A Guide for Starting and Managing Your Own Auto Parts Catalog

A Guide for Starting and Managing Your Own Auto Parts Catalog

If you sell auto parts online, you’ve likely noticed how it’s become a challenge to keep up with today’s eCommerce market in general and the automotive aftermarket in particular. The automotive eCommerce industry is currently undergoing huge changes when it comes to technological innovation, shifting customer experience and expectations, as well as evolving competitive power. All these changes influence the way your customer base, automotive suppliers, and other aftermarket auto parts sellers are conducting their business and creating value.

The automotive aftermarket industry is currently valued at around $400 billion dollars. This wealth is spread across over 535,000 individual auto parts retailers. It’s safe to say that our sector of the economy is selling a lot of auto parts and accessories, even in this COVID-19 environment we’ve seen spikes in online sales. With all these challenges, there are significant opportunities to improve your auto parts and accessory sales by focusing on inventory management and your brand.

Unlike other products sold online, selling auto parts online needs to be backed by fitment data so as to help potential customers know which component or accessory will fit their vehicle. This fitment data needs to incorporate everything from the year, make, and model of the vehicle, as well as the trim, submodel, engine, and other relevant information for each individual component.

Since the average auto part can be compatible with hundreds of vehicles, the fitment (compatibility) data that accompanies it needs to be clear, complete, and accurate so that customers can find all your components that fit their needs. This information goes beyond the brand and covers all available aftermarket products that are compatible with the customer’s vehicle. This is where an auto parts catalog comes into play for an online seller of auto parts and accessories. Auto parts catalogs help aftermarket manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, and other aftermarket automotive eCommerce businesses with selling online. It also helps those starting an online auto parts business create websites, warehouse products, and separate their brands from the competition.

Leading Aftermarket Standards for Fitment Data Formatting

Before we can go into any detail about building and managing an auto parts catalog, we need to take a look at the two leading industry standards for fitment data. These standards are ACES (Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard) and PIES (Product Information Exchange Standard). They were created by the Auto Care Association, formerly known as the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA).

These two data standards work in unison in order to manage and exchange fitment information and part numbers, as well as provide a universal guideline for all users to adhere to. Shop owners, warehouse managers, auto parts customers, etc., will first reference ACES data to see whether a given part will fit their vehicle. If it does, the user will cross-reference that information with the PIES data to determine whether that component will satisfy all of their needs, including image identification. It should go without saying that using both ACES and PIES data is the key to success in the automotive aftermarket industry.

It’s also pretty obvious that using both ACES and PIES data at the same time will eliminate the guesswork that goes into ordering auto parts and reduce the total number of fitment application formats. It will also help deliver more sales and revenue while reducing the total number of overall errors and product returns.

What is ACES Product Data?

Simply put, ACES Product Data is used to manage and exchange fitment information. By using this industry-standard, aftermarket manufacturers and retailers can seamlessly send and receive auto parts based on year, make, model, part types, and other qualifiers. The ACES standard also includes data such as part numbers, part types, brands, etc., alongside which position of the vehicle the part fits in, among other such qualifiers.

ACES Data is separated into two main databases. The Vehicle Configuration Database (VCdb) contains vehicle models and Powersports fitments from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and holds roughly 60,000 specific combinations based on year, make, and model. The Auto Care Association updates and maintains this database roughly once per month.

The second database is known as the Parts Configuration Database (PCdb) and consists of service items, replacement parts, and supplies typically sold in the aftermarket industry. The use of the PCdb makes it easier for manufacturers and retailers to put together their catalogs, while car owners can, more easily, compare parts. If the products listed and the information is classified properly and consistently, there will be fewer interpretation gaps in terms of how the products should be used. This also means that there will be improved customer experience.

What is PIES Product Data?

If ACES Data is used to manage and exchange fitment information, PIES Product Data is used to manage and exchange automotive parts and accessories data in the form of part numbers. PIES Data is divided into 25 categories, covering more than 180 different data elements, and over 20,000 product types. All of these data points are collected from the biggest retailers and warehouse distributors in North America and are designed to cater to the needs of stores, warehouses, management systems, and end-users.

These files include various forms of product attributes alongside other information such as prices, dimensions, weights, brand IDs, kits, marketing content, UPC codes, country of origin, and more. PIES data is also following a standardized structure and includes information on brands.

ACES and PIES Misconceptions

While both ACES and PIES product data are critical in providing accuracy and useful fitment information, there are several misconceptions in terms of their content and use.

For starters, ACES and PIES are not catalog lookup tools. In other words, the ACES databases will not provide you with an industry-wide repository containing your company’s or your competition’s catalog application data or part numbers. You have to maintain this information through an internal cataloging software system. The vehicle configuration database provides the codes to transmit this data to all of your partners, which is a combination of your catalog fitment information and the coded data from the ACES standards, in the form of an ACES XML delivery file that will go to your trading partners.

However, ACES and PIES does not include any OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) applications. The VCdb provides the vehicle’s ID and its valid attributes but will not supply any OEM part numbers or fitment notes for the vehicle’s parts. Multiple service providers can offer these OEM numbers and fitment data. This data can be merged with your catalog application data and Vehicles in Operation (VIO) information.

Furthermore, the Auto Care Association maintains standards by which both ACES and PIES data can be sent between the receiver and supplier. The Association, however, does not have access to the supplier’s part number that’s specific to the product attribute data for all the products available on the market. The suppliers need to provide this information to their customers. So, if you sell parts online and have an eCommerce platform, your supplier should provide you with the ACES and PIES data. You will need a subscription to translate this information so as to be able to display it on your auto part website.

While the ACES and PIES standards can be used by suppliers and receivers to transmit and maintain both application and product data, this information is not a repository for fitment or product info. In other words, the ACES standards are not a software program, but coded values used to transmit Product and Vehicle information to all trading partners. This data is shared between parties by an XML delivery file, while the Auto Care Association provides the ACES standards to translate the coded values into text, used in your catalog.

However, the ACES and PIES standard does not provide any service, repair, or alignment information, nor can it be used as an online VIN lookup tool.

Don’t Let Your ACES Data Spoil

When it comes to vehicle fitment and the ACES automotive standard, it’s important to know that the information is compared against target databases that represent specific point-in-time data of various vehicle configurations. These datasets are created and managed by people who research vehicles and record the information in the vehicle configuration database (VCdb).

Since this data is not researched by OEM manufacturers, but by aftermarket researchers, it’s also important to realize that it’s still only a best guess. Even though these vehicle tables are based on information found on the internet and other specialized publications, the information may not always be completely accurate. So, regardless of the amount of time and resources you’ve put into your fitment data, it is only a matter of time before it “spoils”. In other words, fitment data has a shelf-life that needs to be constantly updated and validated, otherwise it will become obsolete.

The more time that goes by without being updated, the more out-of-date that information becomes. Every month or so, a certain number of vehicles are removed from the vehicle tables and are replaced with newer vehicle configurations. If you have parts and accessories mapped to these removed vehicles, they can become Invalid. This means that these components will no longer be looked up by interested customers. If you are not mapped to the new vehicle records, you will have “Holes” in your data. Monthly validations are a requirement so as to avoid this from happening.

Clean Data Equals Clean Profits

Regardless of whether you are in the online business of aftermarket car parts, OEM replacement parts, or Powersports products, lean fitment data is essential for your auto parts eCommerce website and business operations to thrive. In order to remain competitive in the market, you need to ensure this data is up-to-date and your customers can find your product listings, otherwise, you risk a lot of missed sales opportunities. People can’t buy what they can’t see.

Enter Evokat Premier

Leveraging all of this data effectively and consistently is complex and time-consuming, to say the least. Evokat Premier will make selling car parts online easier than ever before. This is an ultra-flexible solution that helps you provide better sets of data to your receivers, by allowing you to manage all disparate requests from one place.

Being driven by the latest versions of the aforementioned databases such as the VCdb, the Evokat Premier application will make all of that information readily available to you. Its vehicle mapping interface makes it possible for all users to receive immediate feedback on all vehicle configurations that are in line with your target attributes, based on the Auto Care Association standards. These will include everything from light to heavy-duty cars, as well as agriculture and marine vehicles. And without the need for any additional subscriptions, you will also gain access to the resources provided by the PCdb and PAdb databases. In other words, you will be provided with a “one-stop” data solution in support of your auto parts catalog.

The mapping process is also completely configurable. As such, you will be able to decide whether a simple Year/Make/Model definition will be enough or if you will need to add extra information, in the form of body styles, fuel types, engines, etc. Evokat Premier also creates associations between different parts and even across different catalogs. Therefore, you will be able to easily incorporate any external resources into your mapping strategy so as to get the most out of your partnerships, particularly if you get your fitment data from suppliers or manufacturers.

Managing an Auto Parts Catalog Made Easier

In some cases, however, changing individual records may not be the best way to approach the situation. In these types of scenarios, catalog managers can use the platform’s bulk load/change tools to make bigger changes to their catalogs all at once. This bulk load interface makes it possible to add or update product data and vehicle definitions such as prices, descriptions, or interchanges, with the help of a complete, step-by-step guided process. It will also provide you with previews and quality checks every step of the way.

Since all your fitment records can be considered critical business assets, it’s important to have regular health checks to ensure the viability of your catalog. However, as a variety of vehicles are added every month and existing models are being updated, keeping up with these changes can seem like a never-ending game of “Whack-A-Mole.” Evokat Premier will allow you to initiate complete health checks on both your product data and application, quickly identifying and resolving issues that may exist.

Dashboards and easy to understand charts showing you the entire health and depth of your product and fitment data are being regenerated on a regular basis. These provide you with very clear information and metrics that highlight any trouble areas, as well as clear resolution paths to ease the impact of these issues, wherever possible.

Evokat Premier also offers you an extensive and continuously expanding report format library. You will be able to customize these reports to include all the content you want. You can also schedule automatic generations, as well as manage data distribution over FTP channels or email. If a channel partner will place a new requirement on any of your other partners, everyone in the chain will receive a report format.

As an online access, cloud-based solution, Evokat Premier will allow you to face the challenges of selling auto parts by helping you manage your data from anywhere and at any time where there is an internet connection. However, many small and mid-sized online auto parts business owners will not need a full-time Catalog Manager to maintain all their data and keep a constant eye on their catalog. Yet, they also don’t have the time and human resources to do it themselves, either. If you find yourself in this situation, Illumaware will also provide you with catalog management services for your auto parts store and do this work on your behalf, whenever you need it. Whether you already sell car parts online or have business plans to start an auto parts and accessories online store, feel free to contact us today to learn more about starting and managing your own auto parts catalog.