AKRON (April 9, 2012) — It's a brave new world out there. Or at least you have to be brave—and savvy—to compete in it.
Gone are the nostalgic days when an aspiring entrepreneur and salesperson could start selling tires out of a modest store front, ringing up sales with a friendly smile, a persuasive sales pitch and some enticing newspaper and radio ads.
Today and in the future, a tire dealer may not always get the chance to try out a sales pitch face to face with a potential customer. A dealership's website—that digital entity often treated with apathy by some dealers—is now often the first “face” a potential customer is greeted by—making the first impression that can make or break a sale.
With the age of smartphones and the Internet, many customers already have researched products online and made a purchase decision long before walking into a tire shop and handing over their credit cards. Many customers are not even taking the trouble to walk into a store to purchase tires and auto parts.
According to two studies, by comScore and Google Inc., online comparison shopping and purchasing is a growing trend in the retail tire industry.
Google advises dealerships to “always be on” on Internet search engines so online shoppers can find and access their websites anytime, anywhere. The Internet giant also encourages tire dealers to “go mobile” with their websites so the growing population of smartphone owners can easily access and interact with dealer sites.
ComScore also noted the growing trend of smartphones, predicting these devices will account for more than half the mobile phone market in the U.S. this year. With smartphones, customers can walk into a retail store, scan a product's QR code and compare prices and features with those of competitors—right there on the sales floor without any human interaction.
For now, this retail nightmare is not relevant for most tire dealerships that have not implemented QR codes in their stores. But make no doubt about it—that day is on the horizon.
Be prepared and adapt. Your website should be as welcoming, as easy to interact with and as informative as your best salesperson in your store. A one-page website with your dealership's name, address and phone number is as impressive today as a hand-scribbled flyer stapled to a telephone pole.
Potential customers, especially the younger generation, don't want to take the time and effort to drive to your store or make a phone call. It's much more convenient and quicker to search the Internet for product information.
Is your website among those that pop up during consumers' searches? Is your site up to the challenge of addressing all their questions when they do land on it? Is it accessible and informative and competitive enough to secure a sale?
Tire dealers, whether they like it or not, will have to learn to be tech savvy in this brave new world of the Internet. Most of your potential customers already are.
This editorial appears in the April 9, 2012, print edition of Tire Business.