2021: Time for a digital revolution in the aftermarket?

Does 2021 mean it’s time to throw out the new ideas and go digital in the garage sector?

Published:  15 February, 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed the pace of technological and regulatory change in the automotive industry; if anything, the opposite is true. Consumers and industry have seized the opportunity to recover sustainably, and all of us have incorporated more digital solutions into our everyday lives to ensure we can access the people, products and services we need. So, what does this mean for independent garages?
While many were understandably focused on survival last year – and although this year will bring challenges of its own including Brexit – in 2021 it’s important for workshop owners to take back control. There are two digitalisation gaps to close.
To remain competitive, independent garages need to keep up with the rest of the automotive sector in terms of digital capability and connectivity, while matching service providers in other sectors to meet consumers’ expectations.
We know that many garage owners are cautious about making business investments in the uncertain climate we’re in, but deployed in the right way, digital technology can improve efficiency, profitability and competitiveness from day one.

Digital solutions for business management
Downtime in the workshop is costly – and potentially more likely, now that seasonal demand patterns have been disrupted by shifting MOT deadlines. The onus is on garages to proactively manage their workload, which is where digital garage management solutions come in.
Using data to accurately predict how long each job will take is essential, so that work can be scheduled effectively, and technician resource scaled up or down as needed.  Haynes Pro data underpins quoting for and scheduling work through our CarSys garage management software, which is also loaded with customer and vehicle databases. This means technicians can look up MOT and service histories at the touch of a button.
As well as maximising productivity on the workshop floor, garage management software can streamline back office processes, too. CarSys comes with a direct link to our catalogue, facilitating 24/7 online parts look up and ordering, as well as stock management features, a help centre and the ability to sync with leading accounting solutions, Sage and QuickBooks.
Parts ordering in the independent aftermarket has traditionally been done over the phone, but online orders can be faster, as well coming with the added benefit of a digital footprint. This is something we’re encouraging garages to consider in 2021.
Those that buy through our trade website, Omnipart, have got complete visibility of their order until the moment it’s delivered – again, helping them to schedule work. Returns and warranties are also easier to manage – and workshops’ phone lines are freed up for their customers to use.

Digital visibility for customers
While many customers will still book appointments by phone so they can discuss what’s required on their vehicle, it’s likely that they’ll choose a garage through online search. Even if they’ve been given a word-of-mouth recommendation, they might well check the garage out online before going ahead. Garages with a credible online presence are best placed to win business. While we’re supporting by sending work into quality independent workshops via our Fit It For Me online service, there’s a wide range of much higher-value service and repair work that sits outside of this. That’s why in 2021, our advice to garages is to invest in their digital presence, which includes their websites, social media channels and other digital customer communications like emails.

Digital capability and connectivity in the workshop
The vehicles in the UK car parc are getting more advanced all the time, with the introduction of sophisticated software and systems designed to enhance performance, efficiency, safety, and the overall experience at the wheel.
In a recent survey, we uncovered that 29% of independent garages sometimes have to turn away work because they don’t have the skills and/or equipment needed to deliver work on more modern vehicles. The risk is that this becomes more common, unless they invest in their digital skills, tools and connectivity.
The immediate priority for workshops is being ready to service Euro 6 vehicles and hybrids, many of which are now in their fourth and fifth years of ownership and are no longer going back to the OE dealer for maintenance and repairs. As well as being connected and able to carry out important software updates, technicians need to be trained on the latest technology, and provided with the tools and equipment needed to safely and accurately diagnose and repair any faults. Take ADAS for example. This technology is already present in 10% of the UK car parc and will be mandatory on all new registrations from 2022. Often the root cause of an ADAS-related complaint will be a sensor that needs recalibrating but that can’t be discovered by manual inspection. All of the major diagnostics suppliers including Hella, Bosch, TEXA, Autel and Hofmann Megaplan have now added ADAS calibration equipment to their product portfolios, to help garages correctly resolve any issues once they’ve been identified. It’s important to note that while workshops tend to have a three-year grace period while the newest vehicles are in warranty and go back to the dealer, the same can’t be said for bodyshops. In addition to being able to repair Euro 6 and hybrid vehicles, bodyshops can already expect to see EVs coming through the doors – but the good news is that similar tools and skills are required.

Delivering with digital along the value chain
The events of last year meant that garages had to focus on short-term, business-as-usual goals over the long-term investments needed to get match-fit for the future. 2021 will be the year of digital transformation in the independent aftermarket and we’re excited to be a part of it.

Digital solutions can have a positive impact all the way along the value chain, from bringing in customers and processing and scheduling new jobs, to ordering parts, processing payment and completing repairs.

Research has shown that the average driver spends more than £1,200 on vehicle repairs each year. So it’s understandable that their expectations are high. As they would with any product or service they buy, they want transparency, efficiency and ultimately, delivery to a high standard.

It’s no different for garages dealing with their suppliers. We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes to a) determine which services we ought to offer, b) ensure we’re as easy as possible to do business with, and c) make sure we’re operating in a way that’s sustainable and effective – and we encourage our customers to the same, with digital at the heart of everything they do.

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