klaviyo often add up to a four-figure expense, and in an industry with tight margins (like parts and many accessories), this expense has to generate a 1000% or 2000% return on investment each month just to break even. That is often extremely difficult to accomplish.

So, while we definitely have clients using some advanced personalization tools, we tend to recommend limited personalization to our clients.

There are better options to sell more parts than investing in expensive personalization tools. © Stefan Amer

Summing Up

Advanced personalization is a “hot” concept in marketing, but the hot new “stuff” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. If a company has $10k or even $100k to invest in a new marketing concept, an advanced personalization system could be a good idea. But that same investment could also:

  • Build (or start to build) a YouTube channel with a library of content. 90% of auto parts consumers rely on YouTube for advice choosing accessories, making repairs, doing maintenance, and so on.
  • Sponsor an event that would boost the brand and build word of mouth
  • Sponsor a video (or series of videos) from a highly relevant YouTube creator
  • Cover the cost of a major Facebook/Instagram advertising initiative that could reach millions of potential customers
  • Improve the quality of dozens or hundreds of product listings by investing in product photography, improving existing product descriptions, obtaining more product reviews from previous customers, etc.

And any one of these investments could generate significant returns.

So, before your company makes a major investment in advanced marketing personalization systems, it’s a good idea to take a step back. Most of the time, when you look at all the opportunities available, advanced marketing personalization isn’t the best place to spend your time or money.

Cover photo: Stefan Amer 123RF