Saturday, March 19, 2005

Open Letter to

You can order auto parts online for about 40% below the retail price. But are the savings worth the hassle? I don't know yet but maybe not.

Here's the deal. My daughter's car needed a brake job and I decided to have it done while she was away on spring break. The cost of the repair is pushing the value oif the car but she is attached to it so I was looking for ways to get if back on the road on the cheap. seems to have consistantly the best prices on the needed parts and their site is well organized and easy to use. But...


I am writing to report a problem with an order. My specific requests are in the paragraphs labeled Option A and B below. I also have a few questions about your standards for customer service that I thought I would share with the readers of my online journal --

On the morning of Monday, March 14th, 2005 I placed an order for some parts to repair the brakes on my daughter's 1985 BMW 318i. The order number is #132512 and the parts ordered are listed below.

1 N1030-19797 PEX ; Brake Pad Sensor
1 N2020-19726 GIR ; Wheel Cylinder
1 N3000-19760 FAG ; Brake Master Cylinder
1 N1040-34162 GIR ; Brake Caliper New
1 N1040-34163 GIR ; Brake Caliper New
2 N1000-19695 ATE ; Brake Disc

I did not receive a confirmation email with a tracking number but I could see the order in the "My Garage" area of your site. I had availed myself of your offer of free UPS ground shipping and, since you advertise same day shipping, I expected the parts would arrive late in the week. When they had not arrived by Friday noon my worry about the lack of a confirmation email became a real concern and I posted an inquiry on your customer service page asking whether my order had, in fact, been shipped. Receiving no response I posted a second inquiry a few hours later. Slightly after 6 pm on Friday I received an email saying that the warehouse was waiting for my order to "come into stock" and that it would be shipped within ten days. It does not tell me which of the parts I ordered are out of stock.

At the time I placed the order, and as I write this note, and at each of the several times I checked in between, you website has listed all parts in my order as "In Stock". What is your standard for having your ordering application accurately reflect your inventory?

Your website promises "same day shipping." Do your customer service standards allow for waiting five days to notify a customer that his order was unexpectedly out of stock and has not been shipped, and then only after he asks about it twice? Do you notify customers of out-of-stock merchandise at all, or should customers who need timely service assume that the parts are out of stock if they do not receive a confirmation email within 24 hours and cancel their order?

I can understand why an organization that expects to do high-volume Internet sales might not want to list telephone numbers but a telephone number would make a welcome addition to your note that an order is delayed.

Spring break is over, my daughter is back and being down a car is becoming inconvenient. It makes no sense for me to wait ten days for parts I can get locally today if am willing to pay retail. As I see it we can do one of two things:

Option A: You can 1) ship me the parts that are in stock, 2) drop the out-of-stock parts from the order, 3) tell me what you shipped so I can get the rest locally, and 4) comp me expedited shipping because you have wasted my time. This is my preferred solution because I wouldn't have to admit to my wife, my daughter, my mechanic, and the readers of my web log that I am an idiot for thinking I could save money by ordering auto-parts online.

Option B: Alternately, you can cancel my order and tell me you have canceled my order. I will then buy the parts at retail prices and conclude that online auto parts dealers are only suitable for weekend project cars. I will worry, briefly, that this is unfair to your competitors, but I will get over it.

I will leave the choice of option to you. I authorize you to do either. If you see a third option, my phone number is (000)555-1234. Your web site promises excellent customer service and guarantees my satisfaction. I am waiting to be impressed.

Lee Haslup
biglee (at)
Cary, NC

So, am I an idiot? Probably. I'll let you know.

Update: 19 March 2005

D'oh!! Things aren't looking so good on the "Am I an idiot?" front. I received this from ExpressAutoParts:

Dear Customer;

We currently have the Brake Pad Sensor in stock. The rest of the parts
are expected to be back in stock in the next 6-14 days. We will ship
these parts to you as soon as they are back in stock and we will send
you an email with the tracking number. Please accept our apologies
for the delay and we thank you for your patience.


So, of the seven items I ordered, all of which they advertise as "in stock," the only one that they actually have is the five dollar brake pad sensor.

On the positive side, they responded promptly to my email (on Sunday, no less) and, since they listed the parts that were in stock (actually the one part that was in stock), clearly somebody had read my email and made some effort to do what I had asked. My previous response also came during non-business hours as well.

My current theory is that somewhere, deep in the dungeons of the ExpressAutoParts "warehouse" is a parts guy, chained to his station with a huge bin of brake pad sensors and a computer. He spends all day shipping brake pad sensors and in the evenings he drags himself to his computer and sends out a few pathetic emails to irate customers who have ordered any of the thousands of other parts listed on the web site.

I feel for him and to lighten his workload I sent him this helpful message:

Please cancel my order. I will obtain parts from another supplier.
Order number is 132512.


Lee Haslup
Cary, NC

I have told my mechanic to go ahead and order the parts from a "real" auto parts provider. This involves kissing another hundred and eighty bucks goodbye (a tearfull parting, I assure you.)

So, am I an idiot? Yes. Can one order auto parts on the internet? The answer to that is still "maybe." I have done a bit of Googling since my parts did not arrive and it turns out that I am not the only person to have had a problem with The reason I am an idiot is that I didn't do my Googling first.

Several of the people who complain about ExpressAutoParts go on to suggest as a better source of online parts. One can get a pretty good feel for an online store by typing their URL and the words "customer-service" into a search engine. Typing "autopartsworld customer-service" into Google returns 428 pages. This is a decent number -- a few pages for the store itself to talk about their customer service, a few more for their business partners, a few pages where the store and the words customer-service are unrelated, and maybe one or two complaints (because nobody's perfect.) I glanced through the list for AutoPartsWorld and I didn't notice many complaints. Compare this to the results for "expressautoparts customer-service" -- 55,000 pages. A fair percentage of these pages contain complaints. A running theme is people who order parts (often brake parts) that never arrive. Several people report that they were put off so long waiting for back ordered parts that their 60 day window for contesting credit card charges expired. Complaints seem to have spiked starting late last year. ExpressAutoParts appears to have dug themselves quite a hole. And I jumped into it.


So, the results aren't really in about ordering auto parts online. I am still hopeful about it and I apologize to the competitors of ExpressAutoParts for casting doubt on the industry based on one data point. Sadly, I gotta get my daughters car back on the road and don't have time to personally collect any more data.

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