Auto Service Retailers Ignore Younger Drivers . / Credit: Car parts image via Shutterstock

Auto service retailers need to shift their sales and marketing programs into high gear if they want to attract younger consumers, a new survey suggests. Young consumers who research their purchases thoroughly and buy online are rewriting the purchase process, but service retailers are not keeping up with the pace.

Brakes, batteries and tires are the auto service industry's high-volume, high-profit "Big Three," the experts at DMEautomotive (DMEa), an automotive industry marketing organization, say. Yet, according to a DMEa survey of more than 2,000 U.S. vehicle owners, few customers learn about these services from retailers. Only 5 percent of consumers who needed tires, 9 percent who needed a new battery and 21 percent whose cars needed brake work first learned about these tune-ups from service providers.

Customers aren't actively monitoring their brakes, battery or tire health—and neither are retailers, the survey found. Seventy-percent of customers reported they realized they needed to replace their battery because it was already dying or dead; 44-percent realized they needed new tires because they personally noticed the wheels were worn out, and 69-percent realized that they needed brakes because their cars were already squeaking, grinding or having other issues. Dealers and mechanics are clearly not aggressively identifying or recommending these service needs, the survey showed.

The findings should serve as an industry wake-up call, DMEa said. On average, only one car owner in 12 first learned that he or she needed new brakes, tires or batteries from a dealer or mechanic. It shows that an overly passive sales approach is leading to lost revenue-opportunities.

And, while the survey reveals that consumers, on average, do a large amount of research on these services, it's the under-35 customers who are radically remaking the path-to-purchase: not only are they far more likely to research providers, using more digital-media sources, and to start researching further in advance — they're also exponentially more likely to both buy, and consider buying, their tires and batteries online.

"This new research helps all service businesses understand today's brakes/battery/tires purchasing funnel, so they can put in place the right, cross-channel strategies to grow market share," said Doug Van Sach, DMEautomotive vice president of strategy and analytics. "And the new data suggests several basic best-practices that retailers really should embrace."

To combat widespread sales passivity, retailers should provide complimentary, comprehensive, multipoint inspections with every service visit, Sach said. Stores also need to create a high-visibility, engaging online shopping platform for batteries and tires, with clear pricing, a range of price-points and detailed product features.

 The "holy grail" for automotive service retailers is to implement marketing programs that can anticipate when a customer is ready to make a brake, battery or tire purchase. Then, retailers can deliver timely, relevant campaigns that interrupt the customer’s typical research windows, putting that store top-of-mind when it most matters, he added

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