Pep Boys heads online

Pep Boys, the Philadelphia-based car-parts retail chain, will make its whole stock of auto parts available online, direct to your home or neighborhood store, through its new E-serve program, from its Indianapolis warehouse, after Jan. 1, chief executive Michael Odell told a packed house at the Association for Corporate Growth's Philadelphia chapter meeting at Three Logan Circle yesterday. 

"We have to have it," Odell told me. Tires and some other high-demand parts are widely delivered from online warehouses - Pep Boys began selling tires and scheduling tire service through its TreadSmart program, on a test basis, in July - next step will be to apply that across the board, he said. "Or else, look what happened to Borders."

It's a factor in Pep Boys' calculations that online customers typically don't pay state taxes, which makes high-end items, in particular, cheaper when they're bought online.

But Odell doesn't expect big, rapid changes in delivery patterns: He expects online sales will absorb just a couple of percent of inventory, at least at first. "Most people still want to come into a store." 

And, noted general counsel Brian Zuckerman, more cash-strapped states are expected to follow California's model in passing laws that make it tougher for online buyers to avoid sales taxes.