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R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Looks Into The Perception of the Internet

Five years ago, the industry was abuzz about the Internet. Many thought it would revolutionize distribution and fundamentally change the way consumers and repair shops sourced auto parts. From a business perspective, what is your perception of the Internet today versus five years ago? We spoke with various people in the industry who had their own take on the information superhighway.

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AKRON, OHIO — Five years ago, the industry was abuzz about the Internet. Many thought it would revolutionize distribution and fundamentally change the way consumers and repair shops sourced auto parts. From a business perspective, what is your perception of the Internet today versus five years ago?
We spoke with various people in the industry who had their own take on the information superhighway.

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Steve Bieszczat, Vice President, Information Services, Activant Solutions:
During the “bubble” it was believed by many that the aftermarket supply chain would be transformed into something entirely new. It turned out that the structure and operation of our supply chain was a lot more robust than many had believed. In fact, rather than revolutionizing the industry, the Internet and related technologies have been used to strengthen and augment traditional channel operators. E-mail, web sites, electronic data transfer, and e-stores all came of age during the bubble and are now backbone technologies for the way our supply chain operates. The bubble may have seemed more hype than reality, but in hindsight it was a transformational time in the way we communicate, work, access information and interact.

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Chris Isted, Store Manager, CARQUEST
Back in 2000 or 2001, I was a little afraid of the Internet, that it would take business away from us. But it really hasn’t.
The biggest thing for me is how cataloging has changed on the Internet. I’m going to the Internet for cataloging all the time. Depending on the application, it’s sometimes the first place I go.
As far as parts ordering, it’s working out pretty well for us, especially for import parts. We can better supply our customers with parts that normally are special orders. I just ordered a set of Jaguar pads and rotors the other day and the rotor box had the Jaguar (OE) number right on it.

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Craig Bond, Sr. Vice President, Bond Auto Parts
Even in the beginning, I didn’t think Internet sales would work. There’s too many stores out there and too many things that pop up when working on cars. People aren’t going to wait – they can’t.
But lately, it’s changed a little and today, we’re adding cataloging to our website. We’re even entertaining the possibility of Internet sales. I don’t envision it being a huge part of our business, but all the big guys have it. I think Internet sales will work well with accessories and hard-to-find items.
I think for the retail end of the business, the Internet can be a tool where someone can look up parts and then pick them up on their way home from the office. It will help our customers be better consumers. I’m still a little leery about whether this will revolutionize the industry.

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Summary by Brian Cruickshank, Editor, Counterman:
The Internet hype of 1999/2000 was a result of inexperience with a brand-new technology – no one was sure what it was or how it should be realistically applied to business. Over time, Internet-based business models have been refined into using the ‘net as a tool, not as a business model unto itself. As Activant’s Steve Bieszczat points out, “the Internet and related technologies have been used to strengthen and augment traditional channel operators.”
In the field, the use of the Internet started as a disintermediary that distributors like Isted feared. Today, many distributors view it as an important tool that gives value to every level of the distribution channel. Even those who were initially suspicious about Internet sales, such as Craig Bond, are considering adding it.
In the future, the Internet will continue to grow. But at its essence, it will remain a tool, albeit an important one, in the never-ending quest to drive efficiencies and service the nation’s motoring public.

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