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42% of companies in the banking and finance industry have appointed a Head of E-Commerce, and this sector also boasts the most sophisticated, functional websites. But other industries are not displaying a similar commitment to the e-commerce front end, reveals a new survey from Knowledge Accelerators

New research from business transformation specialist Knowledge Accelerators has revealed that less than a third of B2C companies across all industry sectors* have appointed a Head of E-Commerce. At the top end of the scale, the banking and finance industry appears to be most strongly committed to e-commerce (42% Heads of E-Commerce). 38% of the utilities have created the position, indicating that they are making positive moves towards exploiting the potential offered by deregulation. However, the greatest shock came from the retail industry - in which web-enablement is crucial to maintaining competitive positioning - with a mere 29% of companies having this function.

The E-Commerce Reality

Additionally, the survey commissioned by Knowledge Accelerators incorporated a measurement of the e-commerce functionality of each company's B2C website.(1) Here, again, the banking and finance industry topped the bill with an average sector index score of 147. With this outstanding exception, there appears to be very little correlation between the presence of a Head of E-Commerce and a sophisticated website. The utilities' websites scored an average of 79, indicating that, despite the Head of E-Commerce appointments, they are not yet widely using the Internet to attempt to gain a greater share of customer. Similarly, the retail industry's websites were rated a below average 93, implying that retailers are neither countering the threat posed by niche websites nor using a web presence to leapfrog their traditional offline competitors.

Mike Adams, Chief Operating Officer of Knowledge Accelerators, comments : "It is clear that too few companies recognise the importance of communicating brand values at every customer touchpoint. However, the banking and finance industry provides a best practise example of e-commerce commitment. Since very little actual purchasing is conducted online in this industry, this highlights the fact that a website's main function should not be transactional, but rather customer service focused. The emphasis for the 'second wave' of online business is on using the website to enhance the offline brand - from simply offering the consumer another channel of communication, to strengthening brand values such as The Body Shop's 'interactivism' section. Communicating brand values, especially for global brands which, apart from above the line advertising, have no direct contact with the consumer, is where the true power of a website lies."

Sector by sector

Clearly leading the way in successful web-enablement, the banking and finance sector is a pioneer in recognising that a website's primary goal is not necessarily to sell, but to fulfil a customer service function, such as providing a quote. This strategy seems to be behind Egg's recent decision to abandon its internet-only business and set up high-street branches - giving the consumer a choice of communication channels, and giving itself access to a far greater consumer base. The highest scoring website and overall cross-sector winner was the Alliance and Leicester.

At the other end of the scale, the retail industry appears to be very slow in embracing e-commerce, with the exceptions of Dixons and Iceland. On average, its websites only scored below average 93, which is worrying given the threat posed to retailers by niche websites. Furthermore, the industry must recognise that a website is another ‘shop window’ for the high-street store, and that if customers experience poor online service, this tarnishes the reputation of the whole company. FMCG brands’ websites fared equally poorly, with the exceptions of Coleman UK and Simply Organic Food Company, and this sector had the lowest percentage of Heads of E-Commerce (only 18%.) Obviously FMCG brands are not yet recognising that a website with interesting, relevant content is a powerful tool to complement above-the-line brand building campaigns, and to capture analysable information/intelligence on their customers.

The telecoms and high-tech industries achieved the second and third highest average index score (123 and 101 respectively) for their websites, despite the low level of Heads of E-Commerce. This is perhaps not so surprising, given that e-commerce is a fundamental service component to their businesses - the high-tech sector provides the very technology which enables consumers to go online, and web functionality is intrinsic to telecoms companies, most of which are active players in the ISP and WAP markets.

Travel companies' websites scored an average 97, indicating that the sector is embracing e-commerce, although the websites are rather economy class! However, this statistic hides the fact that it is the low-end of the market which has a well-established online presence. Also, the current emphasis is firmly on attracting online buyers - online purchase is even incentivised by discounts on offline prices. Surely the opportunity for e-commerce development in the travel sector lies in tasking Heads of E-Commerce with extending the high-value brands online - offering a more sophisticated, multi-functional website with a customer service focus.

The sectors which scored the lowest average index for their websites were the utilities and the insurance industry (79 and 73 respectively.) Despite being deregulated since 1997, the utilities appear to be shunning the opportunity to diversify their online product/service offering, with a few notable exceptions such as British Gas launching the Goldfish credit card. 38% of utility companies have a Head of E-commerce, though - perhaps indicating that they are, finally, going to act. The insurance industry score is pulled down by the extreme polarity of the players’ attitudes to online business. Some, such as brokers and direct writers, are developing a sophisticated B2C presence on the web. However, the bulk of the insurance industry - indirect writers - are concentrating their efforts on being background providers to brokers, banks and new intermediaries such as portals.

Footnote (1): An index score was established based on the presence of various key online functions - including basic product and company information, compulsory visitor registration (indicating that customer information is being captured to tailor or diversify the commercial offering), and most importantly, an online trading facility. Extra points were awarded for 'user friendly' features which would be of genuine interest to the consumer.

For further information, please contact Knowledge Accelerators’ press representatives

Cathy May or Paul Lindsell, Lindsell Marketing

T - 020 7434 2090, E -

*The Knowledge Accelerators Survey

Survey sample - top 100 companies in each of sector

Survey Period - 3 months, completed Dec 2000

[Please call Lindsell Marketing for a copy of the graph]

Top two websites in each sector


Alliance & Leicester



The Vodafone Group

Carphone Warehouse





National Express Ltd

Virgin Atlantic/Direct Holidays


Iceland Group plc

Dixons Stores Group


Coleman UK plc

Simply Organic Food Company Ltd


Npower (MEB)

Bayford Gas


Equitable Life Assurance Society

Royal Liver Assurance Ltd

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