Telstra carrot lures users to e-commerce

TELSTRA has just made an offer they hope we can’t refuse: they’ll slash the cost of our phone bill if we agree to complete the transaction on-line.

While most of the focus has been on the comparative penalty that will impose on those who aren’t wired, the potential implications for e-business are massive.

If this offer attracts enough of its almost 10 million business and residential customers to go on-line, Telstra will have a user platform that will - or should - capture the attention of thousands of businesses.

Technology strategy has lots to say about hardware ownership, Internet penetration rates and other indicators but we seldom hear about what’s happening with the wetware -the stuff between our ears.

Telstra and other tech companies may have spent billions in developing their physical infrastructure but the potential benefits of having an interface millions of customers have learned to use and are comfortable with offers extraordinary possibilities.

There are clear signs that users are getting tired of having to learn and relearn how to use different generations of software or a new interface.

Sales of some new versions of well-known software are slowing apparently for just this reason - the growing majority of users just want systems that work, they are not like the early adopters who thought sorting out a bug or learning a new program was just about the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

And the on-line world is no different. As so many on-line businesses ask their customers to go through the equivalent of a virtual obstacle course to enjoy the privilege of buying from them a platform with half decent user-friendly credentials and a solid (wetware) installed base stands a very good chance of grabbing a lot of business.

One of the best examples of thinking beyond the hardware and through the whole e-commerce buying chain comes from Scandanavia.

A couple of years ago a major chain of greengrocers began thinking about their e-commerce strategy and quickly recognised that flogging lettuces on-line was going to be no easy task.

They recognised fruit and vegetable buyers want to hold, feel, squeeze and smell the product before heading for the checkout.

Customers began to see cards with ratings placed next to the apples, tomatoes and potatoes.

It enhanced the experience for shoppers but the real value is as a future investment.

The company’s bet is that this information will stay with its customers and make them far more willing to contemplate taking to vege-net but they needed to start early to build their wetware infrastructure – the other stuff (web site, servers etc.) has come later.

Telstra’s carrot offers its customers a handsome discount.

In the short-term it gives the company the chance to save substantial amounts in its bill processing but in the long term the prospects are even more attractive as it positions itself to be the clearing house for e-commerce.

l Peter Morris is Principal of Telesis Communications, a technology strategy consultancy firm.


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