Edition #18: 7 Essential Capabilities Your E-commerce Solution Must Have For Telco Transactions

In today’s modern society, shopping via e-commerce is becoming the preferred way to make purchases.

In my previous newsletter from September 2022, I explored 8 reasons why e-commerce is so hard for telcos to get right. From complex service configurations, to involved processes like plan selections and credit checks, the level of integration that’s required to bring a true telco e-commerce experience can be quite daunting.

No surprise then that many telcos’ e-commerce experiences fall short; either their site acts as a simple showroom that sometimes ends in an expression of interest form, or worse, it doesn’t exist at all.

In this edition of Telco Talk, I will continue the e-commerce conversation and examine the 7 capabilities that your e-commerce site must have in order to be the right fit for the telco industry.

1. Product Catalog Features

Why it’s important: Your product catalog is where information about all of your devices, plans and accessories are showcased on your website. Your product catalog is what gives customers their first impression – and hopefully it’s a good one. Your e-commerce site must make it effortless for customers to browse devices and plans and add them to the cart.

What the best looks like: There are several essential parts to the product catalog. The best solutions will have all or most of these capabilities:

  • Customers can view and select devices, including hardware options, images, and technical details.
  • Customers can view and select plans and offers.
  • Customers can add selected items to the cart.
  • Customers can search for items.
  • Customers can read device reviews.
  • Customers can select and compare different devices/offers.
  • Customers can filter devices and plans by category (e.g. iOS/Android, prepaid/postpaid).
  • Customers can view different offerings by market (if applicable).

What the rest look like: Less effective solutions will only have some of these features. At minimum, your customers should be able to view devices and plans and add them to the cart.

Good to know: The catalog portion of an e-commerce site is what many general solutions do well, as showcasing products and services requires little integration. However, these generic solutions tend to fall down during later steps in the process that depend on specific integrations, like choosing plan options, conducting credit checks, porting numbers, taking payments, etc. If your e-commerce solution isn’t designed for telco, you will struggle with these steps, or your solution will require significant customization.

2. Product Catalog Updates

Why it’s important: Just like your regular product catalog, your e-commerce site’s catalog must be continually updated. When new devices are released, or your company is running a promotion, your e-commerce site must reflect these changes. It’s important to get this process right. Without an optimal solution, you may spend a lot of time keeping your site updated, or worse, end up in a situation where your e-commerce offers do not match your other channels.

What the best looks like: The best e-commerce solutions support automatic updates, and all changes are applied in a central Content Management System. This means any changes to products, plans, offers and pricing are made in real-time across all channels – no extra work required. E-commerce updates are simply an extension of other work that you’re already doing.

What the rest look like: Some solutions don’t have the ability to apply changes automatically. Instead, updating the catalog is a manual process. Every time there is a change to your catalog, your employees must log into your e-commerce site and apply the updates. Not only is this time consuming, but this creates a scenario where your e-commerce products, plans, offers, and pricing could differ from your other channels if a mistake is made.

3. Completing Transactions

Why it’s important: The whole point of an e-commerce site is to give customers a self-service option. But many telcos have online experiences where customers can’t make purchases at all, or it forces them to take additional steps in order to complete the transaction. When a customer wants to buy a phone online, what a tragedy it is to ask them to visit a store!

What the best looks like: Customers can complete their telco transactions online through every step of the process without having to take extra actions or leave the site. This means they can add items and plans to the cart, put in their information, complete a credit check, arrange for delivery, and make the payment. The best solutions are fully integrated, so all these steps can happen within the e-commerce site.

What the rest look like: There are a variety of poor experiences that customers may encounter that range from the very bad, to just being inconvenient. Here are three scenarios that are common in the telco industry:

  1. The e-commerce site may simply be a brochure of available devices and plans. In some cases, items can be added to a cart, but just to allow customers to build a quote – they must visit a store or phone a call centre to finalize the transaction. This is the worst experience, as it puts an extra burden on the customer. We want to be removing barriers, rather than implementing them!
  2. Customers can add items to a cart, but they can’t checkout. Instead, they’re asked to fill out an expression of interest form and someone from the telco will call them back. Although this is a slightly better experience than asking the customer to follow up themselves, this still necessitates extra steps that disrupt the flow of the online purchase.
  3. Sometimes, there are situations where customers can add items to a cart and pay for them through the e-commerce site, but they still must phone a call centre or visit a store to provide key information and finalize the transaction. This means the integrations to necessitate processes like credit checks are not there. Although more of the transaction steps can be completed via e-commerce than some other methods, this still requires extra steps that disrupt the flow of the online purchase.

Good to know: While being able to finish a purchase completely online without extra steps is the ideal, there still may be room for improvement if those online orders must be fulfilled manually rather than populating automatically (see Order Creation).

4. Transaction Actions

Why it’s important: For e-commerce solutions that let customers fully complete the transaction online, there are several key transaction capabilities that you should look for. These functions all require integrations to other systems to be completed, so it’s a real indicator on the robustness of the system.

What the best looks like: There are several essential functions. The best solutions will have all or most of these capabilities:

  • Select compatible offers or features from a list.
  • Create a new customer record / input their personal information.
  • Perform a credit check.
  • Select an activation or installation date.

What the rest look like: Less robust solutions will only have a few of these functions. By investing in a system with all these capabilities, you’ll improve your experience and reduce administration.

5. Order Creation

Why it’s important: For e-commerce solutions that let customers fully complete the transaction online, it’s important how the order is created in the backend.

What the best looks like: The best e-commerce solutions are integrated with the rest of your platform, so orders are processed automatically - no extra manual steps required.

What the rest look like: Less efficient solutions require staff members to manually process the order, transcribing the information from one system to another. As with any manual process, this drives up administration costs and creates the possibility of errors.

6. Payment Methods

Why it’s important: Being able to pay for items online is essential. Customers also value flexibility and want to have multiple payment options too.

What the best looks like: The best solutions support multiple payment types, including credit cards, mobile money, in-store payments, or charge to account. Some of these methods may not apply in your market, but it’s clear that giving customers a variety of payment options is part of a good experience.

What the rest look like: Less robust solutions may only support a few payment types, or worse, can’t take payments at all (yikes!). By investing in a top e-commerce solution, you’ll give your customers the flexible experience they’re looking for.

7. Fulfillment Methods

Why it’s important: The last piece of the puzzle is how customers get their items. By providing a variety of collection options, you’ll create a great experience that builds loyalty.

What the best looks like: The best e-commerce solutions provide multiple fulfillment methods, including home delivery, shipping to a collection point or locker, and in-store pickup. This means that customers can receive their items in the way that works best for them.

What the rest look like: Less robust solutions might only provide one or two of these options, basically forcing customers into a situation they don’t like – if they’re buying online, don’t force them to travel to a store to pick up their item!

Quiz Time!

Take the quiz now!

Are you ready to see how your current e-commerce experience measures up to the gold standard? We’ve created a short e-commerce assessment that will score you on these 7 aspects and provide you with personalized results. It just takes 2 minutes, why don’t you try it now?

Wrap Up

There are a lot of great generic e-commerce tools out there, but they’re not so great for telco transactions. In our industry, there is so much more that goes into a great e-commerce experience.

Here’s your homework – use this blog to assess your current e-commerce capabilities or take our quiz. You may be surprised at how much better you can make this experience for your customers!

Tactical IT professional envisioning solutions that solve our clients’ immediate and future challenges.

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