The e-commerce, customer service conundrum

Updated Aug 30, 2018

By Molly MacKay Zacker, MacKay & Company

Second only to truck parts, I am obsessed with shoes. During a recent trip to Rochester, Minn., I had the pleasure of shopping at a small, somewhat specialized, non-chain shoe shop.

During my second visit, I noticed a small sign at the cashier’s area that stated, “Sorry, shopping online through our website is no longer available.”

When paying for my purchase, I asked the cashier, “Why are you closing your online store?” to which he responded, “Shopping online for our products takes away one of our key distinctions, one of our principles. We specialize in customer service, asking questions to solve problems, ensuring that we are addressing all issues. Online sales created more returns than actual sales and satisfied customers. The website hurt our relationships with our customers.”

In MacKay & Company’s e-commerce benchmark study conducted last year, online purchases of medium- and heavy-duty truck parts totaled 12 percent of all purchases, with forecast growth of 15 percent in three years. Some of this growth will occur simply due to the growth in the market, but some will be attributed to true e-commerce channel growth. What factors might influence this trend in the future?

Often repeated in our industry is the importance of relationships, both establishing and maintaining them. So how does the potential increase in e-commerce align with our industry’s need for maintaining relationships?

Can a relationship really be built through an online source?

During a recent panel discussion, a dealer principal was explaining the success of its support call center. The dealer indicated that his most knowledgeable employees staff the support center. The support call center’s online equivalent is the “chat.”

When it comes to online service, parts knowledge is crucial to answer customers’ questions. Having support at the other end of the chat is essential. Online relationships are possible (after all, there is much success in online dating, so I hear!), but it takes effort asking the right questions and building trust.

A couple of days ago, I spoke with the aftermarket parts director at a trailer manufacturer in our industry. Our topic was e-commerce and our conversation could be summarized by the statement, “E-commerce goes beyond ordering a part.”

What other support can you supply to make your parts sourcing stand out in the very crowded online environment? It is not only the transfer of the part, but the transfer of data through invoicing, software integration, tracking of service data and payment options. Then there is filling the parts order. Which physical distribution channel will fill the order and what data transfer is required to complete the product delivery?

E-commerce can be viewed as another channel; this is how we defined it in our study. But could it be more? The assets that need to be allocated include people, training and product knowledge. Listening to your customers and providing support will ensure their next parts purchase is through your site because you can provide the part and much more.

The shoe store in Rochester will probably not return to offering shoes online. But, if it ever does, you know I will log in, peruse the styles, make my selection, call with questions and hit the “Place Order” button. One more satisfied customer.

Molly MacKay Zacker is MacKay & Company’s vice president of operations. In this capacity, she coordinates many behind-the-scenes activities, manages the Research Department, writes and proofreads reports and presentations, conducts research and interfaces with clients.

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