Switching Utilities: Affiliate links are out, APIs are in
19th January 2023
Finding the right broadband and energy tariffs can be difficult, and we as consumers often have to suffer through long processes to find what suits our needs best.
We’ve all been on a price comparison site – you enter all your details, select a deal that suits your needs, but then you’re taken to a completely separate site to complete the deal, none of the information has been transferred and you need to resubmit your details to get back to the product you selected. This is the best-case scenario; it’s possible that after getting excited at the prospect of scoring a top deal, you are faced with a dreaded 404 error – the link has expired!
That is just one of the reasons affiliate links are no longer fit for purpose – they do not lend themselves to a smooth consumer journey. Yet the utilities industry, including broadband and energy, has seen little innovation in this area. This blog shows why the industry should move away from affiliate links towards increased speed, convenience and conversion rates associated with API-led user journeys.
The limited benefits of affiliate links within the utilities industry
The utilities industry was helped greatly by the growth of price comparison websites (PCWs) which initially specialised in energy and eCommerce product comparison. The popularity of these sites soon branched into other consumer verticals, such as broadband, insurance, mobile and many more, so now we have multiple comparison sites for any product or service you might want. By making deals visible, PCWs have spurred competition within the industry, as customers can view the best deals for them quickly and easily. The function of PCWs has largely been to view deals and offer consumer advice around the products they aggregate deals for, and that is where the convenience for the customer ends. To then buy the product, the customer is redirected to the provider’s site, where they likely resubmit their details and complete the transaction. Affiliate links have been standard for PCWs but act as a quick-fire solution. The disjointed user journey means the loss of rich user data that could be used to drive a higher customer lifetime value. This is where APIs come in.
More recently, APIs have allowed industries to improve their customer experience and better collaborate internally, allowing the end-to-end discovery and transaction process to occur natively. The financial services industry has really led this drive, through initiatives such as open banking and the PSD2 regulation that allows data to not only be seen but shared and acted upon with the appropriate level of customer consent.
The utilities industry has been slower to embrace the opportunities of new tech and as such can appear outdated to peer industries. The energy sector has taken steps to improve consumption and transparency with smart meters, but uptake has been lower than anticipated. Ofcom’s API allows PCWs to pull the broadband and mobile providers available at specific postcodes, still improving the viewing of relevant products, rather than the full customer journey. The utilities industry should embrace the opportunities of APIs to improve the customer experience from search to purchase to usage.
Wider adoption of APIs could greatly improve the experience and conversion of users. Two thirds of consumers look at multiple PCWs and sources before making a decision about their purchase. When a large proportion of PCWs show the same market share, choosing to purchase from one site over another will come down to the relevancy of information shown and the convenience of use. 7 out of 10 customers that use a comparison website make a purchase, 4 through the site and 3 by visiting the provider’s website on a separate occasion as they prefer to interact with providers directly. If APIs connected customers to the providers on the PCW in an end-to-end journey, customer conversions would increase by 30%.
The customer experience could also be improved through the retention or sharing of their data using APIs. This would eliminate friction associated with inputting duplicate data points and unnecessary information. For example, once a customer has bought a broadband deal, they are unlikely to switch for the duration of their contract and then a new deal can be offered to them after that time period. Smart meter data is as of yet untested, but given the accuracy of energy consumption, there is possibility for innovation with the use of this data. Data sharing within the industry is very minimal at the moment, but with collaboration and secure APIs, innovative approaches to the user experience could see a transformation in the utilities industry.
The utilities industry has the opportunity to greatly improve the customer experience by embracing APIs. Other industries have demonstrated the value of end-to-end journeys and data-sharing, and as a wholly necessary and consumer-centric industry, it’s about time utilities joined in.
Interested in deploying API-first broadband or energy switching tools through your application or website? Drop us an email and we’ll be in touch.