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Panel of Experts Explores the Tangled Web of ‘E-Tailing’ at AASA Executive Breakfast

A panel of top e-commerce executives convened at AAPEX Tuesday morning to explore the tangled web of Internet retailing. The panel left AASA Executive Breakfast attendees with some advice: Have good data, good content and the right parts to fuel online sales to both consumers and professionals.

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A panel of top e-commerce executives convened at AAPEX Tuesday morning to explore the tangled web of Internet retailing. The panel left AASA Executive Breakfast attendees with some advice: Have good data, good content and the right parts to fuel online sales to both consumers and professionals.

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Steve Handschuh, CEO of AASA, led the panel consisting of Scott Bauhofer, senior VP and GM, e-commerce Advance Auto Parts; Randy Buller, founder of The Parts Authority; Shane Evangelist, CEO of U.S. Auto Parts Network; Steve Frazier, vice president, auto and industrial, Amazon.com; and Famous Rhodes, director of eBay motors.

Most panelists agreed on one thing: e-tailing of automotive aftermarket parts is still the Wild West and there are plenty of opportunities out there. But finding those opportunities is the trick. The majority of visitors to auto parts websites are looking for good information, panelists agreed. However, very few of those visitors actually turn into a transaction. Many website visitors print out information they’ve found on a website and will take it into a parts store, the panelists noted. Consumers will especially do that when having their vehicles repaired.

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"They have their vehicle in the shop, get a price for their part and they go online to see if the price of the part is in-line with what the shop is saying," Buller said. "That gives powerful information to the consumer."

Though it may not be something service centers like, it’s happening, panelists said. "You wouldn’t bring eggs to a restaurant and ask them to cook it for you," Buller said to laughter.

"Anyone who has worked at a part store has seen people walking around with printouts, looking for parts," Frazier said.

Even though a good number of website visitors don’t translate immediately into online sales, it’s a good opportunity for manufacturers to get the word out about their brands. Ways to do that include having good content, diagrams and photos to give buyers all the information they might need, Frazier said.

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"It can be time-consuming to get all that information out there, but once it’s up, it sticks," he said.

Rhodes said some of the parts that would seem to move a great deal online aren’t always the best sellers online, such as wipers and  brakes.

Many of the best-selling items on eBay Motors include large items such as engines, transmissions and body parts, Rhodes said. The idea of convenience to a consumer isn’t always clear-cut, Frazier added.

"Consumers define convenience in their own terms," Frazier said. "One day, it might be to go the brick-and-mortar store and pick up a few items," he said. "The next day, it might be convenient to have that big item shipped to their home."

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