Last updated: Commerce trends: Moving from things you sell to services you provide

Commerce trends: Moving from things you sell to services you provide


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For a number of years, successful companies transformed their business by shifting focus from selling products to providing services. In the 1990s, IBM realized there’s more value in software and services than hardware. The shift achieved steady revenue, higher profit, and tighter bonds with customers, and this commerce trend is only going to increase.

This trend goes well beyond the computer industry. Many manufacturing companies are offering complete solutions to business problems, which are combinations of products and services, fused with innovating ways to charge for them.

GE and Rolls Royce are world leaders in manufacturing aircraft engines. GE’s new business model is called ‘‘Power by the Hour’’ and the customer pays only when the plane is flying. They now make most of the profits from services, not the product.

The engine itself, increasingly, is just a way of acquiring customers to receive these services. As aircraft engine sales have leveled or fallen off, services have become an increasingly important part of GE Aviation’s business. Xerox went through a similar transition when it moved from selling printers to providing printing services.

In our advanced economy, the shift from products to services is greatly accelerated by Moore’s law, miniaturization of computers, and wide spread of connected mobile devices. These commerce trends show no signs of stopping.

With proliferation of car sharing services like Zipcar, Car2Go and alternative cab services like Uber and Lyft we witness beginning of transformation from car ownership to mobility as a service.

Commerce trends shift toward services

New generations don’t see a car as a status symbol it used to be for their parents. Instead, they’re looking for a convenient way to get from point A to point B. It may be a public transport one day, bike ride during summer, and car sharing for trips to IKEA. Self-driving cars, which are just around the corner now, will complete this process.

Smart products represent another trend that contributes to increase in services. Their smartness comes from a connection to a cloud service that is analyzing and making sense from data collected by IoT devices.

If you’re a producer of a regular thermostat, you sell a product. On the other hand, a manufacturer of a smart thermostat sells a physical product bundled with a service subscription. It’s easier and faster to add value by updating services than replacing physical products.

Having a service as a part of your offering opens more business opportunities and ways to please customers.

For example, Tesla has recently implemented a software upgrade that increased top speed of its 85D and P85D Model S electric cars.

As a business moves toward adding services to their offerings, it will need to adjust its model, processes, and tools that support them.

The services business requires maintaining a long and ongoing relationship with customers instead of having a “sell and forget” attitude. Sales, services, and consumption need to be blended into a coherent user experience.

Business should also be ready to deal with defining and managing complex combinations of products and services, both digital and physical, supporting recurring and consumption based pricing, and helping customers to select a combination that fits their needs.

Switching from selling products to providing services opens exciting business opportunities and companies need to prepare themselves for taking advantage of them.

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