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How Caterpillar sells $10 million in dealer online parts daily

Many big manufacturers are still highly reluctant to discuss in detail how their online strategy – and sales – are performing given the competitive nature of business-to-business digital commerce.

Caterpillar Inc., one of the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturers, is a prime example. But recently, Caterpillar, a nearly 100-year-old company with 2021 sales of $51 billion, gave a glimpse of how well its ecommerce channel is doing.

And the answer is well, very well in fact. Over the next three years. Caterpillar expects its ecommerce sales, primarily for parts sold through its dealer websites and through its parts website, to grow by at least 50%.

Caterpillar’s e-commerce parts sales also now exceed $2 billion annually, the company says. “We’ve also invested significantly in our ecommerce capability and we’re seeing good progress there,” CEO Jim Umpleby told analysts on the company’s recent second quarter earnings call. “A whole range of digital investments that we’re making are really starting to produce results, and we’re very bullish on that. Utilization is up, but also, we’re seeing positive results from all the hard work of our teams over the last few years.”

Caterpillar did not break out specific ecommerce metrics for the second quarter ended June 30. But total sales did increase 11% to $14.1 billion from $12.9 billion in the second quarter of 2021.

Overall ecommerce is growing because Caterpillar is investing heavily in digital technology and the user experience of its websites including Parts.cat.com, says Bob De Lange, Caterpillar group president, services, distribution, and digital. “We already made significant investments in the past few years in multiple ecommerce systems, both targeted for very large customers and then other applications for small retail customers,” De Lange told attendees at the company’s annual investor day in May. “As a result, our dealers today already do $10 million in dealer parts sales to users through e-commerce per business day, so well over $2 billion a year. However, that’s just the beginning. We have very significant growth ambitions.”

To boost ecommerce sales and enable customers to make faster and easier transactions online, Caterpillar has been taking these steps:

  • Better integrated e-commerce with its 160 dealers and 2,700 branch locations.
  • Developing a more advanced mobile app
  • Making it easier for small customers to buy online. “When talking to small retail customers, they will tell you that one of the reasons they’re not buying more online is because they want to have confidence that they’re buying exactly the right part, which is where the QR codes you can see on the left on the charts come in” De Lange said. “We’re starting to place these on our machines and engines, making it easy for a customer to scan and then be directed straight to a landing page with information for their specific asset, their specific serial number, giving them the confidence that they’ re buying exactly the right part.”
  • Developing better digital support tools for repairs and ordering parts. “We’re upgrading our Service Information System, now we call it SIS 2.0, with new remote troubleshooting capabilities, again, using connectivity, with easier-to-use service and repair instructions, and with the ability to order parts right at your fingertips of a dealer service technician working remotely in the field, to optimize their efficiency,” De Lange said. “Or, for parts availability, we have a system called PIC, which uses AI and data from our connectivity to predict which parts will be consumed, where and when in the world, so that we can make inventory recommendations for parts to our dealers, at an individual branch level, and thereby maximize parts availability for our customers. “As we build our service packages, Cat Financial can help customers manage their cash flow with offers like financing for a rebuild, or payment options, like the Cat card.”

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