B2B e-commerce as a tool used in everyday work at the automobile repair shop. UX perspective

An e-commerce system is as important in day-to-day operation of the automobile repair shop as a wrench, pliers or a lift.

However, we're not talking about a typical e-store that we come across when shopping online, but rather about an advanced B2B-class catalog of car parts where you order goods from the supplier to the repair shop. Such system is the Universal Sales Application (USA), a B2B e-commerce platform for 16 countries that we've developed for Inter Cars.

Persona: Robert, automobile repair shop owner

To better explain how the system works, I will present a persona – it is a fictional character that embodies users' needs, experience, aims and personality traits. A persona represents our real users, which allows us to gain a better understanding of their expectations and objectives.

Our persona will be Robert: an owner of a small automobile repair shop that specializes in repairing passenger cars. Together with his employee, he repairs cars and grows his business in different ways. He is a partner of Inter Cars. He chose this company, because it offers a broad range of products and estimates delivery time with a high degree of precision. This enables Robert to better plan his work and address the needs of his customers.


Step 1: Choosing the vehicle

Imagine that Robert's repair shop is visited by a customer who wants brake discs replaced. In order for the mechanic to start working, he needs new parts. For this purpose, he logs in to the USA system and wants to find the correct product as fast as possible. The first step is to specify the motor vehicle for which the mechanic needs to find a spare part – this will reduce the number of items to choose from the vast Inter Cars catalog (1.7 million products). To meet Robert's needs at this stage, the selection must be quick and convenient, almost intuitive, as a vehicle is selected many times every day.

Because the motor vehicle selection is essential, we have dedicated an entire module in the system for this purpose. This enables Robert to choose the motor vehicle selection method that suits his preferences and skills the most: select the make, model and engine from the list, use a text search engine or a VIN number decoder. Our persona decides to enter the VIN number, as this way he can quickly and accurately specify the vehicle that arrived at his repair shop.

Step 2: Part selection

After the vehicle has been selected, Robert has to choose the category to which the necessary part is classified and move to the product list. He chooses the braking system, disk brakes, discs. Now he has to decide which of the available discs to offer to the customer.

Most importantly, he has to make sure that the part matches the car. Two seemingly identical cars can differ by type of drive, suspension system, braking system or support system, which will make the choice of a matching part not so obvious. Ordering an incorrect part poses a problem for both Robert (as he wastes time due to having to order the part again) and the supplier (who has to handle returns). Therefore, as designers, we have focused on providing the most useful information about the product and a feeling of comfort that he knows exactly what he's ordering. Robert can check part’s parameters, manufacturer's comments regarding suitability (e.g. only for cars manufactured in 2010), serial numbers, technical diagrams, and even enlarge the image and check whether the details look the same. USA operates in the RWD technology, which means that Robert will be able to do that via a tablet while standing directly near the car.

Another selection criterion is the price. Robert can offer his customers parts from several price ranges and easily find replacements for the necessary product. In addition, Robert also has his proven and preferred manufacturers of parts. He is able to see directly in the system which of them currently offer promotions.

Next to the product list, Robert sees categories linked to viewed products. If he is buying a brake disk, he may also need brake blocks. He may also have to replace calipers. On the one hand, such solution streamlines Robert's work, while on the other it reminds him about the possibility of upselling and increasing the customer's shopping cart value, which translates into higher profit generated by the repair shop.

Step 3: Order placement

Before Robert places an order, he must confirm it with the customer. The customer may want something cheaper, opt out of a product or change their mind – this happens often. The history of recently selected vehicles and parts helps Robert to return quickly to products that he viewed before and make changes to the order.

At the end, he looks at the delivery time. Availability and delivery time is specified for each part in the system, accurate to the hour. Robert does not suffer from a lack of customers in his repair shop, but he does suffer from insufficient number of workstations. That is why he cannot risk blocking one of them and doesn't start repair before having the necessary parts on hand. To ensure that there is no downtime, the order must be delivered on the same day or in the morning on the next day – for work planned for the next day. Thanks to information about availability, Robert can decide whether it is more cost-effective to wait for delivery or go collect the part himself.

This way Robert orders parts to the repair shop even several times per day.

A tool for everyday use: intuitive and quick

The story about Robert presented above is just a simplified scenario but it shows how automobile repair shops utilize the e-commerce system on a day-to-day basis. It's a tool used for everyday work in the same way as office workers use e-mail. We kept that in mind when designing the system. As a tool for everyday use, it has to be as intuitive and ergonomic as possible. Diagnosing and addressing all needs of the users was a long and challenging process. The team obtained extensive knowledge about the automotive industry due to the fact that as UX designers we participated in the project throughout its entire duration, not only at the beginning to set the direction and leave it in the technical team's hands. We have successively worked close to the customer and the system at each stage of its development, for 17 months. Ongoing communication between UX experts and developers set a creative environment, where we could respond to new ideas, information and changes to plans on an on-going basis. This enables us to build a tool that provides real support to hundreds of thousands of mechanics in their day-to-day work.