PG&E Marketplace is a website where PG&E customers can access information on consumer electronics and home appliances. Launched in 2015, the website aims to simplify the buyer journey, while encouraging customers to purchase more energy-efficient options. The website currently includes 19 product categories, ranging from televisions, to water heaters, to electric vehicle chargers. It provides details on the products’ energy use, potential energy savings, lifetime operating costs, specifications, ratings, associated rebates, pricing, and availability at local retail stores.
In 2017, PG&E engaged Research Into Action to conduct an independent study to answer several key questions, the most important of which were: Does Marketplace really increase sales of energy-efficient products (and thus provide energy savings)? And, if so, how easy (or difficult) is it to capture the sales?
At first glance, these may seem like simple questions, but Marketplace only provides product information (i.e., the website does not sell products), and it does not collect information that identifies visitors. Thus, finding customers who visited the site and assessing the site’s influence on their purchasing decisions presented a challenge. Marketplace also includes many products that existing downstream and midstream rebate programs capture, further complicating matters. Thus, we needed to partition savings across existing programs and a stand-alone Marketplace offering.
What we did
We conducted a variety of research activities to accomplish these tasks, including:
- Locating PG&E customers who visited Marketplace
- Determining if the visitors had purchased energy-efficient models from Marketplace’s featured product categories since visiting the website
- Assessing the website’s influence on visitors’ purchasing decisions
- Partitioning the savings associated with efficient product sales attributable to Marketplace across multiple relevant programs
The study revealed that Marketplace had, indeed, led to notable energy savings associated with not only downstream products, but also midstream and upstream. While the specific findings were many and detailed, highlights include:
- Since its launch in 2015, Marketplace helped shoppers save between 15.3 and 41.9 GWh of gross electricity and 592,993 to 1,629,499 gross therms. The gas savings are particularly notable as gas savings are becoming increasingly difficult to attain in the residential sector. Thus, Marketplace may offer a cost-effective means of bolstering gas and electric savings to support residential portfolios.
- Almost 10% of PG&E’s 5.2 million residential customers have visited Marketplace.
- Almost half of respondents (48%) indicated that Marketplace influenced their purchase decision. The information they found most helpful included the Energy Score, details on rebates, energy savings, and the Clear Cost—all features that previous research showed shoppers generally have difficulty finding on conventional ecommerce sites.
- Almost two-thirds (64%) of the website users reported being satisfied with the site and almost half of the respondents (46%) reported having a more favorable view of PG&E after using the website.
- Marketplace can play a valuable role in helping drive traffic and participation in traditional downstream and midstream programs. Though a significant amount of savings were associated with the stand-alone program, sizable savings were also associated with other existing programs.
Marketplace has clear potential to influence home appliance and consumer electronics purchasing decisions and lead to energy-savings. The study’s findings also point to its ability to better engage and serve customers by aiding the purchase journey. However, some work remains.
Evaluating savings from online marketplaces is challenging, and regulators need to approve evaluation methods before utilities try to claim energy savings through such market interventions. Also, although initial results suggest online marketplaces could be much more cost-effective than most exiting programs, a comprehensive cost-effectiveness assessment is necessary. In addition, the efficacy of an online marketplace will only be as good as the volume of website traffic. Thus, in the coming years, it will also be important for PG&E to explore and implement strategies to guide more customers to this website.