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You may have read recently about SolarCity’s newly inked deal with Best Buy to sell solar panels in sixty of the consumer electronics retailer’s stores in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York and Oregon. This is an intriguing development for many reasons.
First, it reframes the conversation – quite literally – around solar energy being a viable, affordable and accessible alternative for the average US consumer. SolarCity is placing trained sales people in branded, bright green kiosks – in colorful contrast to Best Buy’s blue and yellow – right alongside other everyday items like iPads, HDTVs and washer dryers. In one fell swoop, SolarCity has brought solar energy to the mainstream.
This is smart as it removes the need and associated costs for SolarCity to open their own retail outlets. It also means they get to take advantage of the Best Buy customer traffic coming through the doors, giving them if not a captive audience, at least an audience with whom they might have had to work much harder to get through their own doors to start a conversation.
For Best Buy, as well as a considerable PR coup, it means another revenue stream and a way of making their vast floor space work harder. Long a victim of ‘showrooming’ (where people browse in-store and then buy online to get the best price), Best Buy has found a partner in SolarCity that consumers still need a lot of education about; and as interest in solar energy grows, so should footsteps through the retailer’s doors.
One of the main barriers to more homeowners pursuing solar energy is the cost. A survey of homeowners in the US conducted by SolarCity and Clean Edge in collaboration with NASDAQ in January found that while 62 percent stated an interest in solar power for their own homes, less than half realize that the cost of converting to solar has dropped considerably in the last three years. Additionally, many consumers balk at having to make a 20 year commitment to the deal.
But SolarCity has clearly worked hard to address these concerns. Consumers lease rather than buy the panels, which takes out a significant cost. Also, there is no installation cost or ongoing maintenance costs.
And what is particularly impressive from a customer relationship management point of view – wherever you stand on the pros and cons of solar energy – is the eight-step process SolarCity has created to guide consumers through the complete lifecycle of their solar energy journey.
It begins with an in-store satellite-based assessment of the consumer’s home’s solar power potential – which if nothing else, has a certain wow factor. The next step is an on-site audit by a qualified team member. Further steps include SolarCity securing the correct building permits, carrying out installation, testing and going live. Each customer has their own dedicated SolarCity web portal accessible online and via mobile which allows them to view progress each step of the way. This is a fantastic way of keeping the consumer invested and building trust. The portals continue to exist beyond the set-up stage, allowing customers to track energy use and see the money they (hopefully) are saving. With this detailed level of investment in the consumer, SolarCity has the potential to build an army of solar energy, or if you will SolarCity, brand advocates across the nation.
Perhaps the really smart thing behind this deal then, is that it has allowed SolarCity a seat at the nation’s consumer table – a powerful example of the leveraging of market forces with industrial and technical innovation.
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