Failing to adopt technology that makes the end user buying experience better is hurting the heavy-duty parts industry.
In part 1 of this series, we tackled why demographic inversion is hurting everyone and what to do about it. Now we are going to shift our attention to another major problem; getting the trucking industry to adopt a digital sales channel that will increase parts visibility, reduce costs, and make the entire industry more efficient.
Problem # 2: Adoption of Digital Sales Channels Remains Low
For decades, manufacturers have used the traditional distribution channel to get the heavy-duty parts they manufacture into the hands of the end users. Manufacturers sell to dealership groups and aftermarket distributors, they, in turn, resell the parts to repair shops, fleets, and end users.
But as we articulated in part 1 of this series, the demographics of society are working against us and the people with the most experience are retiring on mass. This has left us with widespread shortages in all the frontline positions. The result has been unprecedented wait times for the end users who need these parts to keep their equipment on the road.
One solution to this problem is to move from the traditional distribution model which is very labor intensive and requires large numbers of very experienced people to be effective to a digital sales channel where the parts can be identified and ordered through eCommerce portals and delivered faster and cheaper than ever before.
The challenges associated with creating this digital sales channel have been enormous and can be divided into three main categories: data, customer buying experience, and adoption.
DATA is Incredibly Difficult to Get and Maintain
Heavy-duty trucks and trailers are work vehicles. They are built to specifications that are dictated by the vehicle owners to meet the vocational needs of the operators. Additionally, the specifications of these vehicles often change when the first owner sells the vehicle to the second owner, and the specifications continue to change every time the vehicle gets a new owner.
The result is that even dealerships with access to the VIN and the OEM parts identification software do not always have the correct part numbers and need to rely on experienced parts people to identify what will be required to repair the vehicle.
If the manufacturers and their dealerships can’t accurately predict what parts will be required to repair a commercial truck or trailer, the aftermarket manufacturers and distributors have little to no hope of creating accurate parts identification tools.
This has led to a very slow adoption of the digital sales channel by end users because the stakes are so high when ordering replacement parts. They just can’t afford the downtime of having the wrong parts sent to them and they rely on their local parts experts to verify that what is being ordered is correct.
Customer Buying Experience
Another issue we regularly see is seldom discussed. But time and again we have seen companies invest hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars in technology that makes things better for them internally with little to no thought on improving the customers’ buying experience.
There is lots of talk about improving the customers’ buying experience but little to no action which has resulted in no meaningful changes in decades to how parts get into the hands of the end users that need them.
Want an example that illustrates this perfectly?
A very large aftermarket parts distributor is working with a technology company to improve parts visibility in 2024. Our CEO, Jamie Irvine, is a co-founder of VisiParts, a company that is creating a solution that will dramatically improve parts visibility for repair shops, fleets, and owner-operators. So, this naturally got his attention.
After an investigation was completed, we discovered that this distributor is going to spend multiple-six-figures on new technology that will provide itself with improved parts visibility but has no way to share that enhanced visibility with its end user customers.
“I was not surprised at all when I discovered this. This is a sad reality in the heavy-duty parts industry that has been a source of frustration to me for years.” – Jamie Irvine
Repeatedly we see this trend play out with manufacturers and their dealership groups and aftermarket distributors. Decisions and investments are made through the lens of what works for the suppliers but doesn’t translate into measurable benefits for the end users. All you have to do is read the comments on social media from frustrated owner-operators, technicians, and fleet maintenance managers to find evidence of this.
Adoption Has Been Much More Difficult to Attain Than Anyone Predicted
Sadly, many heavy-duty parts companies who have invested heavily in eCommerce platforms and the creation of a digital sales channel have struggled to get their customers to use it regularly. This is when they typically retain our services to try and solve this issue.
But why is this happening?
Often after doing an investigation, we discover that the heavy-duty parts company had a “build it and they will come” attitude and quickly find out that you need a comprehensive strategy to get buyers to use your eCommerce platform after you have launched it. Additionally, we often discover that decisions were made with the supplier’s convenience or use case prioritized over what the customers want and need.
But there are other reasons that adoption is slow. Most manufacturers and distributors have not been able to get access to the needed data that will make their eCommerce platforms reliable enough to give the end users confidence that what they’re ordering online is what they need. They’re missing the needed PIES and ACES data. This is a big problem cited by many end users when asked why they don’t buy online.
What we think the end user customers are saying is that in most cases it is still faster and more reliable to call your local parts store, order the part, and have it delivered to your shop or drive down to the parts store and pick the part up at the parts counter. But think about how many inconveniences that creates for the end user customer. It’s a bad buying experience but it is the best bad option available so people just put up with it.
We have predicted since 2019 that the first heavy-duty parts company that can provide its customers with a reliable parts identification tool and guaranteed delivery within 2 – 4 hours will completely disrupt the industry. In the meantime, we will continue to see heavy-duty parts manufacturers and distributors operate in between the world of the past, relying on the traditional distribution channel, and the world of the future where predictive maintenance and AI tools identify the parts needed to repair the vehicle and automatically order the parts which will be delivered within 2 – 4 hours.
Why Digital Tools are Essential for Heavy-Duty Parts Manufacturers and Distributors in 2024 and Beyond
As we have discussed, the trucking industry is changing quickly, and to keep up with this rapid change, digital tools need to be a key part of your strategy. Without them, it will be hard to keep up with the competition and provide the service and support experience that customers are looking for.
In review here are three reasons why digital tools should be a part of your strategy in 2024 and beyond.
- Evolving Consumer Demands
The workforce within the industry is witnessing a shift, with Millennials and Gen Z accounting for a significant portion. These digitally fluent generations are reshaping consumer expectations, emphasizing seamless digital experiences throughout their purchase journey. Failing to cater to these preferences, whether through online platforms, streamlined eCommerce solutions, or digital catalogs for parts, risks missing out on a substantial portion of your customer base. Integrating such digital tools is pivotal for engaging this digitally driven audience.
- Financial Risks
Being slow to integrate technology within the heavy-duty parts industry can also lead to financial setbacks. While investing in digital tools initially looks like a financial commitment, the long-term benefits significantly outweigh the costs. Streamlining processes, minimizing errors, and boosting sales are some of the financial advantages that come with the adoption of digital tools. Resisting this transformation could result in inefficiencies, inflated operational costs, and ultimately, financial risks.
- Customer Retention
Embracing digital tools offers a competitive edge as they become increasingly commonplace in heavy-duty parts support. Staying relevant means staying ahead in a field where 60% of B2B customers find buying products online more convenient than traditional methods. Failure to adapt risks losing market share to competitors offering a more interactive, digitally enhanced experience. Also, customers may associate a lack of digital tools with outdated services, potentially hurting trust and loyalty.
What You Need to Do: Balance Digital Innovation with Personalization
While digital tools are crucial, they shouldn’t entirely replace the personal touch that some heavy-duty trucking customers value. While a growing number prefer digital interactions, others cherish human connections through calls or emails. An effective sales and service strategy should accommodate both preferences, providing options for digital or traditional engagement, and meeting customers at various points along their digital journey.
As 2024 progresses, the heavy-duty trucking industry must acknowledge the critical role of digital tools. Without them you not only risk missing out on a new generation of customers, but you’re also exposed to financial vulnerabilities. To achieve market presence and sustain customer trust you need a well-balanced blend of digital innovation and personalized service, creating a seamless and gratifying experience for all involved. Embracing digital tools is not a choice but a necessity for thriving in this ever-evolving heavy-duty landscape.
You Shouldn’t Have To Struggle To Create And Implement An eCommerce Strategy That Works
Do you find yourself feeling…
- Overwhelmed because there are so many options when launching an eCommerce platform?
- Worried about choosing the wrong strategy and wasting time and money?
- Unsure of the best way to achieve your strategic goals?
There Is A Better Way. Whether you are just getting started or you have invested in a platform and are looking for ways to get more customers buying, we know how to make a digital sales channel sell heavy-duty parts.
It’s Easy To Get Started.
- Get a B2B eCommerce Audit.
We will provide you with a complete assessment of your current eCommerce situation.
- Get Access to Our Program.
Gain complete access to our system and our consultants for support as you learn how to implement our eCommerce strategy.
- Challenge. Empower. Grow.
Build and execute an eCommerce strategy that will transform your company.
Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Take the first step towards mastering the digital sales channel and getting the most out of your eCommerce platform.