Former AutoZone employee sheds a little light.
I worked for AutoZone on three different occasions. I left the last time on good terms with my store manager, and all of my co-workers. You will wonder why I willingly worked for this company over and over if I hated it so much. I can only say that I needed work, and that was what was available for me. I eventually left (hopefully for good) for a plant job that lead to another plant job that pays more than double what my last salary at AutoZone was. I am actually less disgruntled now than I was when I worked there.
I was inspired to do this after reading the second report showing that AutoZone was one of the worst companies in the US to work for. I don't know if that is fair. I worked for O'Reilly Auto Parts for a few months, and it was a lot worse in many ways.
From an employee standpoint. Anyone can work at AutoZone. Most people that work there start out with zero automotive knowledge. None of them are mechanics. Mechanics charge $80/hr. AutoZoners make around $8-15/hr. Asking the 20 year old kid at AutoZone how to change a timing belt is like asking a cashier at a pharmacy how to do an appendectomy. A lot of us learned how to fake it until we could break out a manual and give exact instructions, but some of us would give terrible information that could cause more problems than you started out with. Emphasis is placed on selling high margin products. Oil is very low margin. The company doesn't actually make money from selling the oil, to customers, they make money from the companies for stocking it. So, when you buy oil, it looks good on the ticket, but you're not doing anyone any favors. So, it is up the the store to sell add-ons. Oil filters make sense. It's good to change your filter when you change your oil. Oil drain plug/gasket is something it is good to be reminded of from time to time, but it's not really essential every time. Air filters need to be changed from time to time, but they are a HIGH-MARGIN product, so that is what stores will push every time. Those stores have to keep up with it, and they are compared to other stores with how well they sell air filters. So you'll have oil <10% markup, oil filter 100% markup, oil drain plug 100% markup, air filter 300-800% markup. Basically, everything with a low markup will have accompanying parts that you "need to do the job right" that may or may not benefit you that make up for the low margin. Additionally, parts that have a high initial margin, but have a high warranty return rate will fall into this category, and this includes batteries, brakes, water pumps, etc. The company also benefits from being able to move large volume for vendors. This determines what products will be placed on the month's Checkout Challenge. This is usually either a cheap Chinese made flashlight, degreaser, shop towels, hand cleaner or fuel additive. Employees are required to ask you to buy this. If the wrong person sees them fail to do it, it is a big deal. It doesn't matter how much of a hurry you are in, you will be asked to purchase add-on items, and a Checkout Challenge. Employees complain about not wanting to do this all the time, but it doesn't matter. So, you've had someone who makes little more than minimum wage, that has to pay for their own uniform help you figure out what part you should buy, tried to sell you some type of add on to bring up the profit margin, tried to sell you something for the company to get a kickback from a vendor for moving high volumes, and brought you down to the register and tried to sign you up for a customer loyalty card. That doesn't sound like much, so why were you in the store for so long? EVERY STORE THAT DOES ANY BUSINESS IS SHORT-HANDED. There will be consistently 2 people on the counter, and if the store has commercial, there will be 2 in the back. Phones will be ringing off the hook. Customers will be wanting wipers, batteries, and light bulbs installed as well as alternators and check engine lights checked. Returns require 2 employees to be involved, which is impossible if someone is outside with another customer or on the phone with a customer. This is an example of a company dumping on its employees and giving a middle finger to its customers. The people who provide and handle the money that makes that company go are being treated horribly because they know that you won't go anywhere else. If you do, the experience will be just as bad elsewhere, so you'll come back. If you are a customer or an employee, you deserve better than this.
On parts, AutoZone handles Dayco rubber, Johnson-Control Batteries (Duralast is a store-branding, and doesn't manufacture anything), Fel Pro gaskets, Gabriel shocks/struts, Timken bearings and seals, and select factory parts that are top of the line or close to it. (You may argue that Gates is far superior to Dayco, or Federal Mogul's National and BCA bearings are better than Timken, but they are all close and a matter of preference.) They do not sell Borg-Warner electrical, Akebono brakes, Raybestos brakes, Clevite internal engine, Federal Mogul internal engine, Moog steering&suspension, WIX filters, or Delphi pumps&compressors, and if you buy one of these products in a different brand, you are getting an inferior product. Most other stuff, they are comparable to their competition. Rotating electrical parts are about the same, mid-grade brakes are a little better than the other guys' mid-grade brakes. Hydraulic parts are basically worthless which is only slightly worse than everyone else's hydraulic parts.
My advice is to know exactly what you need and be prepared to wait. Otherwise, go and pay a little bit more at NAPA or CarQuest. You can save money and still get good quality parts by knowing who carries what brands. O'Reilly's has good electrical parts, above average brakes, but terrible batteries, for example. All of them do price-matching, so make sure you take advantage of that. They'll only have to call and verify. (Great way to get Moog suspension parts at APC prices is to have Advance match AutoZone's price.) Please, just don't blame what goes wrong on the poor guy behind the counter. They are trying to earn an honest living working for pork and beans money, and they are get crapped on from customers and district managers. It's a miserable existence slinging car parts, but good customers make the days so much better.
Review about: Autozone Part Replacement.