The pandemic shut down many of life’s activities, but it provided the accelerant that stoked an already red-hot trend toward online machinery and parts sales.
For example, Abilene Machine, one of the largest ag replacement parts companies in the country, found that COVID-19 “propelled online purchases of equipment parts to 70% and more of our total sales,” says Kenny Roelofsen of Abilene.
Because of COVID, the in-person machinery auction may be a thing of the past. Just before the end of last year, I was surprised that a 17-year-old John Deere 7720 with slightly more than 4,500 hours sold at auction for $89,000, bringing 50% more than it would have the year before.
However, what was amazing is that I could watch that tractor sell in person.
Except for “life experience” auctions such as retirement or estate sales (I was attending an estate sale when I watched that 7720 sell), all other used equipment is selling online, says Tim Meyer of the Steffes Group.
“There are times when a retiring farmer or his family want to see equipment sell at an event,” Meyer explains. “But the vast majority of used equipment now sells online only. Golly, we now see guys living no more than 10 or so miles away from a live sale bidding online rather than attending the auction.”
Migration to Online
The trend has progressed so far that other auction houses, such as Sullivan Auctioneers, have gone entirely online with their machinery and land auctions.
“There is little doubt that the internet auction has become the principle means of selling used machinery,” Dan Sullivan says. “At first, there were some farmers who expressed concerned about only buying online. But once they bought or sold through an online auction, well, they were hooked. You can sit in the comfort of your office using your computer or in a pickup or tractor cab using a smartphone and buy what you want.”
Increasingly, equipment dealers are reporting sales of used equipment being made online from farmers several states away.
In the current tight market with fewer machines available, “Farmers are looking farther and farther away from home to meet their machinery needs,” Meyer adds.
The bastion of in-person sales remains new machinery, particularly when it comes to the purchase of large and high-horsepower equipment.
“True, a guy may buy a set of loader forks or a rear blade online,” Meyer says. “But when it comes to a four-wheel-drive tractor or combine, those purchases will continue to be made in person for some time in the future.”
Parts Sales Going Mobile
When it comes to parts, Abilene’s Roelofsen expects sales to go almost entirely mobile.
“We have designed our site specifically for smartphone sales first and then to conduct transactions on a tablet second, and finally a computer,” he says. “And to help with orders we offer apps like the Will It Fit widget we developed that confirms that a part will fit the machine they are repairing.”
As for the future, “We are not far away from the time when a farmer finds the part on their phone, pushes an order, and a couple of hours later gets a confirmation that the part has shipped along with a tracking number,” Roelofsen predicts. “At that point I predict that in excess of 90% of our sales will be mobile.”