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Repair Shop Advice

The Importance of Customer Loyalty for Auto Parts Stores

March 31, 2020

Type “customer loyalty” into your Google search bar and you’ll get ads for companies trying to sell you loyalty programs.  Below that is a featured snippet from the book The Intuitive Customer defining customer loyalty as a “result of a consistently positive emotional experience”.

When you really think about it, though, how effective is a loyalty program at inspiring an emotional response?  Who rolls into Starbucks, downloads their customer loyalty app, and feels an emotional connection when they earn their eight stars for a grande mocha?  (Only twenty more to go for a free vanilla syrup upgrade!)

The reality is that customer loyalty isn’t a present/absent attribute.  There are four different levels of loyalty — best option loyalty, habit-based loyalty, conscious loyalty and identity loyalty.  The higher the level of loyalty you are able to achieve, the less likely your auto parts store is to ever lose that customer.  If you’re using a card-punch or points-based program to earn customer loyalty, it’s not likely to get you past habit-based loyalty, and it may not even get you there.  Here are the details for each level.

Level 1: Best Option Loyalty
This is the base level of loyalty and it’s even a stretch to call it “loyalty.”  Customers at this level of loyalty visit your auto parts store because they think you’re the best option at the time.  In most cases, it’s because your store is nearby and they know that you helped them adequately the last time they came into your store or called in for something.  It might also be because they got a coupon book or a flyer from you, or they remember a discount you sent them that they can pull up on their smartphone.

This may seem like a weak form of loyalty – and it is.  People’s loyalty to most businesses they regularly visit never gets past this level, however.  They’ll keep using you as their source for auto parts until they get a good reason to walk away.  That could be a lower price or quicker delivery at a competitor, a strong referral to another store or a frustrating experience at your store.  That might take years – or it might happen tomorrow.

Level 2: Habit-Based Loyalty
If a customer calls on your auto parts store enough times, it will become a habit.  The average person makes thousands of decisions per day – several per minute.  It’s exhausting, which is why the human mind takes shortcuts and most decisions aren’t conscious.  Most decisions are based on habit – when you set your alarm clock, you probably set it for the same time every morning, unless you have a good reason to change it.  And if people visit your store enough times, they’ll keep coming to it unless they have a good reason to go somewhere else.

With customers at the habit-based loyalty level, a $5 coupon from a competitor or a minor delay in parts delivery from your store isn’t going to be enough to get them to change their behavior.  Changing auto parts stores often requires too much effort.  Is the other store rated well?  How quickly will they deliver?  Do they offer credit and a running balance?  Going to the trouble of figuring all of this out will require an emotional reason.

These customers will still change stores if they have an emotional reason to do so, however.  They’ll also do it if they decide that their habit no longer makes sense.  For consumers, that may mean that they’ve moved or changed jobs and your shop isn’t convenient anymore.  For repair shops, that probably means somebody else will offer the parts for less or offer on-demand delivery.

Level 3: Conscious Loyalty
To reach this level, customers have to feel like you’ve done something for them that is far outside of the norm for your industry.  Unlike lower levels of loyalty, this is an emotional connection – “I use this auto parts store because they’re the only one that does X for their customers” is generally an emotional statement.

It does not necessarily have to be anything expensive either.  It could be a simple gesture like offering extreme flexibility when expediting delivery for critical parts they need that day for a repair.  Even a hand-written thank you note can be a loyalty-winning surprise.

This level of loyalty can often be achieved by coming to a customer’s rescue when they need it most: providing a part that they can’t find anywhere else, making a special allowance for an immediate delivery on a critical job they are working on, providing them advice that works when they’ve run out of options, or saving them hundreds of dollars by identifying a much less expensive solution to what they thought was a thousand dollar problem.

Level 4: Identity Loyalty
Most consumers only have a handful of brands in their lives that form a part of their identity.  Vehicles are one of the few items where it’s common for customers to identify with a brand.  Most people who drive Harleys or Corvettes don’t do it because it was cheaper or had a better warranty than other motorcycles or cars.  They do it because they think the vehicle represents them personally.

When a customer has reached this level, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to get them to change.  In almost all cases, the only way they’ll change brands is if the product or service lets them down in a significant way or challenges some other aspect of their identity.  That’s because using something different requires more than just changing a product – it requires changing who they are and how they see themselves.  It most often requires a business or a brand to spend a tremendous amount of money and effort to ever have a chance at earning customers with identity loyalty, which is why most small businesses don’t have any customers who reach this level.

To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you attract loyal customers to your auto parts store, call us at 855-394-6397 or email us at