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Auto parts: online sales on the rise, one every 5 seconds on ebay

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The spare parts market goes online. Every year 13 billion euro are spent on vehicle maintenance in Italy alone. Not to mention the impact car sharing is having on the market: lower sales

Antonio Carnevale giornalista • Wired

Almost 15 million Italians purchase car and motorcycle spare parts online every year. Impressive numbers indeed: websites are considerably cheaper  than traditional sales networks and are becoming increasingly reliable. And yet, e-commerce seems to be benefitting the entire so-called auto aftermarket sector, namely the manufacturing, re-manufacturing, distribution, retailing and installation of all vehicle parts.

 According to Paolo Vasone, Anfia Aftermarket Co-ordinator and part of Confindustria, "The Italian aftermarket sector, among the most important in Europe, is experiencing great changes and" continues Vasone "the main distribution networks, both European and non-European, are paying close attention to the new scenarios that are emerging".

The automotive aftermarket sector is divided between two main segments, with Oes channels (Original equipment services) on the one hand, which make up about 30% of the whole sector and work through specialized shops and official dealerships.

The remaining 70%, on the other hand, belongs to the so-called Independent aftermarket manufacturers, i.e. autonomous operators. These percentages, though, are destined to change, given the growing interest that car and motorcycle manufacturers are showing in the aftermarket as well as their determination to make full use of the web.

"Management platforms, used by producers and distributors alike to process a large part of the orders (up to 80-90%) have already introduced major changes", Carlo Covini, head of the Anfia automotive market area, in an interview with Wired Italia. And he adds: "If, instead, we look at the sale of spare parts on open digital platforms in Italy, the significant transformation that was experienced, for example, by France, thanks to top market players, has not taken place yet".

The fact remains that, to date, automotive spare parts generate a turnover estimated at around 218 billion euro worldwide and over 13 billion a year in our country alone.

Car and motorcycle accessories take the lion’s share online with eBay as one of the undisputed protagonists of this new era: over 46 million spare parts and accessories, one every 5 seconds, for the leading market operator in Italy.

Users are primarily attracted by lower costs and the possibility to read detailed information on the characteristics of the products on sale, in addition to reviews by those who have already purchased the goods.

For Covini, "most of the sales on eBay, in fact, refer to accessories and tires, particularly attractive sectors for the final consumer, rather than mechanical and auto body parts, with the exception of items such as batteries and lights. This type of distribution channel still accounts for much less than 10% of all the spare parts sales in Italy".

Nevertheless, in recent years, the relationship between retailers and customers has changed. "The Net has become synonymous with transparency, undermining some long standing relationships between buyers and sellers", adds Covini. Thanks to the Internet, users are now more informed about prices and market logic. "If the web is still not playing a crucial role in terms of sales volumes and number of transactions in the country, the same cannot be said as far as informing customers.  This has made all players more vulnerable and therefore more careful, "says Covini.

What about online scams? In the two-year period between 2014-2016, the Association of car parts manufacturers confirmed the seizing of over 1.6 million items, including counterfeit parts and non-approved products for cars, motorcycles and even bicycles.

For this reason, non-experts are advised to rely solely on reputable and certified portals.

But how much does the competition of the web really affect auto parts stores in Italy? "In Southern Italy, the phenomenon of auto parts dealers selling spare parts on eBay seems more  widespread compared to the rest of the country, perhaps due to the habit of buying large stocks of products which are then “poured” on the web", explains Covini.

“As a whole”, he adds, "the influence of online sales channels is more decisive on some products and less on others even if transparency and information about products and prices is quite widespread across-the-board". In short, spare parts dealers are not selling less because of the Internet, they are simply more careful in price policies, "while categories such as tire and accessory dealers are taking a knocking also on sales volumes," confirms Covini.

Among the factors that can potentially affect the performance of the aftermarket sector we must mention also a strong competition by official network authorized by the manufacturing companies themselves - with new maintenance contracts and warranty extensions - and the growing interest in car sharing schemes. The sharing economy in particular is fast changing the consumers’ idea of mobility, leading to an overall drop in mileage and subsequent demand for auto parts. So much so that, in 2017, the aftermarket sector experienced a 1% decline over the previous year. However, e-commerce platforms are not the only ones to blame.

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