In the end, 2021 was not a breakout year online for W.W. Grainger Inc., the big public distributor of maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) products and related industrial supplies.
But the company did post a steady increase last year in both total sales and digital revenue and continues to make digital commerce a priority.
“Over the last two years, we’ve developed new product information, publishing, customer information and marketing support systems,” CEO D.G. Macpherson said on a Q4 earnings call with investment analysts. “We continue to improve our technology capabilities to help us win in the market. Our Endless Assortment segment continues to grow as we made progress on our strategic initiatives.”
For the year ended Dec. 31, Grainger increased total sales by 10.4% to $13.02 billion from $11.79 billion in 2020. Net earnings were $1.04 billion in 2021 vs. $695 million in 2020.
Grainger said its High-Touch Solutions business, which offers more extensive and personalized services and includes its sales through its flagship ecommerce site Grainger.com and its sales reps, increased sales year over by 10.5% to $10.18 billion in 2021 from $9.22 billion in 2020.
But the fastest growing channel was Endless Assortment. In 2021, sales for Endless Assortment totaled $2.57 billion, up 18.4% from $2.17 billion in 2020. “Zoro U.S. achieved its full year SKU count goal, adding over 2.5 million SKUs this year alone, which brings a total assortment to 8.7 million SKUs,” Macpherson told analysts. “We’ve expanded to new customer segments and new categories driving both new and repeat business. And in 2021, MonotaRO opened the Ibaraki distribution center (DC) in Japan, allowing them to stock high demand items locally with plans for another DC Japan in 2022.”
For the fourth quarter, Grainger grew total sales year over year by 14.3% to $3.36 billion in 2021 from $2.94 billion in Q4 2020. Net earnings in the fourth quarter were $283.0 million from $168.0 million in Q4 2020.
“We have seen, obviously, strong growth with digital—Grainger.com has continued to grow very quickly,” Macpherson said. “I think if you looked at it with midsized customers, you’d see digital as the primary source of growth.”
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