Consumer Tires Retail

Taking the Path to Online Opportunities

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Taking the Path to Online Opportunities

In the world of the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, manufacturers and marketers spend a great deal of time and resources exploring how to best engage shoppers along what is commonly referred to as the path to purchase. This discipline of engaging shoppers even has a name: It’s called shopper marketing.

The distinction between shopper marketing and brand marketing is this: In shopper marketing, the consumer already has made the decision to buy something associated with a certain category of items, and the challenge is to ensure they buy the brand that best fits their needs.

I acknowledge up front that marketing disciplines which apply to CPG categories and brands don’t necessarily always work for tire replacement. In the CPG industry, consumers walk into a store and look, feel, examine and even taste the merchandise; it’s a very personal journey. Tire replacement is an installation business, and shoppers are most often relying solely on the extensive expertise of a dealer who will guide the purchase based on what’s best for the car and the shopper.

But based on a 20-plus-year career in the CPG industry, including six years leading a shopper marketing team for a large CPG company, I am convinced that the tire manufacturer or dealer who makes the first successful digital foray into shopper engagement, personalization and simplification will gain significant sales and market share versus the competitive set. The opportunity is currently wide open to the first mover.

Let’s review each of the engagement, personalization and simplification opportunities in turn.

Engagement

A quick foray into the shopper online tire selection process for Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone brand tires and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reveals a remarkably undifferentiated and highly functional step-by-step process that is none too helpful to shoppers unfamiliar with their cars or tires. Indeed, every online process begins with a request for the year, make and model of the car needing tires. This seemingly innocent set of questions has the potential to be quite unsettling to a shopper who, if asked what kind of Jeep he or she drives, would answer with the statement “a red one.”

More fundamentally, I would argue that starting the tire selection process with questions about the car instead of the shopper automatically relegates the entire online tire selection process to a highly functional transaction that shows little to no concern for the actual person behind the wheel of the car.

Engagement is all about getting the shopper curious and excited about a purchase, even if the shopper feels overwhelmed or confused about the options in front of them.

In the online tire replacement space, Tire Rack stands out as a retailer that provides shopper engagement. On one section of its website, Tire Rack draws shoppers in by talking about its test track: “It’s like truth serum for tires,” accompanied by a video of a wet track. We even get to meet the testers.

As a shopper, I may not understand anything about tires, but I get truth serum. What Tire Rack is really doing is inviting shoppers in behind the industry’s closed doors and telling them “we’ve figured out how to solve the mystery of which tires are the best and we are going to show you how we do it.” And who doesn’t want a peek in at how a mystery is solved?

Now, let’s go back to manufacturers like Goodyear and retailers like Walmart. Imagine a scenario in the online tire selection process in which we ask a shopper to self-select himself or herself as somebody who: 1) knows very little about cars or tires; 2) is somewhat familiar with cars but needs a little help with tires; or 3) is a car expert who knows exactly what he or she is doing. From that point forward, the content along the online path to purchase could be tailored to meet the needs of that particular shopper segment, and that includes a variety of potential purchase outcomes. For example, a self-selected expert may be very comfortable purchasing his or her tires online, and an e-commerce solution is acceptable. But the shopper who only understands his or her Jeep is a “red one”? That shopper should always be sent to a dealer for final purchase, and the online journey should only be used for education and to make the shopper feel more confident.

Personalization

Notably absent from the current online tire selection process across manufacturers and dealers is the simple question, “Who is going to be driving the car?” Intuitively, an adult who is buying tires for a car that a teen is driving has far more concerns over the safety attributes of the tires than fuel efficiency or performance. Teens, adults and seniors may have separate and distinct needs as drivers; why wouldn’t we address them separately and distinctly along the online tire path to purchase?

CVS Health is a drugstore retailer that specializes in personalization. Its Extracare shopper loyalty program provides offers to CVS shoppers based on past purchase behaviors. CVS’s online experience is no different.

I was a part of the recent launch of Flonase Allergy Medicine at CVS, and we created a Flonase Brand Shop on CVS’s website. The Brand Shop delivers three distinct sets of allergy content: content for people who have never previously suffered from allergies; content for people who suffer from seasonal allergies; and heavy year-round sufferers. In shopper marketing, we call this tailored content personalization, something that is mostly absent from the tire online selection process across manufacturers and dealers.

The personalization fix for the tire online selection process is a relatively straightforward process, and it’s only a matter of time before a manufacturer or dealer fully capitalizes on the opportunity in the online environment. Every question that tire dealers intuitively asks their store shoppers — “Who is driving the car?” “How is it being driven and for what purpose?” — can be woven into the online tire experience.

A skeptic may legitimately say that personalizing the online tire shopping experience has no bearing on what the right tire may be in a particular geography for a particular car. So why do it? Because shoppers, being human, react positively when they are being addressed as individuals. I want my dealer to know, whether online or in the store, that my daughter is going to be driving my car. I feel better about buying if I’m asked about her and her driving skills, even if it’s an online question.

The Bridgestone tire selection site allows shoppers to pick the top three tire performance attributes as part of the selection process, but this has more to do with the principle of shopper simplification than personalization.

Simplification

An online search for tires at Walmart’s website for a 2012 Honda Accord EX Sedan yields 69 potential tire choices, ranging from approximately $80 per tire to well over $300 per tire. Sixty-nine choices! Tire Rack offers 60 choices for a 2011 Toyota Camry XLE.

In shopper marketing, we identify an overabundance of selection as a potential purchase barrier called choice complexity. Choice complexity, or in shopper language, “I don’t understand all the choices in front of me,” is more likely to prevent a purchase than enable one. In the case of the Walmart online tire selection process, the retailer would greatly simplify the path to purchase if it made five recommendations to shoppers instead of 69.

Among manufacturers, Michelin makes a specific recommendation for one set of tires for any given car as part of its online selection process. Bridgestone offers a “best match.” However, Goodyear offers a set of online choices that can be filtered by an attribute called “Featured,” but a different order of choices is presented if the shopper chooses “Top Rated.” What’s the difference? No explanation is provided.

Of the three shopper marketing opportunities, engagement, personalization and simplification, some moderate inroads have been made by the industry, particularly in simplification. However, the human element of engagement and dealing with people on a personal level is mostly absent from the online tire selection process. I believe the manufacturer or dealership that begins to capitalize on these opportunities will realize gains in consumer loyalty, shopper satisfaction, market share and sales.   ■

Joe Cadle performed as director of shopper marketing for consumer healthcare at GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) from 2009 to June 2015. In his role, he was responsible for developing and implementing shopper platforms within all GSK categories for key retail partners. Cadle is currently an independent consultant who helps organizations with shopper marketing and engagement. He can be reached at Joe2Cadle@gmail.com.

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