Electronic post office Epost has added a couple of high-profile billers to its electronic bill payment operation while gearing up for an aggressive branding campaign to win over consumers.

Epost announced deals with The Bay and Zellers – both retail chains owned by the Hudson’s Bay Co. – on Monday.

This brings the total number of billers offering EBP through Epost to 24, including municipal and federal government accounts, utilities, retailers and telcos. Another 66 are in the implementation phase. About 140,000 consumers use the service, according to CEO Peter Melanson.

A re-designed Web site is supported by Epost’s first branding campaign, based on the theme, “Delivering the future, one bill at a time.”

Meanwhile, its major competitor, Toronto-based E-route Inc., has been intentionally quiet on the consumer marketing front, says spokesman David Koa.

“We were able to pick off the low-hanging fruit without spending too much money,” Koa said. But the company – which now hosts 18 billers and 212,000 consumer subscribers – is watching Epost’s campaign carefully, and will respond in kind. Koa wouldn’t discuss the timing of E-route’s counter-campaign.

“The market rewards the first mover,” said Melanson. Uptake rates for EBP haven’t been as strong as once predicted, and there’s value to the company that drives the most awareness.”

Both outfits have high hopes for the near-term performance of the EBP market. Epost is aiming for 180 billers by the fall, while E-route figures on deals with companies representing one-third of all the bills in Canada by the end of the summer.

Melanson says that while he predicts continuing growth, he does see a break-even quarter before the fall of 2002.

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