Supply chain issues have fleets scrambling to find needed parts. They have been forced to look outside their preferred vendor network, and many are turning to e-commerce.
Original equipment manufacturers, parts manufacturers, marketing groups, distributors, and dealers have set up online portals to make it easier for fleets to order the parts they need. There are also independent e-commerce sites offering heavy-duty truck and trailer parts.
We turned to some of these businesses to learn the do’s and don’ts of buying parts online.
Do: Buy from a reputable supplier.
Know where you are getting your parts from, says Marylou Hornung, director of sales operations at Bendix Commercial
Vehicle Systems. “If you have a regular reputable parts supplier, ask them if they have an online presence where you can set up an e-commerce account.”
David Seewack, founder and CEO of FindItParts, suggests fleets focus on an e-commerce company with a history of delivering excellence. “It is important to look at the reviews of the company you are [thinking of] doing business with to ensure users are happy,” he says.
A good site will deliver great customer service, fair prices, authentic parts, easy returns, and a hassle-free buying experience, he says.
Jeff Paul, vice president of marketing for Vipar Heavy Duty, believes it is important for fleets to do business with companies they know and trust “and that go beyond just the online transaction to provide a high level of service and support.”
Do: Understand the terminology.
Words matter. David Schultz, director of aftermarket business development at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, says fleets should be wary of sites that “use parts descriptions like ‘OEM equivalent,’ ‘like new,’ ‘will fit’ and ‘replacement for’ in conjunction with well-known and trusted brand names.”
Gordon Lindsay, Mack Trucks district parts manager for the Western region, explains that many OEMs offer good, better and best options. “Be sure to look at alternative parts to order what is best for you.”
Do: Understand lead times.
If your goal is to get a part quickly, make sure to check lead times before ordering.
“On some websites, ‘in stock’ may mean that a part is available for pickup or delivery immediately,” says Ken Clinchy, vice president of digital for FleetPride. “On other sites, it may mean days or weeks before the part is actually available.”
Do: Insist on consistency.
Your online purchasing should not differ from your purchasing experience with a brick-and-mortar operation experience.
“Fleets require consistency, regardless of where they are ordering their parts,” says Darren Taylor, FleetPride’s senior vice president of marketing and digital. “Look for a partner where you receive the same pricing, see the same inventory, and have the same product experts at your disposal whether you are buying in store on online.”
He adds, “Getting parts online is more than just the ability to buy a product — it’s about making your job easier and more efficient,” such as the ability to check order status, the ability to download invoices, quick order return options, and customer support.
Do: Train your staff.
Don’t assume that ordering properly on an e-commerce site will be as easy as ordering from your local dealer or distributor.
“Train anyone who will be using the e-commerce solution so they can take advantage of the tool completely,” says Todd Shakespeare, director of marketing at Volvo Trucks North America.
Do: Check your order.
Once your part is delivered, make sure to “check the packaging and the items closely to make sure they match your expectations,” Bendix’s Hornung says. “If you ordered an OE supplier part and it didn’t come in OE supplier packaging, you might not have received a genuine aftermarket replacement part.”
Dave Olson, executive vice president at FindItParts, adds, “You want to ensure the brands supplied are the brands advertised. A reputable e-commerce site ought to mirror the experience of ‘walking the shelves’ of your favorite brick-and-mortar provider.”
Do: Make sure you can reach customer support.
FindItParts’ Seewack believes it is important that an e-commerce provider have a knowledgeable staff of customer service reps that can easily be reached on the phone during business hours.
“As much as we want to make it easy to purchase online, there are times when a fleet purchasing agent just needs to talk to a human,” he says. “Getting an endless phone tree or options on an automated system is frustrating and wastes time.”
Don’t: Buy based on price only.
While fleets are always trying to manage maintenance costs, buying on price alone can get you in trouble.
“While price is a key consideration, it is only one part of the equation,” says Adam Sadler, vice president of sales and marketing at Sadler Power Train, an Iowa-based truck parts and service supplier with four locations and a strong online parts ordering presence. “Other considerations might include the type of product needed, the cost of freight or shipping, and order lead time compared to equipment downtime and service and support.”
Ryan Bugai, sales and marketing specialist at Houston, Texas-area truck repair shop Northwest Drivetrain, says, “If you are going to buy online, I would recommend not only focusing on the looks of the site or the price of the product, but also on the services you get from the site itself (such as cross references and related parts) or the team on the other side of the computer that is dedicated to taking care of your needs quickly.”
Ken Zagroba, director of e-commerce for Navistar, says fleets should avoid using multiple sites to compare parts pricing. “Studies show that any potential savings gained is lost by the time spent searching other sites,” he says.
Don’t: Forget about local parts sources.
Mack’s Lindsay encourages fleets to maintain their relationships with their local dealer even if they move some of their parts purchasing online.
“The complexity of today’s trucks guarantee that dealer support will typically be needed when ordering parts online,” he says. “Get training from the supplier and train all employees that will be using the e-commerce solution so that the tool is being used properly.”
Don’t: Forget to ask about return policies.
Not all parts may be returnable, including VIN-specific harnesses, electrical items and other special-order parts, Navistar’s Zagroba says. Make sure to confirm that parts can be returned.
In addition, Bendix’s Schultz suggests you ask whether you will have to pay the freight if a part needs to be returned.
Don’t: Forget to get all the parts you need.
Often times when placing an order with a local distributor, the counterperson will suggest additional parts needed for a repair. Not all e-commerce sites offer suggestions of other parts needed. “Always confirm with your technician that the parts being ordered will complete the repair in its entirety,” Navistar’s Zagroba recommends.
Don’t: Be afraid of using cross references.
Given that replacement parts are in short supply, remember to take advantage of cross references.
“Don’t be stuck on one particular brand,” Navistar’s Zagroba says. “If the e-commerce site provides cross-reference functionality, it makes sense to see if there are alternate brands available. Most manufacturers carry a private-label brand for commonly replaced parts.”
Volvo’s Shakespeare explains that many online stores offer a good/better/best layout that allows side-by-side comparisons, including additional parts needed to complete a repair, so the customer can make an educated decision.
Online parts ordering can save time and money, if done correctly. Follow these do’s and don’ts to selectthe e-commerce site that will help you get the parts you need — when you need them.
This article first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.