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e-Business awards: e-commerce award

Computer Weekly


Bricks & clicks breed success

Over the next three pages we showcase more finalists in the Computer Weekly E-Business Excellence Awards. The finalists on this page prove that you do not have to be a fledgling dotcom to be an e-commerce innovator

Charles Schwab has long been one of the big names in e-business. However, success for Charles Schwab Europe (CSE) has not come without continued effort. CSE represents the company's launch this side of the Atlantic, and was the first firm to offer online trading in the UK. The Web site is composed of two parts: the first is public and contains information about the company and services; the second is private, secure and only accessible to clients.

The secure Web site sells financial products that are traded on UK and US exchanges. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the placing of trades. Customers can set the transaction to trigger when trading conditions are best, or when they fall within certain limits. CSE has adopted a clicks-and-mortar business strategy: the Web site channel sits alongside a call centre service, although more than 70 per cent of transactions are conducted over the Web alone.

Since launching in June 1998, the site has conducted more than one million trades, amounting to over £5bn of business. Use has grown dramatically, with more than 100,000 customers now registered.with the service. Competition in this space has also grown rapidly since CSE launched. More than 25 online brokers are now up and running. However, CSE reckons to hold over 50% of trades conducted on UK markets.

Success is measured in the back office too. CSE was the first Web site to offer straight through processing (STP), meaning that trades can be placed within seconds even over the Internet. Automated limit minding, free trial trading and access to US stocks over the Web were also firsts.

Sponsor comment

That online trading now accounts for 70% of the company's trade volume underlines what can be achieved by a carefully considered e-business strategy based on an already established brand. All the technological development is handled in-house, and the investment has paid enormous dividends. Charles Schwab has not just bolted a service onto its existing business, it has created a genuine online operation which has developed revenue, provided added value to customers and brought competitive advantage. Charles Schwab was first to market in the UK, and despite intensive subsequent competition it has retained a remarkable 50% market share.

Nationwide has recognised the need to ensure that it offers modern, customer-focused services in the highly competitive financial services marketplace. Establishing an e-commerce operation has, therefore, been vital.

The Web site (www.nationwide.co.uk) provides information on the full range of products and services. Online applications can be made for current accounts, mortgages, personal loans and credit cards. Functionality also allows members of the society to comprehensively manage their finances online.

This Internet banking service is available as a fully integrated part of the Nationwide's other distribution channels. Members can log in or telephone the call centre 24 hours a day. Some branches of the society also have cyber-caf‚ facilities on site and many more branches contain stand-alone Internet terminals.

Integrating online services in the back office has been an important consideration to provide the best service to customers. Whenever possible, online functions are automated, removing the need for any manual processing. When this is not possible, requests are securely fed to processing teams, who then utilise existing branch systems to fulfil requests.

In July, the Web site had just over 725,000 visits. There are nearly 300,000 registered Internet banking customers and this division is now a key Nationwide operation, emphasised by substantial promotional activity that has rolled out this year. More than £17m has been spent establishing its e-commerce operations, an investment that will continue to grow as new developments come online.

Sponsor comment

Nationwide has made it easy for customers to embrace its online banking service. First, Nationwide took an important strategic step in ensuring that the online service was totally integrated with its existing operations, enabling customers to run their finances using the most appropriate channel at any given time, and providing a consistent service across all channels. Next, customers were offered an end-to-end service by Nationwide, establishing its own ISP. Nationwide has also integrated other online financial products, such as the Microsoft Money application, with the site.

Vauxhall Motors

Car manufacturers have been among the most active participants in the supply chain change which has been driven by e-commerce. But there has been more hesitancy when rolling out the benefits of e-business to the purchasers of the final product, the car.

Vauxhall is a leader in this respect. Its Web site sells and promotes the '.com' range of vehicles, which are exclusively sold online. The channel launched with the company's three strongest retail models and the success of the project has led to a subsequent expansion of the range to include sportier and larger vehicles.

When buying a car online, the customer is guided through a process of selecting model, colour, interior trim and various extras, including extended warranty. The payment area of the site includes options to value a car for trade-in purposes - later validated by a Vauxhall dealer - and an application for Vauxhall Finance products. A £20 holding fee is required to select a dealer for car delivery. The process, from online configuration through to delivery, should take no more than a week.

Approximately 90,000 visitors are attracted to the site each month, and about 1,000 cars have been sold since the launch in November 1999.

As a mature manufacturing industry that used to epitomise the old industrial model of 'produce and sell', the automotive industry is recognising the need to come to terms with the era of mass consumption. The development of the Vauxhall Web site fulfils this business need and positions the company at the forefront of the new channel arena.

Sponsor comment

Vauxhall has integrated all the elements involved in buying a new car into a single, comprehensive and easy to use e-commerce site. Its innovation lies in its ability to take into account factors as diverse as differing finance options, trade-in values and choice of dealerships, vehicle configuration, delivery and insurance. Being first to market with its e-commerce site, Vauxhall stole the march on its competitors, and extended its reach to a wider customer base. Significantly, this was not at the expense of the dealer network, but has strengthened the relationship between manufacturer, dealer and customer.


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