Powershop has managed to find a solid niche in New Zealand's energy market as a cheeky challenger brand that gives its more than 50,000 customers additional information about their energy usage, lets them buy power online and shows them plenty of love. And now the Meridian-owned business is taking that model to Australia.
Powershop's design director Simon Coley, who recently outlined his thoughts on how design thinking has informed Powershop’s evolution, says the quest has begun to do what it's done in New Zealand and give the Aussie market a shake-up, starting with a beta version of the service in Victoria, which is "the most competitive electricity market in the world".
He says the Victorian market is slightly different to New Zealand, with quarterly rather than monthly billing cycles and already high customer churn rates. But there are also plenty of similarities between the two. And, given how well Powershop has worked in New Zealand, where it was ranked as the fastest growing company in the Deloitte Fast 50 in 2011, he says the management team is confident that it will also work here.
“We think it's good territory for us because we’ve got a clear differentiator. It’s still seen as a commodity rather than a product and service offering [in Australia] ... We have got to start by getting consumers to trust us. We’ve got 50,000 customers in New Zealand, and a disproportionate number of them like us compared to the others and that’s why customer experience is our point of difference. They become your advocates. It’s not new, but it’s definitely working for us.”
As well as customer service, Powershop has tapped into the desire consumers now have to better understand their power usage. A lot of the major players are now coming to that party, with the likes of Mercury’s GEM and Genesis Energy’s MyMeter now tacked on to their services and making use of smart metering. But Coley says that has been a core part of its platform from the start, rather than an off-the-shelf software solution.
He says Australians are also increasingly cognisant of energy usage, with tariffs offered for solar heating and some even generating their own power.
“There’s an understanding of how they use their power. And Powershop gives you more information on that. But being able to act on that knowledge in the way you buy your power is why we think we've got a good shot.”
He says there are plans to offer a service that allows users to use social proof to reduce consumption (for example, a tool that lets users compare themselves against other customers in the area or through average usage), but that kind of thing is already happening a lot through its social channels.
In New Zealand, he says the company has strong advertising because the group who started it is comfortable being provocative. Australia, he says, is a bit more conservative. It will be sticking with its successful ‘Same Power, Different Attitude’ campaign but it will be taking the cultural differences into account (its latest effort features Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama and it has used Rupert Murdoch in the past. StopPress thinks something to do with Gina Rinehart would also work for its Aussie launch).
Meridian already operates in the Australian market and it is "generating sustainable energy on wind farms", which is where its power will come from. The same model will be used for the powershop.com.au site and it will look very similar to the New Zealand site. The Masterton-based call centre, which “we rightly or wrongly still call Mumbai,” will also take care of Australian calls.
And in another potential export success story, Coley says some of his All Good Organics drinks are now being stocked in Australian fridges.
Coley was recently interviewed by Australian digital magazine Uncluttered White Spaces.