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Renewable energy market research: experiences of domestic consumers

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 13 August 2012 at 9:39 am

The best market research I've seen on what drives consumers in the domestic market for renewable energy is an excellent publication from Consumer Focus. Although it is called Keeping FIT, it is subtitled consumers' attitudes and experiences of microgeneration. Inevitably most of the experience is about solar PV, but the attitudes look more broadly at a range of renewable energy technologies.

In this blog I am going to look at the aspects of the report that are most useful for installers in developing their sales and marketing strategies (with comments and tips from me in brackets).

1. Reasons people choose a renewable energy installer

There is lots of information here that can help installers to present themselves more effectively to potential customers. Just from reading the feedback we regularly get on YouGen, we know that sending a surveyor with technical knowledge rather than a (pushy) salesman is a big plus for a lot of our visitors.

Others include:
- seemed more knowledgeable about the products
- Provided more information about products and the installation
- Best value for money (notice they are not saying the cheapest price)
- Seemed friendly when discussing the quote / install (remember people buy from people, and they won't choose people that they aren't comfortable having in their house)
- Seemed more experienced at installing (think about how you can demonstrate your experience and expertise - reviews on an independent site like YouGen may be one of them)
- Offered a better quality product
- Personal recommendation

2. Why they were dissatisfied (or what not to do)

- Lack of information was the greatest cause of dissatisfaction. (People are making a large investment here. They need to be treated as competent adults and given enough information to make a good decision. Ask them what else they would like to know, and leave it with them to think over).
- The rest of the list is a dismal catalogue of things that installers should not be doing anyway (if they want to stick to the REAL Code) and, guess what, it really does put people off: pressure sales (if they feel pressured, it counts as pressure sales - and that includes you not leaving when they ask you to!); discounts; misleading information; changing conditions after the contract has been signed; and overlong sales visits.

3. Why people buy renewable energy: drivers and levers

It's very interesting: when I talk to installers they say that it's all about the rate of return, that the financial aspects are the key driver for domestic solar PV sales. The Consumer Focus research also found that 'good investment' ranked highly in the reasons people buy. But it wasn't the only reason. For 65% of people the rising prices of oil and gas was significant. 40% talked about a desire to be self sufficient, and 32% had environmental concerns. This may be because what people say to researchers is different from what they actually do, but 65% is quite a lot of people lying, so it's probably worth taking it at face value.

There are also trigger times when people are more likely to go ahead with a renewable energy installation.

- When they are moving home, need to replace a heating system or are building a home are good times to get them.

- Seeing renewable energy systems installed elsewhere, visiting a demo home or a recommendation from friends or family are also likely to pique someone's interest.

4. Opportunities for better service

How the renewable energy system that you've installed performs will reflect on how your customers think of you, and of course, whether or not they recommend you (either on YouGen or to their friends and family).

As you know, how the home owner uses the system is key to getting the best out of most renewable energy systems. Yet the Keeping FIT research found that 66% of buyers are not given a guide to getting the best out of their system. This is a great way to stand out from the crowd and make sure your customers get the performance they expect.

Other things you could do include:
- give customers a guide to maintaining the system
- help people understand their current energy use, and how the renewable energy system will help change it
- make sure customers understand any planning and building control implications of the installation.

Click here to read our guide to marketing renewable energy. If you are not currently a YouGen member, click here to find out how you can benefit.

Illustration by HikingArtist.com

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If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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