Caterpillar Inc., an icon of U.S. manufacturing for nearly 100 years, has been selling online since 1999 and last year hit a milestone. Caterpillar’s ecommerce parts sales now exceed $2 billion annually. That’s about $10 million per business day in online parts sales from its dealer network.
But the short version of where Caterpillar, with 2022 sales and revenue of $59.4 billion, is digitally headed these days is connectivity across all aspects of its business — including ecommerce.
“Everything we are doing with digital is about creating integrated and seamless experiences for our customers that help them be more efficient ,” says Brent Steffen, Caterpillar’s director of ecommerce.
At the company’s May 2022 Investor Day, Caterpillar said its goal was to grow dealer parts sales to users through ecommerce by another 50% from where it was then within the next three years.
“We’ve also invested significantly in our ecommerce capability, and we’re seeing good progress there,” CEO Jim Umpleby told analysts on a 2022 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.”
Overall ecommerce is growing because Caterpillar is investing heavily in digital technology and the user experience of its websites, including Parts.cat.com. Specifically, to boost ecommerce sales and enable customers to faster and easier transactions online, Caterpillar has been taking these steps:
- Building omnichannel experiences through deeper ecommerce integration with its 156 dealers and their 2,700 branch locations;
- Upgrading its ecommerce platforms with the latest cloud technology;
- Launching personalized ecommerce capabilities for customers of any size or industry;
- Developing a new mobile app, making it easier for retail customers to buy online;.
- Expanding services and offering 24/7 customer support for repairs and ordering parts.
“Customers want more options across all our digital channels,” Steffen says.
With the introduction of a new mobile app that the company is calling Cat Central, Caterpillar is helping its customers to find, research and buy parts directly from the job site or any location.
The new app gives customers easier ordering of genuine Cat parts, a QR code to instantly access verified-to-fit parts, save their equipment for faster shopping, and real-time access to parts support specialists.
Caterpillar’s Cat Central also gives customers multiple payment and delivery options, including:
- Free and flexible in-store pick up;
- Support resources, including manuals and fault code descriptions;
- Features for equipment management, financing, and customer loyalty rewards.
“Cat Central offers do-it-myself customers one central place for easy access to ordering parts and general support resources, while providing a faster shopping and purchasing experience,” Caterpillar says. “This app enables customers to order on the go anywhere — freeing up the time to focus on the job at hand.”
As a major manufacturer, Caterpillar is, of course, big, international, and diversified. The company has about 20 brands, employs about 109,000 workers at more than 150 primary locations, does business on every continent, and has more than 4 million Cat products at work around the world.
But a big driver for Caterpillar’s digital strategy – Cat Digital – is an inventory of more than 1.4 million connected assets.
“Virtually all assets are now connected when delivered to customers, so this number grows every day. More connected assets mean more data,” the company says. “And more data allows us to become even more customer-centric, helping customers improve safety and productivity, minimize downtime, and maximize asset utilization.”
Cat Digital has multiple moving parts, including making it easier to do business online, building data infrastructure in the cloud, and using data to help predict issues before they occur, the company says.
For example, Caterpillar’s latest equipment management application, VisionLink, allows customers to access all their asset information for both Caterpillar and other owned, leased or rented equipment in one centralized place. Dashboards allow customers to track by projects, groups, and geofences, and “Needs Review” is a new feature that brings focus to instances that need action, creates workflows to schedule tasks, and provides links to buy parts or request services. A task management feature creates and assigns tasks to ensure maintenance or service completion, and an app keeps customers updated with key metrics, asset locations, fuel levels, idle time, among other metrics.
“Three years ago, Caterpillar’s equipment management portfolio was split across three different digital products, Chief Digital Officer Ogi Redzic said in a recent LinkedIn post. “Although they were good products, we knew we had an opportunity to create an even better customer experience by streamlining these solutions into a single offering, delivering a premium and consistent customer experience. Our vision was to create an integrated, OEM-agnostic tool that makes it easy to do business with Caterpillar – whether that’s buying parts, arranging services, or resolving maintenance issues.”
Going forward, Caterpillar is implementing three levels of digital integration, Redzic says.
“It begins with the physical layer – working to fit all our machines with the best connectivity possible going forward, whether 4G cellular, satellite, WiFi, or Bluetooth. Then we have the platform layer, where we ingest data, process it, and make it available for consumption,” he wrote in a recent company post. “And finally, we have an application layer where we build applications for a particular segment or need. Throughout the process, we apply machine learning to improve our products and services. We’re engaging with some of the best companies in the world to advance our machine-learning capabilities, and I think we’re making incredible progress. We can process large amounts of data in real time and validate and improve our machine learning models quickly.”
Caterpillar’s next task in ecommerce, Steffen says, is developing additional features that ease researching and purchasing online to ensure customers find the right parts and services for the job. By expanding the digital integration with the dealer network through new APIs, or application programming interfaces, Caterpillar is focused on creating more visibility and options for last mile delivery, he says.
“We know where the customers’ pain points are,” Steffen says. “Our job is to eliminate them and make it even easier for our customers to use ecommerce when doing business with Cat and our dealers.”