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The 4 E's of Utility Marketplaces

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
SVP Products Ibex Digital

Helping utilities and their customer experience teams transform customer journeys,  decode customer insights  and enhance revenues for nearly 15 years.  At Ibex, I lead the teams delivering...

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  • Sep 12, 2022
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Perhaps I should have titled this post the “1 E” of utility marketplaces because the “E” just stands for “easy” and marketplaces have to be all about “easy” or customers will abandon.  Easy matters in today’s competition for customer engagement, especially with eCommerce and marketplaces, where customer come to a site with well established expectations for how to navigate a site.  If your marketplace connects with the “4 Easys” then you should be okay.

Easy to Find - countless utility executives with marketplaces learn quickly that "build it and they will come" only works in the movies.  But, in fact, most utility marketplaces struggle with performance and traffic because they aren't easy to find.  Yes, utilities may find it difficult to incorporate a free enterprise storefront within the regulated utility's website, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the marketplace difficult for customers to find.  Don't bury the link in footers or three pages deep into the residential site map.  Consider a strong domain name that makes it easy to remember for customers.  After all, how will customers know where to find your marketplace if the main website doesn't make it easy to find? 

  • Introduce your Marketplace to new customers -  At the end of your new energy start process, consider a link introducing customers to your site: "We offer all of our customers a convenient marketplace to find information, products and services to make your new home comfortable, safe, and entertaining.  Click here for more information." Getting the attention of your newest customers right from the start of their experience helps get traction and traffic to your site for their entire lifecycle.
  • Make the marketplace a feature of your Moving Pages - "Don't forget to get help for your move at our Mover Services marketplace.  Click here for more information."
  • Invite customers to your marketplace via email - Digitally engaged customers are the most likely to visit your site to learn more about your options, but all customers deserve the opportunity to check it out.  Send a welcome email soon after the new energy start offering your marketplace as a destination to learn more about energy saving products and services

Easy to Navigate - If you have to teach customers how to use your website, it's not modern.  Brands like Apple, Amazon, and Southwest win accolades and have taught consumers to expect appealing and intuitive digital experiences.  Utility marketplaces must deliver at least on par with major brands to engage visitors to those websites.

  • Lots of pictures - Customers shop with their eyes, so make sure you have vibrant images that instantly communicate your products and services
  • Simple navigation - Highlight featured collections, major categories, and special values so that customers find what they are looking for immediately
  • Strong Search Bar - Cost customers spend little or no time on your landing page, but prefer to get right to their product interest.  Offer a prominent search bar with strong results to give customers just one click to get to their shopping destination

Easy to Check Out – Part of the value to utilities of offering a marketplace for customers is the amplification of their brand in their customers eyes.  So, we've never understood utility markets that show customers products only to send them to other retail brands like Home Depot or Amazon to actually buy something.  What's the value of a marketplace that merely sends customers to another brand's ecosystem?  Those markets do little more than teach consumers to start shopping at the destination retailer and ignore the utility marketplace.  Be sure your marketplace makes it easy to do shopping on your site.

  • One Click Shopping - Once customers find the product they want, deliver a modern one-click shopping experience that adds their choices to the cart, and immediately offers them a checkout option.  Customers who find value and selection on your site will come back, so keep the checkout streamlined.
  • Value-add services - Customers appreciate suggestions that enhance value or the customer experience, so utility marketplaces benefit from promoting value add services, such as installation, when those services fit a customer’s buying experience.  For example, during the checkout for a smart thermostat, many customers will appreciate the option to add professional installation to ensure they get the full value from a product that can be intimidating to DIY.  

Easy to Return – Success in eCommerce depends on repeat visits, so give customers continuous communication to keep their interest and provide a reason to return to your marketplace.  Utilities get great data about customer interest and intent that can fuel future content delivery and new product offers to encourage more visits and purchases, so inviting customers back to your marketplace in a personalized fashion should be the easiest part of utility eCommerce.

  • Abandoned cart emails - Maybe they got busy or were just thinking about the product or got interrupted by work.  Whatever the reason, always invite customers to return to their cart perhaps even with an offer for free shipping to complete their purchase.  These reminders show customers that you care, and big brands have trained customers to expect it.
  • Personalized Next Best Offer invitations -  Smart thermostats may be a trigger purchase in the smart home category, and pet owners like to buy streaming cameras to spy on their dogs on the couch during work hours.  Leverage different types of buyer behavior and customer data to create personalized offers to inspire repeat visits and the next best purchase that fits your customers’ interests.
  • Local Offers - Enroll customers in a coupon club, or prime their inbox with email reminders of your local offers to give customers a reason to visit you periodically and keep your marketplace "top of mind” for ongoing repeat traffic

Many utilities have experimented with eCommerce and marketplaces, but very few achieve self-funding status or offer the catalog that manages lots of customer traffic.  Check your own marketplace to see how easy it is to find, navigate, shop and return.  If your site isn’t hitting high markets in being easy, it’s going to be tough to reach even minimal revenue and traffic goals.  Solving for “easy” gives your marketplace a big advantage for your customers, and can be an incubator for CX innovation for your utility.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 12, 2022

I'd even be curious to take a step further back-- how likely is it that an average customer even knows that they should be looking for a utility marketplace or what that might mean? Given how little the typical customer pays attention to their utility, I think getting them to rethink and consider what a marketplace might be and how it might be valuable is the first challenge. 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Sep 12, 2022

Matt - that's exactly the question many utilities arrived, but usually after they made marketplace investments.  Felicia Chiles at FirstEnergy Home spoke to that point at CSWeek this year during a presentation.  We talked about the need to re-introduce customers to the marketplace brand as something new and incremental to the utility brand.  That's one of the reasons that I recommend introducing the marketplace as part of the new customer experience or right after the new energy start enrollment.

But, you hit the nail squarely on the head.  Lots to unpack in terms of raising awareness of the marketplace to customers, making it a useful place for customers to get more information and to help with their purchase decisions.  No utility marketplace will compete with Amazon, but utilities that use content effectively, use email productively, and have a modern marketplace, there's every reason to expect to see a lot of customer traffic, engagement and sales for the right products and services.  The real trick is to think of it as an eCommerce portal and not an extension of the utility corporate site.

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