Consignia Plans Online Bill Service in UK

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Consignia announced plans yesterday to launch a service that will allow consumers in the United Kingdom to pay utility and other bills electronically.


The service, which is scheduled to debut by year's end, will be free to consumers. Billers will pay a small fee for each transaction as well as initial start-up costs.


Consignia changed its name from The Post Office Group earlier this year after becoming a public company. It includes Royal Mail, Parcelforce Worldwide and the country's 18,000 post office branches.


"In an increasingly competitive marketplace, bill issuers recognize the need to provide value-added services which meet their customers' needs," said Jim Pang, Consignia's director of electronic services.


The electronic service will allow companies to build stronger relationships with customers through one-to-one marketing, the company said. Post office executives are targeting utilities and other large billers.


"We are talking to a number of large companies keen to offer their customers more viewing and payment choices," Pang said. "They recognize that this is a long-term investment and is another way to enhance customer loyalty and stay ahead of competition through the provision of a relevant and valued service."


Consignia said 12 percent of UK bill payments are expected to be online within five years, and it intends to secure a significant share of that market.


Separately, Consignia introduced a delivery service last month for home shoppers using its post office branches throughout the UK as alternative delivery addresses.


The plan allows consumers to have products delivered to a post office branch when ordering from a retailer that signed up for the service. Consumers who opt for home delivery still can have packages directed to their local post office branches if they are not home when the delivery is attempted.


The majority of post office branches will offer the service, called Local Collect.


The service is currently available to consumers who shop the 100 companies selling on Parcelforce Worldwide's worldofshopping.com Web site and through retailers Redcats, figleaves.com, Screwfix Direct and The Cotswold Co.


Both moves are part of an effort by Consignia to replace revenue it expects to lose because of a government decision to pay benefits directly into people's bank accounts beginning in 2003.


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