Closing the Consumer Gap Between Brick-and-Mortar and E-Commerce

SEMA News—March 2016


By Jon Wyly

Closing the Consumer Gap Between Brick-and-Mortar and E-Commerce

SDC LogoI had an interesting conversation with a colleague about how we each shop for items to meet our household, hobby and gifting needs. As someone who has made a living in both wholesale distribution and e-commerce, I find myself especially tuned in to what drives consumers to behave the way they do, so I was particularly interested in what my friend had to say.

While we are both the same gender (male) and same age (early mid-50s), we each had a different bend to our shopping approach that exposed, to some degree, what loyalties—or lack thereof—we display when spending our hard-earned money.

His approach is to use the Internet for general research but to diligently try to make his purchases through brick-and-mortar stores. And he doesn’t head toward the well-stocked big boxes but rather to locally owned and operated “hometown” specialty stores. However, he did admit to leaning toward the Internet if the availability of information was much greater or the price disparity was too much. His overall reasoning is this: I want the benefit of a specialist who can add value to my purchase by providing expertise, advice and support after the sale. But if the price is measurably better and the Internet does a good job giving me the information I need, I’ll buy it online.

In contrast, my style is to research very deeply on the Internet, often utilizing trusted sources for consumer reviews and poring over blogs and forums to see what fellow buyers have learned. I then take my newly found expertise and begin the search for a place to spend my money. If I find an Internet seller with a great price, free shipping and a trusted appearance, I place the order and patiently wait a day or two for the item to arrive. Only if I seriously want to see a product in the flesh or am on a very tight “right now” timeframe will I venture into a store to see what I can find. Admittedly, even if I like what I see but the store isn’t very close to the Internet price, I will order the product online.

The one common denominator in this comparison is the buyer’s need for information. Both my friend and I need adequate information to make a buying decision, which is followed by price and service/convenience (not necessarily in that order).

So let’s examine a traditional parts-store environment. I’m guessing that many of you have had the experience of walking into a parts store only to find a counterperson who can’t answer a question without first consulting the almighty computer. So here we are, getting our information from a machine, so the remaining elements are price and service/convenience. I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t really need the part today, and the price seemed high, and I didn’t really get any service, I might just wait and buy the part online. Actually, I would have checked the store’s website to see if it had the item in stock and what the price was.

My point here, and the gist of the “closing the consumer gap” title, is simple. Look at your business and see if you are leaving any “gaps” in the consumers’ needs. Are you providing enough information? Do you have a competitive price? Are you adding value through service and/or convenience? If not, you are a prime candidate for being replaced by a website!

To learn more about how you can take control of your product data and manage it at the lowest possible cost, contact SEMA Data Co-op Director of Membership Jim Graven at or 888-958-6698 x4.

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