How You’ll Beat Amazon

Updated Nov 16, 2017

Did you pick up the unofficial theme at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW)?

Beginning in the lead up to Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue and running through HDAW’s final educational session, it was clear there was a thematic undercurrent during the festivities this year in Las Vegas. Panelists brought it up constantly, suppliers focused on it during the trade show and — at least from the conversations I had — a lot of distributors seemed to have it on top of mind.

Those who attended probably already know what I’m referring to. For those who didn’t: The independent aftermarket is on the cusp of an e-commerce revolution.

The messaging started on Jan. 20 when Truck Parts & Service published the results of a recent MacKay & Company and FinditParts study that uncovered 55 percent of end users have already tried e-commerce to purchase Class 6-8 truck and trailer parts. The survey also discovered nearly half (47 percent) of the responders who’ve yet to try online sales are considering the platform for the future, and that price, product availability and convenience are driving customers into the new purchasing channels.

Those sentiments were reiterated and expanded on later at Heavy Duty After-market Dialogue, where representatives from some of North America’s largest fleets and carrier associations trumpeted their experiences with online ordering and purchasing. Suppliers followed suit, touting the channel later in the day and during HDAW as a burgeoning tool for their business.

Then there was ‘Aftermarket Briefings,’ a new event to HDAW in which three technology subject matter experts conveyed to the audience how new software and technological tools, such as e-commerce solutions, can serve to improve and enhance their businesses.

The last event in particular was packed with inquisitive distributors, who immediately started lobbing questions toward the presenters and didn’t stop until the end of the week.

I think that’s a great sign for this industry.

We all know e-commerce is the future. Almost all of us are using it for some aspect of our lives, and as we become more adept at using it (and more companies offer it) we’re inevitably going to use it even more.

Whether or not e-commerce fits with conventional distribution doesn’t matter anymore. It’s what customers want. Any industry that can use it but resists is risking — no, inviting — a market disruption.

One of the hypotheticals put forth several times at HDAW was the example of an end-user relying on second- and third-shift technicians to maintain and service their vehicles. In each case, whomever brought up the hypothetical eventually came to the same end: At some point those nightshift technicians are going to need a part, and there’s a good chance when that happens they’re going to pull out their smartphone and look for the distributor closest to them who has it.

That can be you. In fact, it must be you.

The aftermarket’s biggest advantage against Amazon — and one I don’t see deteriorating anytime soon — is your inventory. Most of what that tech needs you already have, and can deliver in a few hours. Amazon, even with its new drones and corner stores, is still primarily a two-day shipping distributor.

This is where you can beat them.

By building e-commerce websites that allow customers to search your inventory and order parts 24/7, distributors can be there for those late-night technicians. You can be asleep in bed and provide the best service a customer could hope for — taking orders at 2 a.m., packing them at sunrise so a first-shift technician can install them at 8 a.m.

I don’t care if Amazon Prime shipping is free, no customer is walking away from that.

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