LONDON, April 4, 2001 à‚– Most electricity and gas suppliers in the UK have yet to take full advantage of e-commerce, although utilities are likely to join other ‘traditional’ industries in the next wave of e-business development, according to a new report.
There is much debate in the industry about the value of e-commerce for utility customers, but experience from other industries (such as financial services) shows that both business and residential customers value the ability to perform certain transactions online.
European Utility Retail, a new monthly publication from FT Energy, visited the Web sites of 17 of the UK’s leading energy suppliers to assess their effectiveness at reaching customers. Most offered a few very basic services to residential customers, allowing them, for example, to submit a meter reading online.
Business customers were almost completely neglected. In their present state, utility web sites function as little more than online phone directories, giving businesses the numbers to call for actual service.
While sixteen of the surveyed sites do offer products to business customers, only four provide even basic tariff information. Some allow small and medium businesses to compare their rates online with those of their competing utilities, but even then the sites don’t always offer comparisons with all competitors. Although some offer online quotations for business customers, almost half offer nothing at all, perhaps assuming that business customers would prefer to negotiate rates in person or by telephone.
E-commerce may be more developed for the residential market, but there is still a yawning gap among energy companies.
Only four can accept bill payments by ATM/debit card online, and three sites don’t even offer a way to sign up new customers online. Most suppliers invite prospective residential customers to see how much they can save by switching energy providers, but less than half offer a genuine comparison with all of the major rivals.
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SOURCE: FT Energy