Washington, DC, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- January 31, 2011 - There appears to be a rapid ripening of prepay as a voluntary payment option, which could have a large impact on the utility sector, according to a new survey from strategic marketing agency EcoAlign.

The survey, which was based on 1,000 online interviews last November, found that more than half of Americans had purchased or used a prepaid product, and even more plan to do so over the next year. Further, 75 percent of them were satisfied with their prepaid options and products, with almost half being “highly satisfied,” with the main drivers being “ease” and “convenience.”

When broken down by age, however, younger consumers in the 18-30 age range were much more likely to be satisfied or highly satisfied with prepaid options than older consumers, and women also tended to like and use prepaid products more than men. Finally, renters may be more apt to use prepaid products than home owners.

The primary objective of the survey was to test consumer perceptions and expectations in regard to prepaid services and products and then to examine the potential for voluntary prepay options offered by local utilities to customers.

The survey found that a core group of consumers (17 percent) were “extremely interested” or “very interested” in a voluntary prepay option offered by their local utility, while another 25 percent indicated they were “interested” or “somewhat interested.”  For most service industries, this level of interest would signal the need to support prepay products and channels, states the survey. Further, there is ample room for growth once utility prepay options enter the market.

Given these findings, what might make consumers more interested in a voluntary prepay option offered by the local utility, the survey asks? The short answer is discounts and lower bills, with almost half responding that their interest in a voluntary prepay option would be increased with a discount of 10 percent or more off their utility bills.

An earlier EcoAlign study found that the smart grid holds a lot of promise in the minds of Americans. However, for this promise to be realized, new products and services will need to be allowed into the utility sector. Products such as prepay will be challenging in many respects to a traditional regulatory structure that has focused on providing equal access and service to all consumers regardless of their individual preferences and needs, but these results clearly point to the fact that some customers will readily embrace new options if offered, the survey concludes.