Most sales will take place on mobile devices. And digital activity will influence just under $141 billion in U.S. auto parts and accessories sales this year.

U.S. online sales of new auto parts and accessories will exceed $16.0 billion in 2020, a 29.9% increase from $12.3 billion in 2019, according to an analysis from Hedges & Co., an automotive digital marketing agency. As in 2019, Hedges expects most of those sales will happen on smartphones.

Sales of automotive parts and accessories on mobile devices will exceed $10.4 billion in 2020, Hedges & Co. projects. That mobile sales total would be an increase of 40.2% from $7.4 billion in 2019.

“It’s common for auto parts and accessory websites to have more than 65.0% of the total traffic on mobile devices. That’s one of the trends in online shopping that will continue,” the Hedges & Co. analysis says.

According to the analysis, cross-device conversions helped drive the increase in mobile auto parts sales. “It’s common for a shopper to visit a website multiple times over several days or weeks, using multiple devices: maybe it’s a computer during the day at work and a phone at home in the evening. When a buying decision is reached, a shopper’s mobile phone is often the last device used to check out and buy a product,” the report says.

The research indicates coronavirus-related sales growth will add about $1.9 billion from Hedges & Co.’s earlier projection of $14.1 billion in online auto parts sales, says firm’s president, Jon Hedges. Like many other kinds of retailers, auto parts merchants started selling a lot more volume online after states and municipalities began issuing stay-at-home orders in March, he says.

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Social distancing in garages

Automotive repair shops generally remained open during the lockdowns. Guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with state officials, deemed them to be essential businesses required to stay open. However, consumers started doing their own repairs—most likely to save money and avoid physical contact with auto shop personnel—and ordered online to minimize the need to go into stores, Hedges says.

But saving money and avoiding human contact might not explain the entire increase in 2020 online auto sales. Many Americans have used ecommerce to indulge in their hobbies during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to sizeable increases in online sales of things like baking and craft supplies. Hedges suspects a similar dynamic is at work in the online auto parts business.

“A lot of people are practicing social distancing in their garages,” by working on auto-related projects, such as restoring or enhancing vehicles, Hedges says. It’s hard to quantify how much car hobbyists contributed to the increase in automotive parts ecommerce, he says. But clients tell him they see increased demand for restoration parts, accessories and performance-enhancing components—the kinds of products purchased by auto enthusiasts.

Hedges & Co. bases its analysis on a mix of proprietary research, data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, third-party data with statistical modeling and interviews of industry leaders and influencers, Hedges & Co. says. The company’s annual forecasts count only online sales of new and remanufactured auto parts. The totals do not include third-party sales through Amazon.com Inc., purchases from online auctions, such as eBay Motors, or other third-party marketplaces.

Amazon in the lead

Hedges & Co. expects Amazon (No. 1 in in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) to sell $8.3 billion in auto parts sales, accessories and car care products in 2020, plus $1.9 billion in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) replacement auto parts sales for a combined total of $10.3 billion—not including third-party sales.

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Digital influence is an essential factor for in-store auto parts sales because consumers research auto parts with care—often verifying parts on retailer and manufacturer websites. Buyers also read online reviews and automotive forums, watch how-to or review videos online, and conduct long-tail searches—those containing three or more keywords—on Google or Bing.

Hedges & Co. says its consumer survey data shows online research mainly takes place in four ways: online search (used by 74% of all parts and accessories consumers); retailer websites (used by 73%); manufacturer websites (57%); and automotive forums (47%).

For 2020, Hedges & Co. projects digital activity will influence about $141.0 billion in auto sales, down 6.5% from $150.6 billion in 2019. That’s because a significant portion of the auto parts retail revenue comes from traditional channels, such as auto parts chain stores, independent retailers, service repair shops, big-box stores, and other auto parts retailers. The Auto Care Association projects revenue through those channels will decrease by 8.8% in 2020, compared with 2019. In 2021, Hedges & Co. expects digital influence to move ahead of 2019 levels.

By 2023, U.S. online sales of auto parts and accessories will reach $21.4 billion, and digital influence on parts and accessories sales will increase to more than $168 billion, Hedges & Co. projects.

Online sales of auto parts and accessories sales will be about U.S.$3.7 billion in Canada and U.S.$903 million in Mexico, bringing the North American ecommerce market for auto parts and accessories to about U.S.$20.6 billion in 2020.

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