Does Halfords provide the right fit?

Halfords is one of a number of retailers to have adopted a strong service approach to its retailing operations in recent years, as it looks to do more than simply sell auto parts and bikes. Essential Retail editor, Ben Sillitoe, blogs about his use of the WeFit service.

As retail has evolved over the last decade or so, the companies that once simply opened their shop doors and sold goods to the public have also become places to go for specialist advice, services and general consultancy. You see this, particularly, in stores that sell technology or electricals such as mobile phones or widescreen TVs, as well as other specialist retailers.

Within the automotive parts retailing world, FTSE 250-listed business Halfords has upped its game in car repairs and servicing of late. At the turn of the decade it acquired Nationwide Autocentres, taking it directly into the MOT market and the related world of vehicle repair, and more recently the company rolled out a WeFit service – backed by a prominent marketing campaign – at many of its retail stores across the UK, helping drivers with everyday maintenance issues such as changing oil or water. Group sales for the start of Halfords’ financial year, reported in September, were up – and car servicing revenues were pinpointed as a key driver of revenue.

Customers can book ahead to get vehicle bulbs, wiper blades or batteries fitted by an expert or, like me last weekend, they can swing by their local store and get certain motor-related problems solved on demand. Whatever the opposite of motor head is, that’s me, so the option of just handing what would be an easily solved problem for many people over to someone else – and not having to pay as much as I would at a car dealership – was a positive thing.

On arrival

My motor problem was a clipped and consequently smashed passenger wing mirror, which had occurred while parked down a busy street. The base of the mirror was also in need of some repair. I parked at my local Halfords, walked into the store and asked one gentleman at the auto desk for help. He used a central IT system to match the car to the mirror required, and promptly found the replacement part I needed.

I was directed to the service desk where I was placed in a queue and told to wait for a colleague who would help assess the car and fix the problem. At first, I worried I was going to be there all day – and my smartphone had run out of battery so I couldn’t even check Twitter or the football scores to keep myself occupied – but after about ten minutes the team realised I’d been waiting a while and jumped into action. The problem was diagnosed, resolved and I was sent on my way all in the space of 15 minutes, having paid solely for the part – and not for the service.

Tech and people power combine

Tech touchpoints along the way were pretty much confined to locating nearest store details via the Halfords website, the use of a central IT system in store to find the right part and finally the contactless card payment at the point of sale, which I know has recently been introduced at Halfords to a high degree of success.

But it was this simple tech, mixed with good service that has left a positive feeling and an understanding that any mini car scrapes I encounter in the future can be easily fixed at a familiar retail brand, hopefully without fuss and relatively inexpensively. Perhaps Halfords could have improved their own internal operations and marketing potential by taking my email at the point of sale to be used in digital communications later down the line. Perhaps there could have been some kind of tech-led formal queuing system in place so I was aware of when I would be seen. But the underlying fact is that a really irritating problem of mine was removed without any major dramas, and ultimately that’s what customers want to experience.

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