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Apr. 21, 2008 – An issue that should capture your e-attention

April 21, 2008
Filed under Columns

Economic slowdowns, like the one we’re currently wading through, are not exactly the best time to implement a new endeavor.
Staffing generally is lower and expenses are being scrutinized even more than before. But even with these challenges, there is something the industry as a whole needs to address with some haste.
We, as an industry, have to acknowledge that for many consumers the shopping experience begins online, and hence any discussion about the level of customer satisfaction we’re achieving must include the Internet experience. Without such consideration, the customer satisfaction levels we’re asking dealers to improve on are not truly symbolic of the total retail experience.
The auto industry, I’m told, has to a great extent acknowledged this, as many of the industry’s OEMs measure the amount of online leads that result in actual new unit sales. From the handful of discussions I’ve had with metric, European and American powersports OEMs, no such practice exists for the motorcycle industry.
And that’s disturbing on a couple of fronts.
Namely, we know e-commerce has become engrained in our spending habits. In fact, a recent survey from Internet analysis firm, Forrester Research Shop.org, indicates this year’s online retail sales will rise 17 percent higher than last year’s totals, even in the face of a slowing U.S. economy and a possible recession.
E-commerce has become such a common practice that surveys indicate the nation’s largest retailers are spending nearly a quarter of their online marketing budget on consumer retention, not acquisition. In other words, these retailers have made the mental leap from pondering the pluses and minuses of whether to attract the online consumer to actually figuring out ways to keep their e-attention.
In many ways, we as an industry have not made that same jump.
In most cases when we ask a buyer to tell us about their retail experience, we do not inquire about what happened online. In other words, when a consumer initially e-mailed a dealership about a particular model, did they receive a reply? And if they did, did it come within two hours of their original inquiry? Within the next four hours? That same business day?
There is some apprehension about putting more interest and the necessary resources into this retail area because of the perception that e-mail has simply become an easier way for the price-shopper to conduct their business. While that’s certainly the case, there is little doubt that the average e-commerce shopper goes far beyond the price-shopper. E-commerce experts tell us that large retailers have done countless surveys that indicate shoppers are much more apt to be browsers than buyers. Meaning, Web sites have become the modern window-shopping environment, and therefore are the perfect place to start a conversation that will lead from shopping to buying.
Backing that line of thought is the Forrester Research survey, which found two types of shoppers driving the growth of online sales. One is deemed the casual shopper, who prefers search engines and uses the Web in hopes of saving money, and the other the affluent customer, who shops online for convenience rather than the best deal. It is this latter customer segment that figures to so closely match the most common new bike buyer demographics: a white male between the ages of 41-50 or 51-60.
With this preponderance of data concerning the online shopper, why haven’t we as an industry been more forthcoming in examining our e-commerce strengths and weaknesses? Partly because there are still hurdles to overcome, as pointed out by OEMs we spoke with. Namely, if dealerships are not receiving enough online leads, then any measurement of them could quickly become unfair because one or two poor results could wildly affect overall scores.
An e-commerce survey conducted for Powersports Business did not do much to overcome that concern. It did show that dealerships are averaging more than 60 leads per month, but the numbers we saw varied tremendously. In fact I believe the better percentage to really digest is this: nearly 57 percent of dealers reported getting 10 new unit sales leads or less per month from the Internet.
That percentage, however, should not be an excuse to drop the idea of tracking online leads and their ultimate result but really spur us into considering why nearly six out of every 10 dealers are not drawing enough interest from online shoppers. Are their Web sites not conducive to providing the instantaneous shopping query? Or are the shopping queries coming but not being dealt with in a timely manner?
Those are two huge questions for the industry to consider and ultimately address.
For if we’re going to put more emphasis on the retail experience in order to drive more new unit sales, we cannot overlook what is increasingly taking the place of the hand shake as the first consumer contact.

SPECIAL NOTE

Don’t miss what I believe to be one of the best parts of our annual awards issue: the complete discussions with our Industry Leaders. The Q&As on pgs. 4-5 are just a small representation of the discussions we had with KTM North America President Jon-Erik Burleson, Lehman Trikes USA CEO Dan Patterson, Victory Vice President Mark Blackwell and Helmet House President Bob Miller.
Go to Powersportsbusiness.com to see the entire discussions.
There you’ll see Patterson’s views on hiring new employees — How much emphasis do you place on attitude vs. aptitude? — and what Blackwell believes will shape the competitive landscape in the future. Not to mention Miller’s advice for retailers and Burleson’s comments on the AMA.
Don’t miss this rare chance to get the thoughts and wisdom from four influential people in our industry. psb
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@affinitygroup.com.

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