Some pimple-faced kid at my local shop recently told me, “We can order it for you,” when I needed a new set of shoes in size 48/13. My standard reply to this horribly agonizing statement by parts and accessory staff is always the same. “Well, I can order it for me. How about I give you my money now and you figure out a way to deliver it to my house? Save me the trip back, please.”

Am I feeling a tad testy today? Damned right I am! I’m just like everyone else who doesn’t have enough money, gasoline or time to
waste driving around aimlessly. Unfortunately, most parts and accessory managers are befuddled by my attempt to save the extra trip back to their store for a wasteful “pick-up” task.  Do the employees really think it’s convenient for me to drive here . . . twice? Well, it’s not, damn it! Cheap gas and personal time are really, really hard to come by these days. Make UPS do the driving instead.

I’ve calmed down . . . now that I have your attention. Chill, because here’s the good part.   Customers, even ones like me, really do want to buy from you, especially after we made the trip all the way to your store. You hopefully educated us a bit on what it was we needed or wanted, so don’t let us escape to the Internet simply to save ourselves from a retrieval trip to your parts counter. If you think our real “objection” is related to shopping for a better price at, think again! You would be wrong at least 75% of the time making this assumption. Shopping and surfing the “net” takes time — log-ons, passwords, spec comparisons, pop-ups, freight charges, endless data fields and cryptic verifications. Plus, we may not be aware of the latest product options or fitments like you are, Mr. Dealer. Online, we’d generally see the old crap on close-out.

How about putting a sign in the parts and accessory department that states: “IF WE DON’T HAVE IT IN STOCK, WE’LL GET IT SHIPPED TO YOUR DOOR.” Walt Schmidt of a motorcycle store in my native California first suggested this concept to me when I needed a specialized rear sprocket last month. His reply mimicked the title of this article with one key addition: “And we can have it on your doorstep Thursday.” Zounds! Although this sounds like mail order talk, it is really a smart brick-and-mortar dealer telling me I don’t need to waste time net-shopping or making the “milk run” back to his store on Thursday.

Here are a few concepts to consider for increasing customer satisfaction and capturing more P&A sales at the same time:

1. Save them the trouble . . . by capturing their order: Order it for them as a service and save them a return trip, while guaranteeing fulfilment. “Let me save you the trouble of ordering it on the Internet.” It may sound like a “sales pitch” to you, but it’s  actually great customer service. You are a destination store and customers took the time to drive out of their way to come see you for a reason. They’re lying if they say, “Just looking.”

2. Focus on service first . . . and logistics second: Figure out what they really came in for and then just make their life simpler. If it’s not convenient to buy from your store, customers will go elsewhere — there are lots of choices nowadays. Satisfy them on the spot. After all, you have the living, breathing customer inside your store and not at the end of an inanimate computer mouse. Interact. Engage. Make it so.

3. Get into the shipping business: Everyone else has. It’s called “cross-docking” — receive the package in the morning, re-label it and ship it out in the afternoon. You may be used to seeing Purolator bringing your products in the back and customers walking out with them in the front. Change your thinking — you can ship out the back too . . . as long as you have a credit card number.

4. Explain how you know a customer’s “needs” better . . . and work a keyboard faster: You order hundreds of products a day. Your customers might order twice a week from their computer. When it comes to computer ordering, you’re a laser-focused sniper-shopper while I’m just a frenetically distracted, blunderbuss hunter hoping to bump into a shiny bauble.

5. Offer free tech advice, guaranteed satisfaction, proper fitment and returns: You can be competitive! Avoid customers tapping you for the information then leaving to buy it elsewhere. Remind us of the obvious. Another sign perhaps? I can guarantee all your customers have experienced “mail-order disappointment” from ordering the wrong part. Ignorance costs time and money — we know this, but we need it continuously pushed back into our faces.

Thanks for turning me around, Walt. I was certain I was going to have to begin the cyberspacial quest for satisfaction until you showed me the light and made my life simple once again. Now I am officially spoiled and expect every out-of-stock dealer in the North America to begin substituting the words “ship to you” instead of “order for you”. . . especially that pimple-faced kid at [name has been withheld to protect the guilty].