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Michelin to launch BFG-brand online tire purchasing (updated)

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (Aug. 17, 2016) — Michelin North America Inc. is launching an online tire purchasing option in the U.S. for its BFGoodrich brand, starting in September in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area and expanding nationwide in phases throughout the rest of the year.

The service, accessible through bfgoodrichtires.com, will allow consumers to purchase BFG-brand tires and schedule an installation appointment at an authorized BFG dealership in their area, Michelin said.

Brian Adams, e-commerce project manager for Michelin, told Tire Business the new service, which has been in development for about three months, was born out of evolving consumer demand.

“Today’s consumers, they have a desire to buy basically any product, anywhere, any time and on any device, and that’s become almost the table stakes in the world of the Internet,” he said.

Michelin North America Inc. photo Brian Adams, e-commerce project manager for Michelin

The announcement comes about a year-and-a-half after Goodyear became the first tire maker to begin selling its own tires directly to consumers online, but Mr. Adams said the company was in no rush to follow suit.

“Obviously we’re aware of what our competitors are doing, but we try our best not to take a reactive approach, a ‘me too’ approach,” Mr. Adams said. “It’s really about having the best solutions to provide for our consumer and our service partner.

“We’ve been working on a number of things since Goodyear launched, and in terms of priority we believed that those were more important,” he continued. “That would be the first point. The second point is execution is going to be key for this, which is a big reason why we’re starting in Charlotte and going to expand from there as we perfect it.”

The company is treating the Charlotte area as a test market for the program, banking on the idea that its proximity to the firm’s U.S. headquarters along with one of its distribution centers will make it easier to manage the process behind the scenes during the early stages of the rollout.

For Michelin, the key to developing its own online retail program was working in close relationship with its own dealer network and dealer advisory council to find a solution that would be jointly beneficial.

“We don’t own any stores, so having the service partner truly be a partner in this to complete the experience is critical,” Mr. Adams said. “We’ve been working with (dealers) for the last three months so that it’s truly a win-win-win — the consumer wins, our service partner wins and we win as well.”

The company chose to launch its online tire sales program with the BFGoodrich brand for several reasons, most notably the relative simplicity of the product lineup.

“BFGoodrich, in essence, is a little easier to work with on both the website as well as our portfolio,” Mr. Adams said. “It’s not as complex an offer in the marketplace as the Michelin brand. The Michelin brand offers quite a bit, and the website structure is more complicated.”

However, he noted, the company is targeting adding online sales of Michelin-brand tires before year-end. Whether or not the company will sell Uniroyal tires online has yet to be decided.

Visitors to bfgoodrichtires.com in the Charlotte area can find a tire search function on the front page that will allow them to search and shop for tires. Once consumers place their tires in the online cart and finalize the order, they will be prompted to schedule and installation appointment with a local service provider.

Tires are then shipped directly to that automotive service shop for installation.

“We do some back office confirmations of the appointment and make sure the tires are there, but from the consumer’s perspective all that’s invisible,” Mr. Adams said. “They show up for the appointed time, the service partner does their part and the consumer drives off happy and everybody wins.”

Tires on the website will feature one national price, regardless of geographic region, according to Michelin. Dealers will earn a yet-to-be-finalized installation fee on tires sold through the site, and they also will have the opportunity to earn more money.

“In addition to the installation revenue,…we’ve set up a commission structure for them to earn on every tire that they install and provide service for,” Mr. Adams said. “We’ve also added a potential for what we’re calling a bonus commission driven by how well consumers rate and review the service provider experience.”

For consumers, Mr. Adams said Michelin is seeking to provide a tire-buying experience that is as risk-free as possible, providing refunds or exchanges in the event of wrong tire and size orders.

“Part of the advantage we believe we bring in this for the consumer is we’re a brand they trust, and they rely on us to do the right thing,” he said. “And that’s what they expect, and regardless of whether they expect it or not that’s what we’re gonna do…. We’re gonna do the right thing for the consumer and make it as painless as possible for them.”

In terms of a timeline for the rollout of the service, Mr. Adams said it’s difficult to predict “when and where we’ll be throughout the year,” citing Michelin’s ability to execute as a key metric for success.

“We’ve got a series of internal criteria we’ll be looking at that will basically be kind of a pass/fail internal assessment of our ability to execute, based on consumer feedback and based on service provider feedback,” he said. “…I think the key there is we need to learn, we need to adapt with the feedback, make this thing right, and once they go green we’re going to expand as quickly as possibly to continuous markets.”

Mr. Adams said he’s unaware of any specific plans by Michelin to launch a similar program in the Canadian market.

“I’ve got to believe those discussions are happening, but what their plans are would be independent of what I’m leading and what we’re doing down here in the United States.”

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