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Why Best Buy is experimenting with home energy

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Last week Best Buy launched dedicated Home Energy divisions in three of its stores, offering shoppers gadgets that can help them reduce energy consumption, and using displays to show potential buyers how these tools work. I wanted to learn more about the project, so I interviewed Kris Bowring, Best Buy’s senior director and home energy platform lead, and he explained to me that the home energy project is just an experiment right now and whether Best Buy expands or cuts the sections will depend on how successful they are. Here’s my lightly edited Q&A with Bowring:

Q). Why did Best Buy want to launch a home energy section of the store?

A). Consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of their energy consumption and looking for ways to reduce that consumption for a variety of reasons. The technology is also becoming much more available and frankly much cooler. This is the right spot for Best Buy to be in, and its in our sweet spot because a lot of these technologies need to be discussed and explained.

Q). What type of data or surveys are you using to show that consumers are more interested in home energy tools?

A). It’s been a journey that I started in April 2008. We began to recognize Best Buy’s position in the overall scope of energy efficiency and recycling and reduction and sustainability. That journey started to help us understand that the technology was coming out, the increasing cost of energy and electricity, and we started participating in not only our own research studies, qualitative and quantitative, but we also began to work with a consortium of other companies as well to explore the energy ecosystem so that we could do more.

A couple things became clear over the past two and a half years. First the consumer mindset has changed dramatically in trying to understand energy consumption and I’ve seen many studies that show that they are becoming more aware and are looking for options. They’re also looking for a reward me scenario.

Q). Does that change in mindset over two and a half years result from the recession?

A). Absolutely. I think any time there’s a recession everyone looks for ways to cut back. It’s an important part of it, but I don’t think it’s the reason for it.

Q). Are the home energy sections of the Best Buy stores trials or pilots, or are they here to stay?

A). These are experiments. I have three stores, one in Chicago, one in Houston and one in San Carlos, Calif. And they’re doing a couple of different things and they are in different areas of the store and we are experimenting about the adoption, how our blue shirts work with people and how the utilities are getting involved. We’re already learning a tremendous amount.

Q). What will be success for these divisions? What will determine if you shut them down, or expand them?

A). There will be all the traditional measurements we always use for Best Buy and that’s: is there customer interest, engagement and the performance. Also having the right product and services that the consumer can use and are modular that make it easy and fun to do energy savings.

Q). The Nest thermostat was sold out at the store I visited last week. When will Best Buy have Nest thermostats in stock?

A). I can’t comment on when they’ll be in the store. All the excitement and demand around it did create a very pleasant problem, but also a very concerning problem of trying to fulfill.

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