Visiting brick-and-mortar stores to buy tires and parts is still the overwhelming choice among consumers, but there is a growing trend toward purchasing these items online.
So Google Inc. advises tire retailers to always have their online marketing “on” and “go mobile,” based on the results of its annual survey of online consumers of tires and auto parts.
“We have seen online purchase share of tires double in the past year with approximately 20 percent of tire buyers now purchasing online and we're also seeing other parts buyers purchasing online,” said Danielle Russell, Google's industry director, automotive.
About 70 percent of tire shoppers surveyed purchase in person, according to the Internet giant, while 21 percent purchase online and 8 percent over the phone.
“We continue to see an upward trend in the searches for both parts and tires, and we've seen the largest shift has been of actual purchasing,” she told Tire Business. “So the trend has continued over a number of years upwards. I think the largest trend we're seeing is actually the shift to making the purchase online in addition to doing a significant amount of research for the shopping process online.
“That's always been big—consumers researching. About 66 percent of consumers are researching online with regard to tires prior to going in and making the purchase or purchasing online.”
Tire company websites are highly popular landing sites for tire buyer research, but consumers also seek advice from family and friends, mechanics and online reviews, as well as car dealers, according to Google.
Search engines—such as Google, Yahoo and Bing—were most commonly used for early information and comparison, while tire manufacturer websites were most often visited for information on understanding and comparing features and making a purchase decision, according to the study.
Common types of search queries among tire shoppers ranged from broad search words, such as “tire” and “tires,” to names of large retailers, such as “Discount Tire,” according to Google.
However, closer to conversion to a possible sale, shoppers get more specific, Google noted. Consumers often search using the make and model of their vehicle or include geographic terms in their search to determine local availability.
“As confirmation of this trend, our study indicates that tire converters—meaning those who conducted a lower funnel activity online—including making an appointment, locating a store, or ‘add to cart' (decision)—use longer search queries that are three to four words in length on average,” according to a Google spokesperson.
According to the survey, about 70 percent of tire shoppers are looking for tires for routine maintenance.
The highest percentage of online purchases are done on national aftermarket service sites, such as Pep Boys—Manny, Moe and Jack and Midas Inc. (31 percent), followed closely by national retailers/warehouse clubs, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. (25 percent).
But when it comes to in-person purchases, national tire store chains, such as Goodyear and Firestone outlets, grab about 49 percent of tire purchasers surveyed, followed by national retailers/warehouse clubs at 20 percent and local tire stores at 19 percent.
Urgency usually is a key factor in consumers' choosing to buy tires in person because of the convenience, immediacy and availability of a salesperson to talk with, according to survey respondents.
Meanwhile, the top driver for online purchases, according to Google, is the perception of better prices, positive past experiences and wider selection. Other drivers include convenience and the ability to shop anytime.
When it comes to making a decision to buy, a majority of respondents took less than two weeks between the start of researching a tire and making the purchase—37 percent took less than a week, 22 percent took less than two weeks, while another 20 percent took about three weeks to decide.
Online reviews are considered the most useful digital resource by tire shoppers who encountered them, Google said. “Tire marketers can use this trend to their advantage by soliciting feedback from recent buyers, and featuring positive experiences to encourage current shoppers to select that dealer or retailer,” Ms. Russell said.
Of course when a repair is needed, shoppers are three times as likely to decide in less than a day to purchase tires or parts, according to Google.
“While the majority still buys in person, we see online buying as an important trend that innovative marketers can address to grow their business moving forward. For businesses not yet equipped to accept online buyers, there remains ample opportunity to reach shoppers as they research online,” said Ms. Russell.
Purchase locations for online parts buyers shifted from the 2010 to 2011 studies, according to Google. Parts purchases at independent seller sites, such as eBay and Craigslist, grew from 19 percent to 27 percent, while online retailers, such as Sears.com and Walmart.com, declined to 4 percent from 10 percent.
“So you could conjecture that the main area of parts online purchasing growth has been concentrated among independent seller sites like Craigslist and eBay,” said Ms. Russell. “Sixty-nine percent of online parts buyers indicated that price drove them to buy online, so it appears that other parts retailers could more prominently promote their price and value advantages to reclaim some of this growth.”
Not seasonal anymore
Google noted that while tire store shopping peaks in summer and winter, online marketers who are “always on” with a digital presence can reach buyers throughout the year.
“It is important (tire dealers) understand that there is no one month that overindexes in tire site traffic by more than 8 percent, so the business is not as seasonal as tire retailers might think,” Ms. Russell said.
About 56 percent of tire purchasers are making a tire purchase the same day they researched it, Ms. Russell noted.
“It is important for (tire companies) to, with regard to their site from a search standpoint, to be always on….
“So when they're looking at how they go to market and how they reach these consumers, it is important that they be always on with regard to search and that they take advantage of the growing market that their site can be found on a mobile device,…and when they are communicating the information about their store, that they're focusing on the information, the inventory that they have and the discounts they have available.”
Because consumers rely so heavily on digital, retailers—even the small shops—need to think of being able to reach consumers when they are in the market on an on-going basis, she said.
“They want to know about your business. They want to know about your brand. So you have to be in front of them because they can now shop anytime, anywhere. They don't just drive by your store. They're with their computers; they're with their phones, looking up information all the time.”
Mobile is another trend that tire dealers really need to be aware of, according to Ms. Russell.
According to the Google survey, about 24 percent of respondents used mobile devices to conduct vehicle maintenance inquiries.
“One in five consumers is using a mobile device to shop parts and tires. In looking at their site, (shop owners) need to make sure that a consumer can access it through their mobile device and that they have mobile campaigns in which to reach out to their consumers, in addition to what they are doing on the desktop,” Ms. Russell advised.
“This year, we anticipate that a third of vehicle maintenance queries will come through mobile devices. About one in five tire shoppers already use their mobile device to research,” Ms. Russell said. “Their top activity on mobile devices is price comparison. Outside of this research, one in three mobile searches has local intent.
“Tire retailers can ensure that they're found and chosen by mobile shoppers by prominently featuring pricing and local information on mobile-optimized sites. Even if you don't have a mobile site, check your business listing in Google Maps to ensure that your address, hours, phone number and reviews are populated.”