March 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Whitney Automotive races to diversify its e-commerce business

Car owners are keeping their vehicles longer and scouring the Internet for the best deals on parts and accessories. That trend adds up to a major expansion opportunity for Whitney Automotive Group, CEO Thomas West tells Internet Retailer.

Now that car owners are keeping their vehicles longer and scouring the Internet for the best deals on parts and accessories, Whitney Automotive Group sees a big opportunity to diversify its e-commerce business, CEO Thomas West tells Internet Retailer.

Over the years Whitney, which operates and, No. 111 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has built up a substantial e-commerce technology and customer base. But growth will come from diversifying its Internet business and attracting more niche shoppers. “There is a major opportunity to appeal to niche buyers as more do-it-yourselfers and others use the web to find the best deal on an automotive part or service provider,” West says. “We intend to be ahead of that curve.”

In the past year, Whitney has launched two niche e-commerce sites:, a motorcycle accessories and parts web store; and, aimed at do-it-yourselfers who want fast access to the best deals on automotive parts. “ caters to no-nonsense parts shoppers who know their vehicle and want to go online and order the parts fast and easy at a great price,” West says. “These shoppers don’t want customer reviews, but they do want quick access and very advanced site search.”

Web sales at Whitney grew about 7% in 2008, although West won’t disclose specific numbers. In the future, sales will be driven by how successful Whitney is at diversifying, finding more lucrative niches and building more marketing relationships with other retailers. In November, Whitney formed a relationship with Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 8) to serve as the exclusive fulfillment, merchandising and e-commerce hosting provider for Sears Automotive.

Sears selected Whitney Automotive for its capacity to immediately provide customers on with the ability to browse more than 5 million vehicle applications for parts and accessories designed to fit their specific vehicle, West says. Customers can also search by product type, and browse more than 2,000 brands of automotive parts and accessories. “It’s a great relationship because we provide Sears Automotive with access to millions of new items and they expose us to potentially millions of new customers,” West says. “Without this new type of diversification and relationships, we couldn’t have reached this customer pool just on our own.”

Over the next several years online sales could account for up to 13% of all automotive parts sales, up from about 3% today, West says. As more vehicle parts buyers shift their purchases from stores to the web, diversification will help Whitney appeal to a growing base of shoppers. “A typical aftermarket auto parts chain store carries between 6,000 and 8,000 SKUs or only the most popular items,” he says. “We offer access to 6 million different parts combinations. Buyers are changing their behavior and shopping more online. We intend to capitalize on that major new trend.”


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