How to start an online auto parts business
Here are tips on how to start an online auto parts business. These tips may apply to you even if you just want to grow your existing spare parts business. Auto parts is a fast-growing sector online. Many brick & mortar retailers are coming back strong after the virus shutdown. Many of these brick & mortar businesses are now considering getting into online retailing.
We compare marketing techniques including Google Ads, social media marketing, email, remarketing, eCommerce platforms and more.
This is a good time to look at marketing ideas for a parts business. After all, online sales of parts has been growing at more than 30% per year. Even with economic pressures facing the automotive aftermarket, historically the aftermarket has been recession-resistant.
During tough economic environments people still need their cars!
1. Specialize in an automotive niche
On of the secrets to starting an online business selling auto parts is to focus on a specific niche. We talk to a lot of new auto parts business owners who have 50,000 or 100,000 SKUs on their website.
If you don’t focus on a niche you are forced into competing with thousands of other online auto parts businesses. That can chew up your marketing budget pretty quickly.
Another problem is that a huge array of products is impossible to manage without a large support staff. You have to be able to manage your online store’s product categories including the navigational structure, product content including product descriptions, and other labor-intensive functions.
If you plan on importing product data from your warehouse distributor and not putting time into editing your product content, you won’t stand out online.
There are many market segments to specialize in when you stop to think about it: European makes, Asian makes, off-road, truck, Jeep®, Mustang, electric vehicles…the list goes on and on.
2. Google Ads: fast way to start an online automotive parts business
Google Ads can be a fast-track to producing revenue. If you have a new website, generating organic traffic is going to be a long-term effort. Paid search through Google Ads can get exposure for your website quickly and really helps start an online auto parts parts business. With Google Ads, you can reach customers exactly at the point when they are searching for your type of automotive products. This can take the form of text search ads, Google Shopping ads or display ads on the Google Display Network. As of November 2019, Google Shopping Actions is no longer an option for auto parts with specific fitment requirements.
All Google Ads options include the ability to target your auto parts ads:
- Location: You can set a target by country, region or city. If shipping is a factor (you don’t want to ship heavy products across the country) you can limit by states. If you’re promoting an auto parts store to a local market you can target ZIP codes, city boundaries or a radius around your shop.
- Device: You can target ads to show on a prospect’s computer, mobile phone or tablets. On mobile phones you can display hours and location information.
- Time of day/day of week: You can adjust your ads to show at certain times of the day. For example, for a local store, display ads only when your store is open.
Google Ads options
You have for paid search text ads or Google Shopping ads. These make marketing a spare parts business more efficient.
- Negative keywords: You can prevent ads from showing with negative keywords. For example, if your ad is for “rear brake pads,” exclude searches for “front brake calipers.” Or, if your ad is for clutches, exclude searches for women’s purses (which can be called a “clutch”).
- Keywords: You can show your ad when prospects search for words specific to your product. It’s important to note that with Google Shopping ads, you don’t add keywords to any ad listing, the “keywords” that trigger the Shopping ads are within the data that drives the ad. That data is uploaded through the Google Merchant Center.
Google Shopping Ads tend to have a good clickthrough rate (CTR) and conversion rate, and a well-optimized product page helps. Text-based Google Search ads direct clicks to any URL on your website you want, and Google Shopping Ads must direct to a final product page.
Google Ads technology is rapidly changing, too. You should read up on things like Performance Max bidding and current Google Shopping data specifications.
3. It’s important to have the right platform for your online car parts business
Want to know how to start an online auto parts business? Start by using the best eCommerce platform for automotive parts. You want to have the best car parts website you can, this is critical.
For optimal auto parts marketing you need a website that works well. This includes easy navigation and enough information to educate your customers.
Site speed is also critical for the highest conversion rate. A slow auto parts site repels visitors like oil repels water. A slow site prevents you from the ability market your auto parts store online.
It is also important to have site navigation and structure that works with your auto parts products. For example, year/make/model fitment search if you sell application-specific products.
There are automotive templates available for popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce or Miva. Still, you’ll probably need to engage a website developer who understands fitment and vehicle-specific search.
4. Should you grow your auto parts business with Facebook or Instagram Ads?
Facebook organic reach has been plummeting every year. It has dropped from over 15% of your followers in 2015 to only 1% or less in 2021. Facebook has clearly changed from a platform to build followers organically, to a pay-to-play social platform. If you want to reach a relevant audience on Facebook in 2021, but still keep it very targeted, Facebook Ads are an option for you.
On the plus side, advertising on Facebook is relatively simple. The most basic approach is to boost a post and you can do that on a very limited budget.
We will caution you, however, after analyzing tens of thousands of Facebook visits to websites over several years, Facebook visitors to auto parts websites tend to convert to buyers at a very low rate. Quite often we’ll see Facebook visitors convert at a rate of 10% to 50% lower than an auto parts website’s average conversion rate. If your site conversion rate is 1%, don’t be surprised if Facebook visitors convert at .10% to .50%.
Other products, like apparel or home goods, may have better conversion rates for Facebook visitors than auto parts businesses.
Don’t confuse the number of followers or “likes” you get for your online auto parts business, with marketing that is intended to produce sales. Look at your Google Analytics to see how these Facebook visitors behave when they come to your auto parts website.
Facebook has come under a lot of scrutiny for how user data is treated. That is growing in 2020. Here is a page from Facebook that describes how data is used to deliver Facebook Ads. According to Facebook, users are targeted for ads primarily on these factors:
- Users’ activity across Facebook companies and products.
- Activity with other businesses on Facebook.
- Browsing activity on other websites and apps.
- The physical location where you’re using Facebook.
Using Facebook Ads Manager
You manage a Facebook advertising program using Facebook Ads Manager. Besides Facebook, your Facebook ads can appear on the Facebook Audience Network, including other websites or apps, on Instagram or on Facebook Messenger. These are “placements.”
Best practice for Facebook Ads are similar to other online ads. Have a clear Call to Action (CTA). In other words, what do you want the viewer to do when the ad is displayed? What is the benefit to the viewer? If you add a button where do you want the button to lead to? Have a specific target in mind for your ads. If you’re trying to market your auto parts store online only in your city, use a geographic limitation.
You should install the Facebook pixel on your website. Facebook pixel data lets you make sure your auto parts ads are being shown to the intended audience. It also helps you build advertising audiences, which is simply the people you want to target. It also lets you take advantage of other Facebook advertising tools such as remarketing (scroll down for more of an explanation on remarketing).
5. Optimized landing pages to help grow your auto parts business
If you want to know how to start an online auto parts business here’s a tip. Optimized landing pages for your auto products or services increase sales.
An optimized page makes it easier for a customer to take an action or make a purchase. When you optimize a page it’s more likely a visitor will click the “add to cart” button.
Another goal of a landing page, for a local store, might be to generate phone calls. In that case an optimized page has a prominent number with your business hours. That number should be clickable when viewing the page on a mobile phone.
Optimized pages lead to a better site conversion rate (see our blog post on automotive conversion rate optimization). Your “conversion rate” is the percentage of visitors that take an action, either calling your store or making an online purchase. Think of it this way: increase your site conversion rate from 0.50% to 1.0% and your sales double!
Landing page checklist
Here’s a checklist for designing a product landing page that converts well:
- Show a clear image(s) of the part (and for best practice on auto parts images see our blog post on Google Shopping images).
- Include a headline with the part type.
- Have a clear description, not just a short sentence or a phrase with abbreviations.
- Make sure the brand of the part and the manufacturer part number are visible.
- Show the price of the auto part and in the case of an eCommerce store, show shipping cost.
- Show in-stock status.
- Have a clear Call to Action (CTA), which can be an “add to cart” button. The CTA should stand out on the page. For example, if everything on the page is blue and your CTA is blue, it may be lost visually.
- Reduce other distractions on the page that can grab the viewer’s attention away from the part. Keep it clean and simple. Don’t automatically throw in huge graphic banners.
6. Auto parts marketing using remarketing
Retargeting or remarketing gives you a huge competitive advantage.
Even if you’ve optimized your marketing efforts, most site visitors leave a site they’ve visited for the first time without making a purchase.
This is the opposite of your conversion rate, which we defined at the top of this article.
For auto parts websites, typically 97% to 99% of website visitors leave without buying anything. This is why remarketing is a good option. It brings visitors who didn’t purchase anything back to your website.
With an online auto parts store, it’s easy for visitors to get distracted, lose interest, not find what they’re looking for, or simply browse your competitors.
What if you had a way to chase after all the customers who left your online store? You do! It’s retargeting, also called remarketing. Not only does it give you the opportunity to remind past visitors to come on back to your online store, you’re reaching a highly engaged audience.
How retargeting works
Retargeting puts a cookie in your website visitors’ browsers, and that cookie triggers your ad to show on the Google Display Network (GDN). This is the largest display network in the world, but most people just don’t realize it’s Google because the Google logo doesn’t appear anywhere. The GDN literally covers 2 million websites.
With remarketing, you don’t have to guess where your site visitors went. Your ad automatically displays to them on 2 million websites. Remarketing is a powerful way to increase brand awareness through multiple touchpoints. It’s also cost-effective: the Google Display Network is based on cost per click, so unless someone clicks on the ad, it appears at no cost. This gives you a free brand campaign to market your auto parts store online!
7. Grow an online auto parts business with email marketing
Did you know a repeat customer is worth 3 to 7 times the cost of a new one? You can see how the math works in our lifetime value article. Lifetime value is abbreviated as “LTV.” In that article we show how one new auto parts customer can be worth several hundred dollars over two or three years.
Our article on LTV shows how you can pay $12 to acquire one new customer, who then contributes $147 to your bottom line over three years.
Once someone buys from you, or even asks to be added to your mailing list, you have their email address. That’s valuable!
An extremely cost-effective way to sales is with email marketing campaigns.
Develop a relationship with your customers via email. Send out regular updates if they’re opted in to your email newsletters. This can be weekly or monthly. Send out deals and new automotive products you’re adding to your store. The better you nurture your lead, the more your customer will come back for more and buy your products.
Setup triggered email automation campaigns to send a personalized “thank you” message with the customer’s name and product details.
Tips for email subject lines
It’s important to have your email opened and read, and that in turn is related to your subject line. Here are some tips for a subject line:
- Personalize your subject line and include your customer’s name. Most email platforms have fields where you can add first and last names.
- Be specific about your email message.
- Get your customer to think by asking a relevant question.
- Don’t assume you have to offer a discount! Many times just staying in front of your online customers, or telling them about a new product, is enough.
If you have the resources and a large enough customer base, you can segment your email database list. This lets you send information on products to Chevy owners, or Ford products to Ford owners.
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