Sunday, April 17, 2011

Post # 64 - New Study Suggests Consumers May Be Ready to Look Beyond Traditional Utilities With Respect to Smart Energy Services

According to a recent report by Accenture, the global management consulting firm, most consumers would consider getting electricity and energy efficiency products and services from sources other than their electric utilities.

The Accenture report, Revealing the Values of the New Energy Consumer, provides the results from a survey of 10,199 consumers in 18 countries. Accenture reports that that 73% would consider buying electricity and related products and services from a company other than their local electric utility. More than half (59%) would consider buying from product retailers, and 49% from cable/phone companies and 45% from online sites and brands.

When considering the purchase of energy-efficient products such as smart thermostats, 54 percent would opt for their electricity supplier, 50 percent would consider buying from retailers, 32 percent from online sites and 22 percent from cable/phone companies. At least 90 percent of respondents in China, South Africa, South Korea, Singapore and Brazil would buy electricity, energy efficiency products and related services from non-traditional electricity providers, compared with 23 percent in France, 50 percent in Belgium and 59 percent in Germany.

The report also says 57% of consumers surveyed would use an electricity management program even if it didn't cut their utility bills – and that almost a third would pay a little more. While cost is an issue, consumers are getting more interested in the convenience of automated energy management and mobility, like being able to download apps on their mobile phone to keep track of their energy use.

Among Accenture's other findings: 60 percent of respondents would be interested in technology that can completely automate the management of their electricity. Thirty-five percent would install a smart device that automatically turns on or off pre-selected appliances, a ‘set and forget’ program. more than a third would be interested in monitoring and managing their usage through personal electronics (36 percent). Thirty-five percent would be interested in the ability to customize the design of the in-home display or the online portal of their electricity management program. Mobility is important with almost a third (32 percent) of consumers interested in applications they can download on their mobile phone to measure their consumption in real time.

At the same time, Accenture found that Consumers exhibit a strong preference for face to face contact when purchasing energy-related products and services. When buying energy-efficient products, such as smart thermostats, 52 percent of respondents say they want to make a purchase with a staff member in a store location. Only 29 percent would be happy purchasing online without interacting with staff. When buying a "set and forget" energy program, 63 percent would want to purchase from a staff member either in store or at their home.

Accenture's basic conclusion is that utilities will to, in effect, "retool."
Utilities/electricity providers must focus on not only understanding how energy savings influence the decision to adopt a program, but also on building and managing programs that cater to many different needs and values. This means developing innovative offerings that blend the optimal mix of attributes, such as loyalty rewards and installation services. As a result, the traditional commodity service may no longer be at the heart of utilities’/electricity providers’ offering set, but just one component of a whole range of services making up the entire product offer.

Accenture finds that utilities/electricity providers still maintain "a trust advantage with energy consumers when compared to other commercial providers." Nonetheless, Accenture warns that to the extent that consumers are willing and able to purchase energy-related products and services from a broad set of providers, utilities and electric provides will have to reevaluate their marketing strategies.

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