As cars go electric, tech sellers need to set up shop
Electric cars have long faced an uphill battle, though companies that offer e-commerce and military technology are trying to remove one barrier by making it easier to shop and pay for fast in-home chargers.
"It can take all day to charge these cars and most people who buy these cars want a faster charge," said Craig Ross, a vice president at the Nexternal division of TrueCommerce, which is supplying technology to AeroVironment, which builds faster chargers for plug-in hybrids. "With this new charger, you can charge in a couple of hours while you're home."
TrueCommerce's Nexternal e-commerce division is adding an electronic data interchange (EDI) integration to an "Amazon-style" ordering experience for AeroVironment, a company that primarily sells unmanned aircraft and tactical missile systems.
AeroVironment is using its experience in military hardware to improve charging for plug-in hybrid cars, having recently signed a contract with Volvo to develop the automaker's first custom electric vehicle charging station. AeroVironment has done similar work for the Chevy Volt, another plug-in hybrid, in its move to a more consumer-direct business model.
In building its consumer business, AeroVironment needs a way to handle marketing, payments and delivery. By integrating TrueCommerce's EDI for Oracle's e-business program, more of the process can be automated, eliminating data entry and deploying new storefronts, checkout and fulfillment as AeroVironment adds automakers.
Also, orders for chargers placed on Amazon flow into the Nexternal order management system to be processed with the same experience as if they were placed on one of AeroVironment's branded storefronts. Nexternal charges a flat monthly fee for a base number of transactions, plus $1.25 per transaction when a charger sells beyond that base number. EV chargers have a wide cost range, from a few hundred dollars to north of $1,000.
AeroVironment did not return a request for comment. In a prepared statement delivered through Nexternal, Anusha Iyengar, a senior programmer analyst at AeroVironment, said the company wants to employ an e-commerce experience to accommodate a larger sales volume for plug-in hybrids.
"If you go back a few years these sales were almost zero, but now pretty much every car maker has a plug-in hybrid," Ross said.
TrueCommerce has been adding more merchant services over the past couple of years to serve wider business cases such as omnichannel shopping and e-commerce for companies that don't traditionally have a an online sales presence.
The expansion is indicative of how user expectations for well-automated functions can bleed over into traditionally manual tasks, such as ordering household appliances.
"I think there is a pressure right across the industry," said Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst at Celent. "Technology has changed our expectations. How often do you pick up a new device whether at work or at home and assume it’ll be touchscreen? Or an app? Or many other things? Why shouldn’t we expect that seamless customer experience? There might be the occasional argument that somethings are a little too gimmicky, but the increase in simplicity and transparency would suggest that the evolution has been positive."