Tech savvy consumers are scouring the internet and consuming information about practically everything in their daily lives from holidays to products and services before making the decision to purchase. Vehicle service and repair is no exception. So when consumers search online for their nearest garage and ask for recommendations, where does your business figure? Should you be signing up to good garage schemes and bidding for business on comparison websites?

We know when it comes to buying a car, most consumers will undertake practically all their research from the comfort of their own homes by simply searching the internet, but more and more are turning to online tools when it comes to servicing. Meanwhile, switched on entrepreneurs have been quick to exploit the gap in cyber space with websites such as WhoCanFixMyCar.com and the RAC’s Garage Compare.co.uk, which launched in partnership with The Motorists Organisation having rebranded from the former TootCompare site.

These simple to use websites ask consumers to enter their postcode, vehicle registration and the work required. Local garages which are registered are able to ‘bid’ for the work. The consumer selects based on any number of criteria including proximity, speed of response, lead time and, of course, price. The garage then pays a commission to the website which secured the job. Some websites charge a registration fee for garages to sign-up and others are free.

Whilst many local garages may feel quite secure with their loyal band of customers, most businesses continually seek ways to expand and attract additional trade and if you don’t consider all your options, you could find yourself losing out to more astute and internet switched-on garages.

With service, maintenance and repair work set to drop by around 11% by 2019, according to the latest Castrol Professional Car Servicing & Repair Trend Tracker report, garage owners need to take advantage of anything which can generate work.

The report predicted prices will peak in 2014/15 at £10.1bn, after which they will resume the long-term decline, a trend which was in place before the onset of the recession. Servicing is expected to drop by 30% between 2013 and 2019, falling to similar levels experienced in 2008. Repair work is predicted to peak in 2017 before it too declines. Among the reasons cited for the decline are the increase of new car registrations and the introduction of longer manufacturer warranties. Vehicles first registered in the all-time high years of 2003/2004 will move into the ‘DIY’ category where repairs and not servicing become the owners’ priority.

It makes dismal reading, but garages which explore all potential revenue streams are more likely to succeed.

One of the most successful of the comparison websites is WhoCanFixMycar.com, founded in 2011, it now boasts 65,000 users and almost 6,000 garages, mechanics and dealers have registered.

It recently re-launched its website to make it easier for motorists to navigate as well as enabling log-in via Facebook or using Google details, thereby tapping into the online habits of today’s consumer. Incorporating tools such as real-time messaging between the customer and the mechanic has made the platform much more convenient which is often the driver behind many consumer purchase decisions. The website is now posting around 8,000 jobs a month compared to 1,300 per month a year ago.

WhoCanFixMyCar.com was recently included in the list of the top 50 most disruptive businesses in the UK in the Everline Future 50 awards. The annual list unearths and recognises those businesses which its judges believe have the potential to make waves in their sector and challenges the status quo.

As well as WhoCanFixMyCar.com and the RAC-backed Garage Compare websites, garage owners can sign up to The Good Garage Scheme which provides motorists with a list of trustworthy garages in their area. Garages sign up to a code of conduct and an industry standard checklist and the scheme monitors customer feedback, receiving around 6,000 per month providing a valuable source of customer testimonials.

Motor Codes is the government-backed, self-regulatory body for the motor industry and its website contains a search tool connecting consumers with registered garages whether they are looking to buy a used car or service their vehicle. Approved by the Trading Standards Institute, Motor Codes now has a quarter of a million online reviews of its 8,000 listed garages. Garages agree to a set of guidelines and every Motor Codes garage is inspected by the AA. It also runs its Garage of the Year awards recognising the best garages as voted for by customers.

The question garage owners should be asking themselves is whether they can afford to ignore such consumer orientated services?

We would be interested to know if you have signed up for any online consumer-facing garage referral websites and the kind of response it has generated.


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