People Skills – Who You Need to Make an e-Commerce Initiative Work with CEO Brian Dwyer

People Skills – Who You Need to Make an e-Commerce Initiative Work with CEO Brian Dwyer

Creating a successful eCommerce company starts with the people. It’s vital that you have a cohesive team that can work together and grow together. In this presentation from the 2019 AASA Technology Conference , Brian Dwyer showed attendees how to staff an eCommerce team that will accomplish their goals, short and long term.

Download the entire powerpoint here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1htpOMvlD2OqmRlGCnpA3xsA8Vh2yxsv9/view?usp=sharing

To learn more about how to optimize your new website, or if you’re in the market for a new eCommerce site, contact us today. In business for over 20 years, our certified Magento developers and marketers know the eCommerce site art and science front-to-back and can help you make the absolute most of your site and your brand.

 

Let’s Talk Automotive eCommerce Technology with Joe Williams and Scott Thompson

Let’s Talk Automotive eCommerce Technology with Joe Williams and Scott Thompson

 

 

At the 2019 Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association Technology Conference in Boca Raton, presenters Joe Williams (VP Client Services – InteractOne) and Scott Thompkins (Sr. Product Marketing Manager – Epicor Software, Aftermarket Division) discussed the ever-changing eCommerce world and what goes in to creating a website that will connect with visitors and service their automotive needs.

Click here to view the full presentation deck: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1htpOMvlD2OqmRlGCnpA3xsA8Vh2yxsv9/view?usp=sharing

To learn more about how to optimize your new website, or if you’re in the market for a new eCommerce site, contact us today. In business for over 20 years, our certified Magento developers and marketers know the eCommerce site art and science front-to-back and can help you make the absolute most of your site and your brand.

What is the Best eCommerce Platform for My Automotive Accessories Site?

What is the Best eCommerce Platform for My Automotive Accessories Site?

Selling auto parts and accessories requires a platform that can handle a complex database, even if you don’t adhere to ACES/PIES. Year/Make/Model lookup is just the start since some parts are universal and other parts might fit a subsection of vehicles. Platform choice touches on many big questions that you will need to consider: How important is your current branding? Do you have brick and mortar retail locations? Do you have dealer rates, regional restrictions, or installer relationships to factor in? What about legacy system integrations?

 

Auto-specific eCommerce Providers

An automotive-focused platform can sometimes be a great fit, sometimes not.

The Pros:

  • Built to handle make, model, year and cross-referenced fitment.
  • Provides a design template that accommodates part and fitment lookup.
  • If no customization is needed, and you like the design and functions, then cost of ownership can be lower than with a more full-featured platform like Magento.

The Cons:

  • Pre-packaged, custom themes don’t offer much design flexibility.
  • Coding practices can be questionable and can lead to bugs and glitches as new versions of supporting technology conflict with the themes.
  • Most of the solutions available are older technology and closed environments, with little to no option to add custom features.
  • Similarly, pre-customized themes or platforms can make it difficult to adapt the site to the needs of the business. In fact, often you’ll need to adapt your business practices and selling ability to the capabilities of the site.
  • Most options are a shared shopping cart solution, so you have all the same features and functionality as everyone else on that platform, making it hard to find a competitive advantage.

Our Take:

Auto-specific eCommerce platforms provide an industry-targeted viewpoint that is helpful when creating a small, niche online store. However, we’ve found that these platforms often silo your growth, constrain personalization and limit brand flexibility.

 

Saas Platforms Like Shopify or BigCommerce

In contrast to Magento Open Source and Commerce, Shopify and BigCommerce take care of site hosting for merchants. These platforms target merchants who lack design experience and need an easy-to-use website builder. Smaller or niche merchants can find great success on these platforms, although automotive eCommerce stores still require some level of customization or add-ons.

The Pros:

  • No design experience is needed.
  • There is a consistent cost profile, month to month.
  • Software patches are included in fees.
  • It is easier to administer.

The Cons:

  • Apps available for popular customizations like year, make, and model may require customization, which can get expensive, and development options are limited to the module developer.
  • There are ongoing annual or monthly fees – whether or not you are making changes.
  • You don’t own your own website.
  • SAAS platforms do not support large catalogs (500K+ SKUs), and Enterprise-level versions can become very expensive compared to the base-level fees.
  • Some desirable features, such as faceted navigation or additional product attributes, aren’t available out of the box.

Our Take:

It comes down to your current scale and your growth expectations. SAAS platforms can be the right answer until you outgrow them or until you decide you need some site customizations. Still, Shopify, in particular, has become more flexible (for a SAAS) and can handle a surprising amount of traffic and level of transactions.

 

Magento

Magento is the most widely-installed and one of the most respected platforms in the eCommerce community. We have been a Magento partner since 2008 and have experience building automotive eCommerce sites on Magento. We know it really well.

The Pros:

  • Magento sites are highly customizable and functionality can be added via extensions.
  • Certain features (like back-end data integration with a PIM or some sort of advanced order management or keeping track of selected vehicles) aren’t available on Shopify or are harder to configure than on Magento.
  • You own the site and can migrate to another platform (if needed) with less cost and hassle.
  • You are able to choose development and hosting partners that best suit your needs and budget.
  • You have the ability to evolve the functionality on your site as need demands and budget allows.

The Cons:

  • The ongoing cost of ownership is higher than it would be on SaaS or auto-specific platforms so merchants who plan to achieve at least $2 to $3 million in sales may want to consider other paths.
  • Concerns and costs go hand in hand with managing site security, hosting, and ownership of your website code.

Our Take:

Overall, one of the greatest things about Magento is the ability to grow as your business grows. The fact that Magento is an open-source platform allows you to start with more basic features and capabilities than SaaS or auto-specific platforms (such as product attributes and the ability to use any payment gateway you wish) as well as a great design, and then the ability to continually add new features as your site grows. The site is entirely yours and the platform is a great fit for merchants who desire growth and flexibility above all else. Cost of ownership out of the box is higher, but if you want to evolve a site on a solid platform that will grow over time and add features as budget allows, Magento is a great choice.

Want to Learn More?

If this article has piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about alternatives for your business, please contact us to schedule a no-obligation discussion about your situation and what the best solution for your business might be.

What Are Successful Auto eCommerce Merchants Doing to Stay on Top?

What Are Successful Auto eCommerce Merchants Doing to Stay on Top?

auto eCommerce

2018 marked massive growth of Automotive eCommerce and merchants, as they are now selling everything from parts, to accessories, to services for both B2B and B2C buyers. Automotive eCommerce is no longer a niche segment, it’s a rising standard.

As we enter 2019 and automotive eCommerce revenue continues to grow at an exponential rate, more and more merchants want to reap the benefits by launching their own websites. Expectations for these sites are high as competitors are improving their sites every day.

So how can new automotive sites compete with already established merchants? Following some of these basic rules is a great start.

Product Listings must be Clear, Visible, and Detailed

Automotive eCommerce shoppers tend to be passionate and well-informed. They know what they are looking for and if they can’t find it on your site, they will move to the next where they can. This is why proper SEO techniques and rich product content is crucial. This tactic will increase product visibility across browsers and marketplaces, improving a brand’s presence as well as offering a competitive edge.

To ensure visibility, be sure to include searchable keywords in the title, such as the manufacturer name, type of part, and the reference number. Craft detailed product descriptions and feature reviews beneath product to establish credibility and build trust. Also, be sure to include crystal clear, high-resolution images that allow for zooming in and enlarging (check out our Automotive Images Guide for more helpful tips).

Mobile Friendliness and Adaptability is Top Priority

In the modern world of eCommerce, a mobile-first strategy is required. Customers are shopping via iPhones, Tablets, Androids, Macs, and the list continues. When building a new eCommerce website, this type of functionality is imperative for success. Analyze how your site looks on all types of devices, and note any discrepancies or disabled functionalities.

Consider Offering Free Shipping

Though shipping can present an issue for automotive merchants (due to the size and weight of the products), many successful automotive merchants have found ways to offer free shipping. Whether that be after a minimum order threshold has been met, or as part of a promotional offer, it is something merchants should consider when analyzing their checkout process. High shipping costs are commonly the cause of abandoned carts – so if you can offer free shipping, even for a portion of your catalogue, you should.

Provide Value Through Kits and Bundles

Bundling allows merchants to sell more product while also satisfying customers. You can test out what products sell best with others, or offer a Buy One Get One (BOGO) promotion on certain products. Some merchants are including features such as “recommended products” or “related products” that appear beneath a product listing, to keep the customer enticed and buying more. The more buying options that are available to the customer, the faster they can make a purchase that is right for them.

Navigation Must Follow the Customer Experience

Navigation is crucial to automotive eCommerce because inventories tend to be extensive and associated with the make and model of certain vehicles. More often than not, site visitors won’t waste their time trying to encrypt confusing menus or unclear navigation. This presents a dilemma for merchants: how should your site be organized? Our main message is this: data should fit the customer experience— not the other way around. Consider how a customer actually shops, then construct a process that follows those steps. For more information on navigation for automotive eCommerce, check out this blog.

Allow Customers to Create Accounts

Encouraging customers to create accounts is a great way to improve the overall customer experience. It streamlines the checkout process because customers can save their billing information or quickly reorder something they previously purchased.

Additionally, because automotive eCommerce shoppers tend to be enthusiasts, allow them to gain points for their purchases or enroll them in some sort of reward system. It will build loyalty to your brand and provide an incentive for customers to continue shopping there.

Our Automotive eCommerce Experience

Our experience in the automotive eCommerce industry has given us insights into the challenges merchants face as well as the successful trends many are utilizing. If you need assistance with your automotive-focused eCommerce site or require help with marketing, contact us today.

The Automotive eCommerce Guide to Navigation and Images

The Automotive eCommerce Guide to Navigation and Images

automotive eCommerce

In order to construct a visually appealing Automotive eCommerce site that promotes a fluid customer experience, there are two important things to keep in mind: know your customer and keep it simple.

Those statements may seem obvious. Certainly you must identify your customer base, and of course, you shouldn’t over-complicate your site. As obvious as it may sound, many Automotive eCommerce sites get it wrong. Whether that is due to the considerable amount of data on the topic or simply the nature of the industry, here are some tips to help keep you above par.

The best converting Auto eCommerce sites are the ones that are easy to navigate. First, identify your niche. Then, cater your navigation to your specific customer. The biggest challenge is always the data.

Data Should Fit the Customer Experience – Not the Other Way Around

Data is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of Automotive eCommerce because it is extensive, complex, and ever-changing. Recent trends in the Automotive industry point to the year, make, model, and engine-filtered navigation. We have seen Auto eCommerce companies spend so much time, money, and effort simply integrating this functionality that they gloss over the issue of how a customer actually shops. The best automotive eCommerce sites are the ones that are extremely simple and easy to navigate with the ability to land customers on a very relevant and specific landing page. That’s very hard to do with the year, make, and model lookup. Our favorite (and the best converting) sites are the ones that utilize categorized navigation effectively, such as runningboardwarehouse.com and bumpersuperstore.com.


Running Board Warehouse separates their navigation into vehicle, category, and brand.


Bumper Superstore has multiple categories (including best selling, front and rear, style, vehicle, and all) that allow the customer to shop in a way that best suits their needs.

Make the user experience cater to how the customer shops – don’t try to cater the customer experience to the data. Because of data difficulties, merchants should start by identifying their niche (accessories, reused parts, etc.). Once they do, basing your site navigation and user experience around that specific niche will make fitting your data in that much easier.

Images Can Make or Break a Conversion

Automotive parts sites are often notorious for having either poor quality or catch-all representative images. Merchants that successfully convert prospects to customers generally take their own photos. Some do better than others, but having images that are detailed, bright, enlargeable, and vehicle-specific are more likely to resonate with customers. Nobody with a Dodge Ram wants to look at a Ford F-150 when shopping for aftermarket accessories – they want to know what the product is going to look like on their vehicle.

Often times images are pushed to the back of the to-do list. But, if you’re selling online, you need actual photos of every individual part. When people are searching for a specific product online, they use their eyes to verify that they are purchasing the right thing. If there are basic filler images and customers receive a product that’s not right, they won’t trust you again. They need to be able to look at the picture and description and know that’s what they need.

Consistency is key, but lifestyle images should be incorporated into your site as well. If someone is searching for a tonneau cover, they want to see how to use it. They want inspiration – so inspire them to buy your products by showing them how to use the product and its various features. This can be done with images and video – don’t limit your team to just a photographer. Investing in video will pay off and help you inspire ideas and trust with customers. Incorporate videos onto your site with product demonstrations, installation how-to, Q&A, and customer testimonials.

Build a Community

Keep in mind that your customers are enthusiasts. Build a community around your brand with good content, social and email outreach/remarketing, or even some sort of rewards program. These days, when things are increasingly competitive in the auto industry, it’s a necessity to do more to engage your customers after their initial purchase. For additional help in building a strong customer following, check out one of our previous blogs on the topic.

If you need assistance with your automotive eCommerce site, feel free to contact us today.

Benefits of Automotive Shopping Campaigns for eCommerce

Benefits of Automotive Shopping Campaigns for eCommerce

Automotive Shopping Campaigns for eCommerce

By Joe Williams, Magento Solution Specialist

Automotive shopping campaigns and Product Listing Ads (PLA) are an excellent tool for automotive eCommerce merchants to promote specific products or as a component of an overall ongoing PPC strategy. PLAs are also called Shopping Ads because they display product photos, title, price, shop name, and more inside Google’s Shopping results. In contrast to paid search ads that are driven by a list of targeted keywords, shopping campaigns use product attributes from a data feed to match results to relevant searches. There can be several ways to format a product feed for shopping campaigns, depending on the structure of your catalog and use of product attributes.

PLAs are particularly popular with automotive accessories retailers because of the specificity demanded by vehicle fitment and part number searches. Vehicle fitment can provide a unique challenge depending on the structure and user experience of a website. For example, if a merchant is utilizing simple category navigation, they need to be sure to send customers to the right product for their specific vehicle. If a new customer doesn’t immediately land on the website page they were looking for when they clicked the ad, then they will most likely bounce instead of navigating to find the right product. If a merchant has Year/Make/Model lookup, they will need to either send customers to a page for them to select their vehicle or a pre-selected vehicle page with the ability to add to cart immediately with little effort.

Regardless of the type of site navigation, here are three tips for eCommerce automotive merchants to optimize Product Listing Ads for better ROI.

Test Ads With and Without Vehicle Info

Experience has shown that more specific product listings are traditionally more successful. However, they tend to have lower impressions with higher click-through rates and conversions. Although, for merchants that haven’t tested this theory before – test it out! Different customer experiences are successful for various reasons. Some merchants have more success with traditional ads with no vehicle information in them because of excellent site usability. Other merchants may profit more from specific ads with vehicle information in the data feed product title.

We recommend setting up different campaigns or product groups utilizing different titles and landing pages for testing. Being organized will help distinguish metrics between different campaigns in Analytics, and which product feed structure is more successful for the site’s user experience. In testing, merchants may also find a different type of solution is more successful for desktop and mobile, instead of utilizing the same for both.

Imagery

For merchants that have vehicle-specific images to go along with vehicle-specific ads, use them! According to Salsify, 66% of customers say they want to see at least three pictures for a product while shopping online. Statistics (and experience) show that customers use images more so than text (even pricing) when making a purchase. Therefore, application or SKU-specific product images will be more attractive to shoppers than traditional catch-all photos. Be sure that the photos are of good quality. Research shows that when merchants use poor quality images, the number used doesn’t matter. A study from the Nielsen Norman Group found that customers were more attracted to and felt better informed when shopping after viewing clear, high-quality images.

Traditional best practices for images also apply. Always use the same image in the PLA  that customers will see on the landing page to help with a consistent experience from ad to page.

Segregate products and brands

One mistake merchants and agencies can make in automotive shopping campaigns is poor campaign and product group organization. Our basic suggestions for an adequately organized campaign is to first, create a different campaign for each category or brand. Then create separate ad groups for each product line including configurable products or groups of SKUs.

Organized shopping ads and campaigns will help later when making any adjustments. When campaigns are well planned, the ability for granular scalability is essential due to varying profit margins and Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) fluctuations per brand or product line – which leads us to tip #4.

MAP Pricing and Bid Strategy

Cheating MAP pricing is a big problem in the automotive eCommerce industry, particularly the aftermarket arena. To make matters more complicated, we’ve seen that Amazon rarely obeys MAP pricing on nearly everything they sell directly. Sadly, some merchants pay a very high price in PPC to learn that visitors are only window shopping. Or, merchants have seen customers chose a competitor who may be only advertising below MAP price. Tools such as Pricing Assistant are available to help monitor competitor shopping ads and pricing to address pricing issues. Notably, some of these tools can automatically make bid adjustments to avoid errant clicks or wasted ad spend.

Get started with Automotive Shopping Campaigns

Experience has taught us of the many intricacies of the automotive aftermarket in eCommerce. From unique website customization requirements to digital marketing needs and shopping ads, automotive requires specialized knowledge. Contact us to learn more about structuring product feeds or to see how we can help with your current marketing efforts.

The Challenge of Magento Customization for Automotive eCommerce Websites

The Challenge of Magento Customization for Automotive eCommerce Websites

Automotive eCommerce

By Joe Williams, Magento Solutions Specialist for InteractOne

The automotive eCommerce market is flooded with competition, primarily due to the availability of dropship suppliers and endless niche opportunities for retailers to focus on. With MAP pricing and relatively standard product offerings, the best way to differentiate your automotive aftermarket site is a stellar customer experience and content.

Let’s face it – it’s difficult to create a different customer experience, let alone a superior one when using one of the several automotive-specific eCommerce platforms on the market today. Magento is the best platform to create an enterprise-level auto parts website, but don’t expect a small monthly payment to cover everything. If you want cookie-cutter prices, you’re going to get a cookie-cutter website.

The two biggest challenges we help automotive eCommerce merchants resolve include data and functionality, both on the frontend and in the admin.

Fitment Data

Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers all feel the challenges of automotive product and fitment data. ACES and PIES have become the standard, but strict data standards often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to flexibility to create a superior customer experience. Automotive eCommerce

Also, data is available from a wide array of sources in the automotive aftermarket, such as (but not limited to) DCI, SDC, ASAP Network, and direct from manufacturers. Your data drives your customer experience, and none of the data sources available are plug-and-play to work well with each other. eCommerce retailers need to be able to update fitment data and add new products quickly, so ease of maintenance is important. They also need to display the data in a customer-friendly manner to help drive a better experience than the competition.

Vehicle lookup tools are the default go-to for finder functionality, but multiple challenges can arise through the process. Such as when creating a search engine friendly structure to have dynamic vehicle landing pages with custom content.

Another challenge for fitment data is maintenance. Price updates, superseding part numbers, new part numbers, new product lines, new fitment and changes to fitment are all easier with a strong import/export utility. But nothing exists out of the box, and basic parts finder extensions create their own fitment tables. Therefore, many merchants are stuck having to run multiple imports to update product data (PIES) separate from fitment data (ACES). This can be a huge time suck, and add technical overhead to your servers when processing imports and reindexing.

Retaining Default Functionality

The challenge with vehicle lookup functionality is that no mainstream eCommerce platform has attributes that function sequentially the way a Year/Make/Model/Submodel filter needs to work. There are several parts finder extensions available on the Magento Marketplace, and some of them are good. But, what if you want to use configurable products or some other native functionality the module doesn’t allow out of the box? For example, a new Magento 2 automotive eCommerce website for lighting and truck accessories manufacturer, Putco, needed the ability to utilize configurable products for distributors to reference features and benefits content. We created a custom vehicle fitment module with the ability to use all product types within Magento 2, as well as an import routine that maps fitment data to the parent configurable products based on simple product mappings.

Many merchants then decide to hire an offshore extension developer to add functionality. Often times, offshore developers do not fully understand the needs of the merchant. Sadly, an endless trail of feature development begins. Before you know it, you can’t upgrade your Magento website and you have to follow a convoluted process to even try. Oh, and the Custom Options functionality was hijacked for something else, so you can’t use those. (Ooops.)

The Customization Trap

Custom development often seems like a good starting point to implement an extension that gives you most of the functionality you need. However, it can often be a bad decision in the long run. It’s what we refer to as the “Magento Customization Trap.” Over-customization adds unnecessary technical debt, and often a lot of frustration throughout the lifespan of your website.

After many customization headaches, some merchants end up thinking they need to re-platform to get away from Magento. They often go to a cookie cutter platform that doesn’t solve the original problem. Thus, creating an endless cycle.

The Magento and Automotive Experience

For automotive eCommerce merchants, it’s important to choose a developer that fully understands Magento and the automotive industry to prevent over-customization from the beginning.  

Automotive eCommerce merchants generally require more complex functionality and often choose Magento because of its scalability and reputation. Choose a partner that understands the data and needs of your business to create a thoroughly scoped project. Avoid that frustration and miscommunication that comes from a developer that doesn’t fully understand the automotive industry.

Contact us to learn more about Magento customization for automotive eCommerce websites. We’ve helped many automotive eCommerce merchants with their eCommerce websites over the years including a merchant that migrated from Volusion to Magento and another we helped to remedy Magento performance issues.