In 2014, with much media fanfare, Genesis Energy stopped door-to-door selling. The energy retailer, New Zealand’s largest, said its research suggested Kiwis didn’t like salespeople turning up on their doorstep – so Genesis wouldn’t.
“We’ve found four out of five don’t like door-knocking, find it intrusive,” the company said at the time. “So we’ve made the decision to take the leadership and stop.”
Now almost five years later, and with no media fanfare at all, the company has caved to market forces and started door-to-door selling again.
James Magill, the firm’s executive general manager of customer and innovation, says door-to-door is a good “channel” for getting a message across to customers.
“We’ve found that in a highly competitive market we need to be out there speaking with customers face-to-face and showing them our new energy management tools, introduced over the past 12 months.”
One big problem for Genesis is that although customers and consumer organisations applauded its “do not knock” stance, its competitors didn’t follow its lead.
Instead, they presumably rubbed their hands together with glee at having the largest player backing away from at least the door-knocking part of the fight.
And as the market share of the major players – Genesis, Contact Energy, Mercury NZ, Meridian Energy and Trustpower – continues to be shaved by smaller new entrants, Genesis decided to go back to door-knocking.
Genesis has seen its electricity market share fall from almost 27 percent in 2013 to 23.7 percent last year, according to Electricity Authority figures. Number two electricity retailer Contact has fallen from 22.3 percent to 19.3 percent over the same period, Mercury from 19 percent to 18 percent.
Trustpower’s share has gone up from 11 percent to 12.7 percent, and Meridian’s has remained at 14 percent. Back in 2014, Meridian told 3 News it had no plans to stop door-to-door selling, which brought in half of its new signups.
Magill says the way the company does its door-knocking now is “very different” to how it was done in the past, “and we have processes in place to monitor it carefully”.
However, that’s not the experience of one customer, who didn’t want to be identified, but we’ll call Jane.
Jane’s house had been targeted by Genesis salespeople twice in two weeks when she contacted BusinessDesk, despite having rung the power company and asked to be left alone.
“Today another young man from Genesis knocked on the door. When I said we were on a ‘do not visit’ list with Genesis he said no such thing existed. He said Genesis outsources to MPD Marketing, and the system has no ability (that he knew of) to inform cold callers of people that had asked not to be visited.
“I think a lot of people might be pissed off this has started again.”
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin is one of them. Chetwin remembers some clever Genesis anti-knocking social media campaigns back in 2014, when it made the decision to quit. And the power company teamed up with Consumer NZ to send out more than half a million ‘Do Not Knock’ stickers for people to put on their doors.
“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Chetwin says. “We worked with them; we thought they were genuine. They’ve had a change of management and completely back-tracked. It’s a disgrace.”
Six of the seven members of Genesis’ senior executive team have changed since 2014.
Consumer NZ is strongly against door-knocking and last year successfully lobbied the government for door-to-door sellers who ignore ‘Do Not Knock’ stickers to face prosecution under the Fair Trading Act.
A Consumer survey showed 70 percent of its members don’t like door-to-door salespeople and want them to stop calling. More than 60 percent dubbed them “annoying” and “intrusive”, Chetwin says.
And power companies are some of the worst offenders, she says. The consumer.org.nz site lists several negative comments about their sales tactics, following the survey.
For example: “Door-to-door salesmen turned up right on dinner time. It was pitch black in the middle of winter and I happened to be home alone. They put heaps of pressure on to change power providers.”
And: “Power company salesman simply would not take no for an answer and was very reluctant to leave until I made it clear in very simple terms.”