We are nearly two weeks into the opening of the English water retail market where businesses can now choose who they buy water and waste water services from. With retailers jostling for business - 'switching' - and looking for that competitive edge, there have been several big announcements:
- Anglian Water Business and Corona Energy announced their intention to offer tri-utility services. This followed their other announcement that they are to partner with Northumbrian Water under the banner of Wave later this year
- Two large multi-site businesses have been the first to apply for self-supply licences: Greene King and Whitbread Plc, both working with retailer Waterscan
- Business Stream then announced they are teaming up with Utilitywise to offer a multi-utility service, followed by another announcement that they are partnering with Veolia to provide an end to end service offering
- Then, following the announcement that Severn Trent will be buying Dee Valley Water, the companies transfer of non-household customers to WaterPlus has been put on hold to focus on assimilation of the smaller water company
- Kwik Fit awarded their retail contract to WaterPlus
- A total of 8,876 premises have switched water retailer in the first week of the competitive market
Are we seeing the start of mass consolidation as indicated in the press, ultimately limiting customer choice - the key selling point for retail? With only 22 retail license holders today this already falls short by some margin compared to the 40 Ofwat originally predicted. Is water to go the way of energy with just a handful competing? Or will competition in the domestic market entice more market participants either as direct licensees or as corporate partners to sell water alongisde other utilities, groceries etc.? Such partner deals bring reputational risk to the retailing brand and so customer service is key to success - this initial market phase between non-domestic and domestic competition will rank retailers based on their ability to deliver their customer promises and therefore win the domestic customers or corporate partnership deals. After all, consumers (domestic or non-domestic) buy from brands they can trust. Whether you buy a jumper, a pint of milk or your utilities from Marks and Spencer you still have certain expectations about the level of service you'll receive.
There is no denying that non-domestic competition has got off to a positive start but this has happened whilst there are still data quality issues in relation to supply points/meters and varying levels of market awareness across the country. What of the end customer in the long term and just how 'geared up' are market operators in identifying and resolving operational issues? Arguably, success will ultimately be judged by the quality of service and levels of customer engagement when such an issue does occur. There are companies out there that can help with these operational issues, and help improve the quality of service delivered - Wheatley is just one of those companies.
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