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Lasting Impacts Of COVID-19 On E-Commerce

Industry experts discus the most recent data, trends and impacts of the pandemic on the aftermarket.

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The Auto Care Association hosted a webinar on June 25 on the “Lasting Impacts on Traditional and E-Commerce Channels Due to COVID-19.” During the webinar, industry experts discussed the most recent data, trends and impacts of the pandemic on the aftermarket covering a range of topics from e-commerce fulfilment to social media influence on consumer behavior and retail e-commerce trends.

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The discussion was led by Mike Chung, director, Market Intelligence for the Auto Care Association.

One area of focus during the webinar surrounded consumer behavior and sentiment during the pandemic. Webinar presenter Hayley Horn, of Interstate Batteries, presented research showing internet search trends over the past 90 days and what these search trends might mean for the aftermarket. Horn’s look into internet search trends showed an increase in “DIY” searches for how-to videos on such topics as “how to change my oil” during the month of March. DIY vehicle repair and maintenance searches were consistent with other popular activities trending during that time frame, such as how to make bread and how to make TikTok dance videos.

Horn also noted a spike in road trip and travel-related searches. While there was a drop in driving during quarantine, miles-driven statistics in May showed a rebound to “almost pre-COVID levels,” Horn said. “At that same time, there was an increase in searches regarding road trips and renting RVs.” These search behaviors indicated consumers are starting to head out, according to Horn. Horn cited a consumer study that revealed 43% of the consumers participating in the early-June survey reported they are ready and willing to leave the house; more than half (57%) still had concerns about shopping and visiting businesses, however. The survey asked what businesses could do to make consumers more comfortable. The No. 1 result was to provide clear visible communication and compliance with precautionary measures, such as masks on personnel, social distancing, overhead messaging and signage.

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“The quarantine provided consumers the opportunity to try new things, work on their cars and we are seeing some stickiness in that area,” said Horn. With his own set of data backing up Horn’s research, Nathan Shipley, executive director, U.S. Automotive for NPD Group, noted a significant return to growth over the past several weeks in certain “front-room categories” in retail segments, including “buy online, pick up in store” offerings at retailers such as O’Reilly, Pep Boys and Walmart.

“Retail sales were up almost 20 percent versus a year ago, not the week prior,” said Shipley. “And that has been going on for seven weeks.” Shipley noted that from an economic perspective the industry hit bottom during the last week of March and slowly began to rebound throughout April as stimulus checks started hitting mailboxes and states began to relax quarantine rules. At this time, we saw a “huge shift in demand,” Shipley said.

Shipley broke down this growing demand into several categories and one area that saw a significant spike was car batteries, as vehicles sat undriven in driveways for extended periods.

As-needed purchases – things like wiper blades, lighting and washer fluid – saw little growth during the past several weeks. “Those will come back with time as we resume normal driving behaviors,” Shipley said.

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Shipley said the most interesting growth area he noticed was the increase in DIY projects and recreation. “All of us have been stuck at home. All of us have had to cancel airplane trips, vacations, etc.,” Shipley said. Two things are happening, in his opinion: “Consumers are doing projects like detailing their daily driver but also going out and uncovering that project car that has been sitting in the garage for the last two years and they are finally getting around to working on it,” said Shipley. “We’re seeing [an increase of interest in] things like floor jacks, jack stands, penetrating oil, brake fluid, starting fluid, categories that we believe are more project-based.”

Like Horn pointed out, Shipley said he believes the idea of the road trip is coming back as the U.S. currently experiences favorable gas prices and consumer sentiment suggests consumers are more comfortable vacationing via road trip versus hopping on an airplane.

“This is something as an industry I think we should continue to watch because it is likely to be a behavior that will stick for the foreseeable future,” Shipley said. 

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