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Solar Panels: A Different Type of Consumer Purchase Funnel

SolarPanel conjoint AnalysisWe marketing research types like to think of the purchase funnel in terms of brand purchase. A consumer wants to purchase a new tablet. What brands is he aware of? Which ones would he consider? Which would he ultimately purchase? And would he repeat that purchase the next time?

Some products have a more complex purchase funnel, one in which the consumer must first determine whether the purchase itself – regardless of brand – is a “fit” for him. One such case is solar home energy.

Solar is a really great idea, at least according to our intrepid research panelists. Two-thirds of them say they would be interested in installing solar panels on their home to help offset energy costs. There are a lot of different ways that consumers can make solar work for them – and conjoint analysis would be a terrific way to design optimal products for the marketplace.

But getting from “interest” to “consideration” to “purchase” in the solar arena isn’t as easy as just deciding to purchase. Anyone in the solar business will tell you there are significant hurdles, not the least of which is that a consumer needs to be free and clear to make the purchase – renters, condo owners, people with homeowners associations or strict local ordinances may be prohibited from installing them.

Even if you’re a homeowner with no limitations on how you can manage your property, there are physical factors that determine whether your home is an “ideal” candidate for solar. They vary by region and different installers have different requirements, but here’s a short list:

  • Your roof should face South. East and West are also okay, but southern exposure is the best.
  • You need direct sunlight. This seems obvious, but if a nearby building casts a shadow on your roof for most of the day, you can forget about it. Mature trees can also fall in that category.
  • It should be pitched, with a 15 degree to 40 degree angle. 30 degrees is optimal. Flat roofs need special accommodations and may be more costly.
  • You need about 400 square feet of smooth roof surface. Dormers, turrets and skylights reduce the square footage, and can be difficult to work around.
  • Not all roofing material can support solar panels – clay and slate roofs are susceptible to breakage, for example.
  • Age matters. You can expect the solar panels to last about 25 years – if you have an older roof, your panels may outlast the life of your roof. You want the roof and the panels to age out together, since replacing a roof underneath solar panels will be more expensive.

Let’s say your property meets these key requirements. What will your ROI (return on investment) be? The longer you plan to be in your house, the more likely solar will work to your advantage financially.

And what about aesthetics? One person may love the look of the new roof, while another believes it will lower property values in the neighborhood. One of my colleagues in the energy field commented that a good route for targeting potential solar consumers is in neighborhoods where solar is already established – neighbors get used to seeing the solar panels and can talk to the purchaser about their experience, and therefore are more receptive.

Not every consumer purchase has a long list of qualifiers associated with it. Just knowing the factors that impact moving a consumer from interested to purchaser is critical in complex marketplaces. What other products and services have this type of decision tree?

VP / Research Management


Michele likes to hijack TRC's online consumer panel to get relevant answers to her burning research questions. She loves asking questions relating to her favorite hobbies - TV and movies, golf, casino gambling and travel - and more often than not the answers can be generalized across industries.


Contact Michele

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