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Why Can't We Be Friends? The eCommerce Engagement Gap in HD Parts.

Recently, I shared an email with Big Machine Parts Insiders that referenced a Volvo Venture Capital Group study that claims only 1% of heavy duty parts are sold online. Hard to believe when you consider that an overwhelming majority of parts buyers (89%) indicate they use the Internet daily to compare parts pricing, verify parts specifications and parts cross-reference. 

So, why the engagement gap? 

I’ve heard more than a few water cooler opinions suggest that it’s demographic and will ultimately shift as an older workforce gives way to a younger “tech savvy” crowd. Candidly I’m guilty of believing it myself, but the statistics suggest I’m dead wrong. According to Pew Research, the “50+ age group is the fastest growing demographic online” with nearly 9 out of 10 baby boomers reporting that they have made transactions online. An experience they’re willing to share as well, with Boomers representing the largest demographic group of product reviewers online today. They’re also increasingly “mobile” with 83% of Boomers owning a mobile phone, a full third of which can be identified as a “smart phone.” They’ve got this Internet thing down, they’re connected, they’re shopping and they’re most certainly sharing. 

So again, why the gap in the heavy duty parts segment?

Math could be the answer as the number of dedicated eCommerce retailers in the space is relatively small, which perhaps limits product availability. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, how are you going to buy it? Again, reasonable. Logistics maybe? These are big machines with big parts and the freight associated with moving a 100 pound brake drum from Kansas City to Los Angeles could be more than the fleet manager or owner operator is willing to bear. It’s a fair assumption, especially considering the recent study released by Morgan Stanley that claims 80% of online shoppers would buy more if shipping were offered free (The Holy Grail of eCommerce). No free shipping, no shopping. Simple enough right? Many suppliers in the space require large minimum orders to cover expensive freight charges, which makes forward deployment to stores and warehouses expensive for the retailer, who in turn pass those costs to the buyer in the form of shipping and handling charges.

Warm? Getting warmer?

Maybe, but I happen to think the gap is less analytic but inherently more complicated. I think the heavy duty eCommerce gap can be described with one word: relationships. Ever since I cashed in my chips, founded Big Machine Parts and entered the industry with vigor I’ve been told that this is a “relationship business.” It’s easy for someone building a technology infrastructure designed to disrupt that notion, to dismiss it as antiquated or the “old way of doing business.” It’s easy, perhaps, because in many respects it’s true. Business development is expensive - from well paid sales staff to elaborate customer trips - the heavy duty parts game has long been about making friends in the right places. No doubt, heavy duty parts buyers across the globe are paying “full freight” for the cost of that type of relationship building. The buyer, the last link in the supply chain, always pays the highest price. 

This isn’t about railing on the inefficiencies of the industry and their impact on the cost of goods, it’s about filling the gap between what is and what could be. I’ll repeat, only 1% of heavy duty parts are sold online today. It’s not because of demographics or logistics, it’s because eCommerce retailers either don’t know how or are unwilling to build relationships. Meg Whitman, past CEO of eBay once said that “communication is at the heart of eCommerce and community.” She said that in 2005 following eBay’s acquisition of video communications company Skype. Ms. Whitman was right then and she’s right now. The path to increased online engagement in heavy duty parts begins and ends with relationships. 

A 2013 LivePersons report estimated that 83% of online shoppers needed some form of support during their online shopping experience. Further, 71% of those individuals needed that help within 5-minutes (31% immediately and 40% within five minutes). If they don’t get that help within that five minute window? Half of those individuals will abandon the site and more importantly for retailers, the sale. Now, tell me that communication, which I’ll call the heart of a relationship, isn’t among the most critical aspects of a successful eCommerce transaction. 

So that’s our big gamble at Big Machine Parts. Yes, we're building an efficient infrastructure that allows us to sell the right part, right now at the lowest possible price, but doing so with a fanatic commitment to customer service. It’s a new kind of relationship for an ever connected world. 

After all, heavy duty parts is a relationship business and we’re a relationship company.

Owner Operators, Fleet Owners and Independent Repair Shops please let us know your thoughts regarding online buying for Heavy Duty Truck parts. was built for give you access to quality parts, at everyday low prices, with a fanatic commitment to service. We're hoping to use our buying power to pass along savings to the people who need it most. That said, we need your input. will never be the very best it can be without your help. Please, share your opinion and comments below. 

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