Wait a minute, Mr. Postman

Mail generally comes through your door in one of three forms: personal, junk or bills. No question the vast majority of Canadians would love to see the total elimination of the latter two. Though epost’s online bill presentment does not get rid of bills entirely, at least it gets them to you on your terms instead of having them confront you first thing when you arrive home after a long day’s work.

Today about 25 companies present their bills online with epost, including such retail stalwarts as Sears, RadioShack, Canadian Tire and The Bay. This is up from less than half-a-dozen a year ago.

The move to get nationwide retailers on board was intentional, according to Peter Melanson, president of epost.ca in Toronto.

“Our strategy has been to [try] to provide relevance to all Canadians coast to coast,” he said.

“[We] tried hard to go after the retail companies, since a hydro company in Saskatchewan it is irrelevant if you live in Charlottetown, but Sears is coast to coast,” he added. As it grows epost intends to add more localized content such as water, hydro and city tax bills, he said.

Today about 150,000 Canadians have signed on, a number Melanson hopes to see at least double by the end of the year.

Companies that have opted to present their bills online fit into one of three categories (expense, revenue and asset oriented), Melanson said.

The expense-oriented companies want to reduce cost of physical mailing, he explained. The average cost of sending out a bill varies from 75 cents to $2. This cost includes envelopes, postage, inserts and internal envelops, he added. Melanson said the average epost bill is 40 cents.

In addition, because the bill can be linked to the corporate Web site, there is also the possibility of reducing call centre contacts from customers who have an issue with an item on the bill, he added.

Those companies that are more revenue oriented see the e-bill as an opportunity to up or cross sell the customer, what Melanson calls a “marketing moment.”

The final category of companies are more driven by asset issues such as getting outstanding bills paid sooner. There is evidence that customers pay their bills sooner if they get them sooner, he explained.

“That might peel out a day or two of their accounts receivable cycle, that drops right to the bottom line,” he said.

For some companies the reasoning is a blend of the above.

all about the customer

Bob Reczka, vice-president of e-business transformation with Telus Communications Inc. in Calgary, said the move to epost was really customer driven.

“We are really trying to create a flexible and easy to work with environment for our customers.”

Customers told Telus they wanted to get more information about their account online and a big part of that was to see the actual bill in detail. Customers can get their bill either at the Telus Web site or at epost.

Telus’s ability to drive traffic to their site, and potentially increase business opportunities, while also reducing costs were two other strong motivators for going online with their billing, Reczka said.

“We have the ability to obviously save on postage and printing and things like that, and hitting critical mass numbers that can be a substantial savings,” he added.

The potential is there to save from $6 to $9 per year, per customer if enough of them go online and turn the paper bill off, he said. Right now about 20 per cent of their customers who are getting their bills online have shut off the paper, he added.

This final step, getting customers to turn off the paper, is a huge hurdle for companies.

“It is a tough slug to actually get people to go the extra mile to turn of paper, we are very socialized to receive a paper bill,” Reczka said.

But other companies which have also embraced online billing don’t actually want all of their customers to go that route.

“We don’t want to rob ourselves of the opportunity to have a shopping option, if someone is paying the bill in the store, that is a wonderful thing – they may shop,” explained Nancy Fisher, manager of credit marketing development at The Hudson Bay Company in Toronto.

For HBC, customer service was the driving force.

“We are developing some e-customer service type things and online billing sure looked like a good [fit],” she explained. Fisher added that HBC was not interested in creating online billing itself so going through a company like epost was a good alternative.

Both companies like the potential for saving money with online billing but realize it is a long haul.

“In the long term, yes, we will save money…[We] do save on supplies but the development costs and time to get it up and running. It will be a while before we recoup that,” Fisher said.

If enough Telus customers shut off the paper bill, money will be saved, Reczka said. “[But] whether we will realize those numbers in the long run is still to be determined,” he added.