As customers’ attitudes continue to change about their need to interact with a person rather than a machine, we’re faced with great opportunities to make some innovations to the parts departments in dealerships.  I am guessing that most of you have looked up and ordered an item online or perhaps have gone through a self-checkout line in a store.  Where several years ago, customers would have fought doing either, today most people do either one or both on a regular basis without even a thought.

Just last night, I was at Home Depot picking up some paint, masking tape, and a new brush to do some work around the house.  Just a year ago, there was a small area for those who wanted to do self-check out and 4 lanes open staffed with cashiers. Last night, I counted 8 self-checkout terminals and only one line that was staffed by a cashier at the far end of the store where contractors were taken care of.  I believe we have reached the tipping point to where dealerships can begin the process of moving their parts counter customers to both looking up their own parts (like they do on the internet), pulling them out of parts cabinet or parts shelf (like I do at Home Depot), and checking themselves out.  While this might seem like a radical transition for how you currently handle parts counter customers, think of both the benefit to the customer and the efficiency a parts department could gain.  From a customer’s standpoint, rather than waiting in line behind five other people who are hoping to talk to your parts person, they would instead walk over to a computer with parts look-up and find what they need on their own.

Instead of having all your parts behind the counter, you would have your 100 fastest moving parts where customers could access them, based upon location.  You would add a self-checkout kiosk where the customer could scan the part, pay for it, and be on their way.  While 70 percent of the customers might want to still interact with a human, if 30 percent didn’t need help from the parts counter, the impact on both the customer experience and the labor costs for the parts department would be dramatic.

You might be thinking this just won’t work for a dealership, but I am going to challenge you to consider adding a “Lookup Your Own Parts” area to your counter as a first step and allow your customers an option over waiting in line.  Yes, you will still get the parts they need and check them out, but I believe that we are at a point in retailing that you will find many customers who have already been conditioned by the mass merchants, and would be excited to give it a try.