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Cultivating an online tire store

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Cultivating an online tire store

Consumer shopping behavior is changing, as I am sure you have noticed. Consumers have found the Web a better, easier and faster way of shopping for your products.

Google reported that more than 11 million searches for “tires” were performed in July. That makes it the single largest marketplace for tires we have ever seen. That also makes the Google destination for many of these shoppers your Web site — your online tire store.

And just like in the physical world, a tire store that meets consumer expectations will create more sales. As for an online tire store that does not, well, there’s a good chance they will continue their shopping until someone does meet their expectations. So, let’s cover some of the basics for a properly functioning online tire store.

The home page

What is the most important action that a consumer wants to take when he or she clicks on your online tire store?

When someone walks through the front door of your physical store, the conversation usually begins with a question: “What kind of vehicle do you have or what size are you looking for?” The same information is needed when someone shops for tires online. It’s important that the consumer sees that path immediately upon clicking through to your home page, so make sure it stands out above all else.

Advertising on the home page works best when it is a message that applies to all your consumers and does not dominate the page or get in the way of the consumer finding the path to shopping.

Your home page is much more than a page of advertising. Although it was advertising that brought consumers to your Web site in the first place, they are usually in the research/shopping phase once they reach your site. It is also important to remember that online consumers are interested in seeing products that apply to their vehicle. The consumer mentality is crystal clear on this point: Do not waste my time showing me products that do not apply to me. Show me what you have for my vehicle.

Price

I noticed some tire sites refuse to display pricing. That is a great way to irritate the daylights out of an online shopper: Do not give them the information they are looking for. Many of them will automatically think your pricing must be really bad, and will say “bye, bye” with the click of the mouse.

Do you give prices out over the phone? Is not the phone a communication device and is not the computer, while much more, a communication device as well? I fail to see the difference.

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Product reviews

We all know how important the recommendation from a friend or co-worker has been over the years. Well, now you can get unlimited feedback on your products — and services — by designing your Web site to allow for customers to comment on their purchases and purchase experience.

Worried? Don’t be. Most reviews are good. What if you read five reviews on a tire that you were interested in purchasing and one review was poor? Wouldn’t you put more weight on the four good ones? Most people do. In fact, they expect to see some poor reviews. It’s not a good idea to remove poor reviews, because consumers will see through that in a heartbeat and you will lose your credibility. And you can learn a lot from poor reviews, because consumers are telling you they are not happy with a specific tire you stock.

Sending out an e-survey to your own customers is an excellent way to populate your reviews. That is why you need to collect their e-mail addresses at the point of purchase. I think it’s better than a home address.

Stock in trade

Always display what you stock and what you can get. You all have suppliers or wholesalers that can get you virtually any product you want and deliver it in a day or less. Maybe it will take three days. It doesn’t matter. That’s where understanding online consumer behavior comes into play.

Most online consumers have no problem waiting a few days.

The process of online shopping happens at home or work and has been separated from the process of installation. It is this fact that gives you time to get the desired product in. For example, at Discount Tire we saw consumers shop and secure the product on Monday for installation on Saturday.

You do, however, need to display what you have as “in stock.” It is very important for those potential customers who want it installed today to know what is available to them.

All non-stocking items should be displayed showing “1-2 days” or “3-4 days,” depending on which time frame your supply chain can support.

[PAGEBREAK]Appointments?

It’s a mixed bag out there on this subject, so lets change the title. Let’s call it, “Tell me when you are coming in.” Isn’t that the most important information you need?

So let’s modify the appointment process to work in a first come, first served environment. You tell me when you want to come in and what you want so I can make sure I have it in stock. If it is an “in stock” purchase and you are coming in this afternoon, tell me so I can put your name on those tires. If the item is not in stock, let the online shopper know the first day it will be available to him, and let him pick a day and/or a time for installation. In that way, appointments can be set up anyway you wish.

People strategy

Three key people are needed to create and maintain a successful online tire store.

1. The tire store veteran. He is responsible for providing content for the online tire store and working closely with the usability person. It is his job to make sure the usability person understands consumer behavior and operation in the physical tire store so it can be translated online.

2. Web usability expert. This person is the expert in online shopping behavior. He knows what it is consumers want to see, how they want to see it and what they will do with that information.

It is this person’s responsibility to follow the e-commerce industry. (Because most of the industry is trackable, there is plenty of solid research and best practices for you to follow.)

3. Metrics person. This person monitors Web site performance. He is your eyes and ears online. This feedback is critical to the usability person. In fact , it’s critical information for the whole executive group, both on the marketing side and the purchasing side.

In summary, your strategy should be simple: Recreate the in-store experience online.

Do not treat your Web site as just a channel to advertise. It’s much more than that. It’s a customer shopping application that, when managed properly, will help you be more efficient and sell more product.    ■

Mike Bruce, president of VTS solutions LLC (www.vtssolutions.net), enjoyed a long career with Discount Tire Co. going back to 1967. He was a store manager in the 1970s, and started and managed Discount Tire’s Dallas/Fort Worth region in the 1980s. He was promoted to senior vice president in 1990 and moved to the Scottsdale, Ariz., corporate office to work in purchasing. Bruce started the Discount Tire Direct program in 1994, and created the www.tires.com Web site for the company in 1996. He was responsible for e-commerce and online advertising for Discount Tire through 2007. He can be reached at (866) 798-3523.

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