Online service providers seem to be appearing in every corner of the aftermarket, and their arrival has sparked a great deal of controversy. But, are they friend or foe? Andy Savva, The Garage Inspector, gives his take on the subject.
A hot topic within the industry, and one that I cover in my business courses, is online service providers, third-party booking sites or aggregators – or whatever you happen to call them. So, let’s recognise and examine why these aggregators exist in the first place.
Think from a consumer’s perspective. Chances are that when you go on holiday, you reserve a hotel through a third-party booking site, for example, Expedia or Hotels.com. My guess is that this is exactly what you do because in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world, third-party booking sites have become the norm. Consumers are driven by price point and ease, both of which are met through a wide variety of online service providers.
While this seems like a win-win situation, there is the obvious downside of enabling consumers to be disloyal. In the age of e-shots and social media, deals fall into consumers’ laps, and it’s only natural to take the better deal over brand loyalty.
These online service providers have identified our repair sector as another service industry that could become the digital revolution. The digital world is here to stay and we have to accept that. Most garages don’t have the necessary skills to create these platforms, and thus create footfall. It’s a good idea to take a step back and examine who our future customers will be.
When I look at my children, 18, 21 and 23 years old, I see the next generation of customers, not the 45 to 55 plus who have been visiting our garages over the last couple of decades. My daughters purchase at least 90% of their clothes online, which is astonishing to me. We in the garage sector have to engage with these digitally-minded youngsters.
Like all other service businesses, there is the good, the bad and the ugly. I was extremely critical of these aggregators when they first appeared in our sector. To be honest, I still am. I don’t agree with many of the practices currently used by these sites. That being said, there are advantages to partnering up with one. The main one being access to new customers.
Now, for a consumer, the first and most obvious advantage is price, and this is where a major problem exists for me. Prices found on third-party sites are often less expensive than the listed prices a garage may advertise. For those who have attended my courses, you would have heard me say on many occasions, these ‘come and get me’ prices do very little to aid our bottom line in an already highly competitive market. However, us garage owners aren’t always squeaky clean when it comes to pricing, are we?
For example, I often see adverts for a Service & MOT for £99.00 or prices very similar. But, how many of you have seen an MOT price go up? I certainly haven’t. Most prices advertised are anything from £19.99 to £24.99. This comes down to what we include within a service. If I asked 10 garages owners what they would include, they would give me at least five different versions. So, if we can’t decide what a service consists of, how do we expect the public to do so? Can we really blame online service providers for taking advantage of this inconsistency?
These websites are here to stay. Let’s stop criticising them all and try to work with the better ones to make them understand our businesses a little better. That way everyone can benefit.
If I were to open up a garage again, there would be a couple of areas which would have to be certainties in order for me to consider signing up to a third-party booking provider. Firstly, I would need control of the customer from start to finish. Secondly, I would have to be in control of the parts buying. As a compromise, I would accept a small fee to get access to a new customer.
At the end of the day, however, I would prefer to focus on the overall service levels provided at my garage, providing a customer experience that is unmatched in the local area. I would put more resource and energy into a social media presence and website offering, as this is an area that garages regularly struggle with. There are many decent, better qualified companies around that can provide specific digital services, so make use of them.
It has become more important than ever that your website is responsive, has simple and intuitive navigation, and enables customers to book quickly and securely. A good website will increase enquires and bookings. It will direct users to the information they want to find and guide them through a simple conversion process. Social media should also be taken into consideration, as it is one of the easiest and most direct routes to engage with customers. You must ensure your brand is active within the channels your customers are using.
In the end, what I am trying to get across is that before we look to attack these online service providers, we need to realise that these platforms exist because we have not kept up with the digital revolution. These aggregators have simply taken advantage of our industry, and given that they are unlikely to be going anywhere, should we really shun them before truly understanding why they are here in the first place?