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SAN CARLOS, Calif. — Retail giant Best Buy announced last week that it’s making a modest bet on selling home energy gear to consumers via a new web portal and new Home Energy sections at just three stores nationwide. The three store sections — in San Carlos, Calif; Chicago; and Willowbrook, Texas — were officially unveiled on Sunday, and I stopped by the San Carlos store to see what the experience was like. The reality is that home energy gear can be, well, kind of boring.
The Home Energy section in the San Carlos, Calif. store is placed waaaay at the back on the left side. It’s pretty much the furthest section from the front. The placement is understandable, because the store will likely sell far more video games, music hardware, and computer gear than tools to help home owners cut energy consumption.
The section’s layout did, however, seem to spark interest from shoppers with its interactive layout. Home Energy control panels are connected to refrigerators, lamps, lights, heating and cooling systems, showing shoppers how the digital energy home could be connected. An interactive booth where customers can turn lights on and off and an employee can talk to potential customers enabled shoppers to learn about the benefits and price points of LEDs vs CFLs. For many Best Buy shoppers, it could be the first time they’ve even thought about using these types of efficiency tools to cut home energy usage. There were a few shoppers in the section asking questions, even on an early Monday afternoon.
The Nest learning thermostat sat front and center of the Home Energy section, as it is hands-down the most well-designed product out there (which is as indicative of the generally poor design in this industry, as it is of the gorgeous design created by the former Apple (s aapl) team). But as I reported last week, the Nest thermostat is sold out until 2012, and the Best Buy store didn’t have a single Nest thermostat for sale on Monday.
Overall, on just a single look, Best Buy’s Home Energy section has a lot of potential to educate consumers and grow the market for home energy products. It’s one of the only large retailers in the country paying attention to this market, though we’ll have to see how much volume goes through the section in the coming months, and whether Best Buy will recreate the section in other stores, keep it as a niche in just three stores, or someday shut them down if they aren’t performing.
Here are my photos from the visit: