Pager Firm to Create Complete Site for Mobile Communications
Hacienda's Positive Communications has begun testing a new e-commerce web site that promises to simplify the complicated task of picking a carrier and rate plan for the nation's wireless communications shoppers.
The site, which is expected to open for public access in early February, will allow consumers to make accurate comparisons between wireless phone and advanced messaging device packages, customized to their location and projected usage patterns. Once a plan is selected, the user will be able to choose and order a phone, which will be activated and shipped to them.
"In a retail store, it's just very difficult to make a decision on a complex rate plan while you've got a salesperson standing there, even if they're the nicest person in the world," says Eric (Rick) Martin, Positive's president and CEO. "This way, people can go at their own pace."
The e-commerce venture represents a new, third line of business at Positive, which was founded in 1991.
"When the company was started, our vision was to be kind of the travel agent of wireless paging," Martin says. "If you want the best flight from here to Indianapolis, instead of calling every airline you call a travel agent who just brings up all the information and books you on the right deal."
The paging business was very fragmented at that time and they sought to aggregate it by putting into place the appropriate Information Technology systems to build a nationwide network.
"We could then provide a single point where customers could get paging service and activate, deactivate, and manage their accounts," explains Martin.
A single point of contact also appealed to retailers, and Positive became the exclusive paging provider for Circuit City and Montgomery Ward, among others.
"Circuit City, for example, may be using 25 different networks through us, but all they know is that they deal with Positive and we service the accounts," adds Martin. Today, Positive serves over 2,000 retail locations.
Their second area of business relies on the same infrastructure and core competencies as their paging business, including their call center and their familiarity with subscription-based telecommunications services. Instead of dealing with consumers, however, they're offering these services to other businesses which need them.
"We've taken on accounts that have nothing to do with paging or messaging, but do have a subscriber-based business model," explains Martin.
These clients include PocketScience, which makes a device that can be held up to any telephone to send and receive e-mail, and Command Audio, a tailored audio programming service that is received remotely.
"As you walk through the call center, you'll hear people answer the phones 'Pocket-Science' as well as 'Positive Communications,'" he adds.
The new e-commerce site will make further use of Positive's existing business and administrative systems. It's also a great example of the true potential of the Internet and e-commerce.
"Basically, we're going to have a web site that guides shoppers through all the different options in terms of products and services and, even more exciting than that, once they choose an option, we can provide them with a broad array of rate plans and a lot of shopping tools which will allow them to net out which plan is the best for them," he says.
The site will ask a shopper to estimate how they would use a given device, then give them the actual price which they would pay if it exceeds the package price, allowing for a genuine comparison of prices.
"Let's say you're shopping and choose the Sprint PCS $29.95 a month plan," says Martin. "If the usage pattern that you've estimated indicates that your usage may exceed the minutes included in that package, our site will give you the net price of what your bill would actually be."
Plus, since Positive mans their existing call centers around the clock, they'll be able to offer a feature that's unheard of in Internet commerce: a live customer service rep to answer questions.
"We will have buttons throughout our site where the customer can open up a real-time text window with a customer support rep," he says. It's a great feature for those shopping from home and augments their telephone support, since many computer users will be using their only telephone line to access the Internet.
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