Shell is putting up some cash to better understand what makes customers and shop owners use an online marketplace.
Shell Ventures LLC, a unit of petroleum manufacturer and marketer Royal Dutch Shell plc, is investing millions in Openbay Corp., which operates Openbay.com as a marketplace that connects motor vehicle owners with providers of automotive repair services.
Shell says the investment will help it better understand what makes customers and repair shop owners use an online marketplace. Shell Ventures is the lead investor in an $8 million Series A round of financing, which includes prior investor Stage 1 Ventures and one other investor Openbay didn’t publicly identify.
Openbay will use the funds to develop artificial intelligence-enabled solutions for businesses that provide automotive repair services and to grow both existing and new markets across all its offerings. “Openbay’s vision has not changed since its inception: fundamentally improve the experience for automotive repair and services for consumers, and the way that automotive care businesses acquire and service customers,” founder and CEO Rob Infantino says. Online buyers, he adds, “expect their interactions across websites, social platforms, mobile and messaging apps to be engaging and interactive. This requires natural-language processing, machine learning and predictive analytics.”
Openbay provides vehicle owners an online source for vehicle repair and maintenance covering such areas as automotive air-conditioning units, brakes, exhaust systems, suspension parts, steering system components, engine oil and parts, and tires.
Openbay also works with eBay Inc.’s eBay Motors marketplace to enable automotive repair professionals to search among millions of products for online purchasing.
Openbay, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., and opened for business in 2013, has more than 100,000 users on Openbay.com, Infantino says. The company also is focusing more on the B2B side of its operation by developing software-as-a-service products for shop owners. The software products allow shop owners to manage online appointments, respond to customer queries for a repair quote and manage and receive payments, among other tasks. Openbay didn’t disclose how many shop owners are on its marketplace or using its software products.
“Consumers expect their interactions across websites, social platforms, mobile and messaging apps to be engaging and interactive; this requires natural-language processing, machine learning and predictive analytics,” Infantino says. “With fresh capital and depth of the resources our strategic and global investors bring to Openbay, the company is now well positioned to grow and expand its offering globally.”
The involvement with Shell is for more than just providing working capital. Shell will help build Openbay’s marketing across its diverse global marketing programs, including social media, Infantino says.
Shell will also work to integrate the Openbay marketplace and software-as-as-service business tools across Shell’s business. “We scan the market for emerging technology trends and look for disruptive or transformational technologies, and investing in promising technologies such as Openbay is very much part of our future growth strategy,” says Shell executive vice president for global commercial Huibert Vigeveno.
With its new arrangement with Shell, Openbay will help the petroleum company use e-commerce and marketplace data to better market some of the lubricant products Shell refines, such as Quaker State and Penzoil motor oils. “Shell is relatively new to some of this,” Infantino says. “It’s a strategic partnership and they have lots of resources to help us grow globally.”
Shell says a big reason it made the investment in Openbay is to gain a better understanding of online buyer behavior. “We recognize the evolving consumer and changing purchase behaviors, so we are leveraging the use of technology to better engage with consumers,” a Shell spokesman says. “The Openbay online marketplace addresses key consumer frictions in the automotive aftermarket that enable Shell and our customers to unlock demographics they may not be reaching currently.”
Shell’s efforts are just the latest in a recent string of new business development initiatives at Openbay.
For example, in December Openbay announced a partnership with eBay Motors to provide auto repair shops with an easier way to find automotive car parts. The product mix includes original equipment, aftermarket brands, remanufactured and used parts
By collaborating with Openbay, eBay Motors is enabling repair businesses to “get their hands on the parts they need, when they need them,” says Jordan Hettinga, director of category management at eBay Motors.
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